St. Louis logo helped spur interest
in Rams' collectibles.
St. Louis logo helped spur interest<br>in Rams' collectibles.

The Rams were set to face the defensive-minded Bucs for the right to go to the Super Bowl, while the wildcard representative from the AFC Central was set to battle the Central division champions for a berth in the same championship game.

A southern Democrat is in the White House and complaints that the NFL was going to suffer through a boring playoff and Super Bowl were being forecast.

The time was after the 1979 season, just like the conditions after the 1999 season. The differences were subtle. The Rams are no longer in Los Angeles, they are in St. Louis. The Bucs are still in Tampa Bay, but are years removed from the awful expansion team that broke into the league in the mid-1970’s.

The AFC Central wild card winner was the Houston Oilers, the direct descendants of this year's Tennessee Titans. The only new entry into the NFL Final Four is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who (like the Pittsburgh Steelers of 20 years ago) were the favorite to win it all that year.

For the record, the Rams beat the Bucs 9-0 in one of the least memorable NFC championship games on record, while the Steelers eliminated the Oilers and went on to beat LA for another Super Bowl title. That win marked the end of a decade of dominance by Pittsburgh.

Best bet for collectors this week: a high scoring game in the league championships will mean a Super Bowl between Jacksonville and St. Louis. Low scoring games in Sunday's matchups will mean a Tampa-Tennessee matchup in the Super Bowl.

Jacksonville remains the choice to beat the Titans and win the Super Bowl because they have the best balance of any of the four remaining teams. The Jaguars, with Mark Brunnell seemingly healthy, also have a solid defense that showed how it could produce points in last week's 62-7 humiliation of the Dolphins.

The Titans do have a great running game with Eddie George but their strength is defense. It is their conservative style of play led by coach Jeff Fisher, who learned that methodology under Mike Ditka and the dominant Bears' teams of the 1980s, that has critics say they play boring football.

There is hardly anything boring about the St. Louis Rams and quarterback Kurt Warner, who tossed five more TD passes in the win over the Vikings. He threw passes to 10 different receivers, including on a tackle eligible play, and the Rams are 14 point favorites to beat the Bucs.

Like Tennessee, Tampa is known for its defense led by all-pro Warren Sapp, and a decent enough running game with Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn. But the Bucs' Achilles heel all season long on defense has been their secondary and Warner, Marshall Faulk and Co. figure to exploit it with superior speed at the TWA dome.

Still, the games figure to be competitive, if not close. Often times the games can come down to the kickers, as evidenced by last year's Atlanta overtime heroics over the Minnesota Vikings. The fact that Atlanta's Morten Andersen could kick a relatively easy field goal and Minnesota's Gary Anderson could not make it down the stretch, spelled the difference between going to the Super Bowl and staying home and watching it on tv.

While St. Louis has plenty of weapons in their offensive arsenal, their kicking game is hurting. Jeff Wilkens was hurt in the Sunday win over Minnesota and may not be able to go full tilt vs. Tampa Bay. In a close game, that could be decisive. The Rams tried out kickers during the week, including Nick Lowery who hasn't kicked since 1996 in the NFL, so they are obviously hoping Wilkens is healthy for the home game against the Bucs.

The Bucs, however, have enjoyed great success with Martin Gramatica, the young 5-foot-8 kicker who was most of the Tampa Bay offense in the first half of the season when quarterback Trent Dilfer was struggling. Still, Gramatica is a rookie who was kicking for Kansas State last season, so he is untested in playoff waters.

Both Jacksonville and Tennessee have had reliable kickers, too, although five-year veteran Mike Hollis may not have as much experience as his kicking opponent on the Titans, Al Del Greco. Still, Hollis has had a good year and the Jags have been in enough tight playoff situations over the past several years to give him the nod… He didn't have to do much besides kick extra points last week, but kicking at home with the uncertain winds should give him a slight advantage over veteran Del Greco.

Tennessee did handle the Jags twice during the regular season, but beating the same team three times in the same season is next to impossible.

Even though critics say the small markets involved in the championship games might hurt interest, it may wind up being a collectors' dream.

Yes, most collectors would probably prefer to see Tennessee advance to the Super Bowl. Titan merchandise is new this year and going to the big dance would could lead to inflated prices for their merchandise. Jackonsville, however, was an early favorite of collectors when they came into the league along with Carolina in the mid-1990’s.

The Rams' popularity increased about the same time as when they left Los Angeles for St. Louis. Team colors and uniforms stayed the same, but the St. Louis logo helped spur interest in their collectibles. And Tampa Bay, always among the top 10 in merchandising in the NFL's annual list, also changed colors a couple of years ago, thus prompting an increase in interest in their items.

One thing is for certain: no matter which team advances to the Super Bowl it will guarantee that the winner will have won it for the first time in their respective histories. That certainly will cause a bigger market for their items during the off-season.

Some values for selected cards:

Untitled Document

Player
Year
Card
Number
NM MT 8
MT 9
GEM MT 10
Marshall Faulk
1994
Topps
445
5
10
70
 
1994
Score
277
4
10
70
 
1994
Skybox Premium
158
4
10
70
Steve McNair
1995
Topps
430
8
18
65
 
1995
Ultra
125
4
10
40
Eddie George
1995
Bowmans Best
170
8
18
70
 
1995
Collector's Edge Advantage
3
4
8
40
Fred Taylor
1998
Topps
339
5
12
40
 
1998
Topps Chrome
152
18
30
90
 
1998
Score
242
5
12
40
 
1998
Skybox Premium
227
10
20
80
Warrick Dunn
1997
Donruss
196
4
8
30
 
1997
Pinnacle
161
4
8
30
 
1997
Bowmans Best
125
4
10
22
 
1997
Collector's Choice
11
4
8
30
Tampa Bay Bucs memorabilia with new (top)<br>and old  logos
Tampa Bay Bucs memorabilia with new (top)
and old logos