Florida will join the rest of the country as spectators Sunday during the most celebrated sports day of the year.
Only hours after the Titans did the Tennessee Waltz on the Jacksonville Jaguars, the St. Louis Rams nudged a stubborn Tampa Bay Bucs team to spoil what could have been a glorious week from the shores of Key West to Tallahassee.
Super Bowl party in Atlanta Sunday will feature two teams that aren't kissin' cousins in the National Football League's expansive family tree.
"The whole day is frustrating," Jacksonville Coach Tom Coughlin said after his team lost in the American Football Conference Championship Game before a home playoff record crowd of 75,206. "I don't know how much more it can be frustrating."
Try Tony Dungy's perspective. His team was a two-touchdown underdog to a home team that had the most prolific offense in the NFL, yet Warren Sapp and his defensive cohorts stifled the high-flying Rams until the fourth quarter. Holding a 6-5 lead on two Martin Gramatica field goals going into the final minutes, the Bucs finally buckled on Kurt Warner's touchdown pass of 30 yards to Ricky Prohel with 4 minutes, 44 seconds remaining. The score gave the Rams the margin of victory in the National Football Conference Championship Game.
Tampa Bay's 3-yards-and-a-cloud of Alstott offense just couldn't do enough damage to give the Bucs their first Super Bowl berth in what would have been an improbable matchup between the Bucs and the Titans, who advanced as a wild-card entry by winning on consecutive weeks on the road.
"No one gave us a chance, but we came here to win and thought we were going to win," Dungy said. "They made the plays in the fourth quarter."
A sign in St. Louis read "Today isn't Your Day, Tampa Bay."
It wasn't Jacksonville's either, as the Titans outscored the Jaguars, 23-0 in the second half to beat Jacksonville for the third time this season.
"Tennessee is in their heads," a Jacksonville fan said, walking out of Alltel Stadium with five minutes remaining in the game.
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, they had to stick around to watch their season unravel just short of hearing the loud bells and whistles that define Super Bowl fanfare.
Tennessee players bounced around the field looking for somebody to embrace. Fans chanted "Ed-die!, "Ed-die!" to give a symbolic high-five to star running back Eddie George. Amid the commotion, U.S. soccer queen Brandi Chastain, working in a journalistic capacity, nudged her way in the middle of a pack of Titans fans.
"We realize we have one more week to go," Tennessee wide receiver Kevin Dyson said. "This is just the tip of the iceberg. To complete your dream, you have to win it all."
For the Jaguars, it was more missed opportunities and a somber off-season to ponder could-have-beens. This marked the second time in four years that the Jaguars have lost in the ACF title game, the previous time in 1996 to Denver.
"They're both losses. They're both big games," quarterback Mark Brunell said. "They both hurt."
A look back at conference championships
Titans 33, Jags 14
Bucs 6, Rams 11
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