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St. Louis Welcomes Rams

February 1, 2000

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ While most couldn’t hear the speeches, see the players or feel their own cold fingers, St. Louis Rams fans turned out by the thousands just to experience the moment.

After 40 years of falling short _ usually way short _ this city was on top of the football world. The Rams returned home Monday as Super Bowl champions, and the resounding reception cast serious doubt on the widespread belief this is just a baseball town.

City police estimated 100,000 fans attended the celebration _ some perched from parking lot towers, others on top of portable toilets. They blocked traffic downtown as 60 Dodge Ram trucks paraded the players through six city blocks. But police reported no problems.

Leading the pack was coach Dick Vermeil, riding in a wagon pulled by the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales.

``I remember sitting in Busch Stadium when I was 4 years old, wondering why I was sitting outside freezing to death,″ said St. Louis native Ron Russell, a season ticket holder for both the Rams and the football Cardinals before them. ``This is why.″

Souvenir stands _ licensed and otherwise _ were selling championship T-shirts depicting the Rams logo. But while business was booming on this day, Paul Brake and Aaron Bigley weren’t among the customers.

They stood in the bitter cold, bare-chested except for some blue and gold paint depicting a Rams jersey. Several onlookers asked them to pose for a picture.

``We’ve been here for two hours,″ Bigley said, his teeth chattering. ``We’re staying until the end.″

The shivering fans had to wait a little longer than expected. The parade started about 40 minutes late, and it was slowed to almost a standstill as fans overcame a police barrier to swarm the champs. Finally the trucks arrived at their destination _ a stage in Kiener Plaza in front of the Gateway Arch.

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

Kurt Warner, the sixth player ever to win both the regular season and Super Bowl MVP awards, received one of the loudest ovations from the crowd. By now, this town knows all to well the tale of the former Arena League standout who went from grocery stocker to Super Bowl hero.

``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.

Owner Georgia Frontiere, who moved the team from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 1995, held up the Vince Lombardi Trophy. One male fan responded above the crowd noise: ``Georgia baby, I love you.″

Vermeil praised the city and its fans for sparking Sunday’s 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans.

``We are about everybody,″ he said. ``We’re about our city, and we’re about our team. And we’re proud of what we’ve done and what we represent.″

St. Louis fans also signed a large ``get well″ banner that will be sent to Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas, paralyzed from the chest down following a Jan. 23 car wreck.

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