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ST. LOUIS ROLLS OUT THE WELCOME WAGON FOR RAMS

A city accustomed to celebrating its Boys of Summer got some winter cheering practice Monday as thousands lined downtown streets to welcome back the Super Bowl champions.

St. Louis Rams coach Dick Vermeil led the parade down Market Street in a wagon pulled by the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales, and players followed in 60 Dodge Ram pickup trucks.

The six-block procession began about 40 minutes late and was slowed to almost a standstill as fans overcame a police barrier to swarm the champs. With Sunday's 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans, the Rams had won the NFL title for the first time in the city's 40-year football history.

"Thank you very much world champions," Vermeil told the crowd. "As a representative of these guys, the management and the coaching staff, I'd like to thank you for your support. I'd like you to know that the Rams aren't world champions. St. Louis is world champions."

Not since 1982 had St. Louis celebrated a major championship -- and that team, like most of the rest, came on the baseball diamond.

But in this crowd, Cardinal red gave way to Rams blue and gold. Shirts and hats depicting the team's latest accomplishment were flying off roadside sales carts, and many fans who didn't buy a souvenir made their own.

"After two divorces, this is all I can afford," said Dave Bilyeu, who sported a gold cardboard crown with two spiraling horns on the sides. "If my ex-wife saw me in an NFL hat, she'd want more money."

Dan Morgan had a similar idea but made his horns out of long blue and gold balloons. Within a couple hours in the bitter cold, some of the balloons had deflated.

"This is all I've got," Morgan said. "I'm not carrying any extra horns."

Fans broke into a chant of "MVP" as the truck carrying Kurt Warner made its way through the throngs of people. Warner is only the sixth player in league history to win the award in both the regular season and Super Bowl.

By now this town knows all too well the tale of the former Arena League standout who went from grocery stocker to NFL hero, leading the Rams from worst to first. Never before had a team that finished last in its division gone on to win the Super Bowl the next season.

"I'd like to say that we forget about the grocery stores and all that stuff, and we start thinking about a repeat," Warner said.

The parade ended at Kiener Plaza, where several players addressed the fans with the Gateway Arch in the background. Few words were audible beyond the first few rows, but the crowd burst into cheers after every sentence all the same.

"This is great. It's a dream come true," said running back Marshall Faulk, the AP Offensive Player of the Year. "The fans have been great. We appreciate you guys supporting us. Thank you!"

Television ratings for Sunday's Super Bowl on ABC were 43.2, up 7 percent from last year. ABC estimated 130,745,000 people watched the game, making it the fifth most-watched telecast in U.S. history.

Titans gain respect

ATLANTA -- The Tennessee Titans, no longer the NFL's nomads, introduced themselves to the country in the franchise's first Super Bowl.

And coach Jeff Fisher said Monday this team doesn't plan on going away anytime soon.

"This is a team that came from nowhere and did things no one expected us to do this year," he said before flying to Nashville. "Now we'll be respected and perceived around the league as a team to be contended with the next few years."

The Titans had a chance to force overtime as time expired Sunday night. But Kevin Dyson's right arm couldn't stretch the last yard into the end zone after he caught a pass, and the St. Louis Rams held on for a 23-16 victory.

"We ran out of time," Fisher said.

DeBartolo won't rejoin 49ers

SAN FRANCISCO -- Exiled 49ers co-owner Eddie DeBartolo won't be returning to the team any time soon despite the end of his year-long NFL suspension today, a family spokesman said.

"It's just not in the cards," said Sam Singer, a spokesman for controlling club owner Denise DeBartolo York, who with her husband, John York, assumed management of the team two years ago when her brother ran into legal problems.

A spokesman for DeBartolo, Rick Rice, was unavailable for comment.

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