The St. Louis Rams of the late-1990s and early-2000s hit the NFL suddenly like an unexpected right cross from Wladimir Klitschko and had opposing defenses on the ropes for three incredible seasons before fading away just as quickly as they’d arrived.
Going into 1999, the Rams franchise had suffered nine straight losing seasons. But that year, led by a white-haired head coach (Dick Vermeil) whose last taste of NFL success had happened almost 20 years prior, and a former grocery-clerk quarterback (Kurt Warner) with an Arena League pedigree — and of course future Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk — the Rams took off and came to be known as “The Greatest Show on Turf.”
The 1999 Rams went 13-3 in the regular season while averaging over 32 points per game and won Super Bowl XXXIV against the Tennessee Titans. In 2000, St. Louis went 10-6 and lost in the NFC wild-card round. In 2001, the team went 14-2 and lost Super Bowl XXXVI to the New England Patriots.
One of the Rams’ many offensive weapons during that stretch was wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim (#81 in the video posted below), a Muslim brother who was drafted by the Rams out of San Diego State. During the ’99 season, Hakim scored eight total touchdowns. In one game against the Cincinnati Bengals, he caught three TD passes and took a punt back for another score, becoming the fourth player in franchise history to score four TDs in one game. In 2000, Hakim was voted to the league’s All-Pro team as a punt returner. In 2001, Hakim added another facet to his skill set when he threw a touchdown pass.
Hakim left the Rams in 2002, around the same time the “Greatest Show on Turf” dynasty began to fade. That was the year Warner seemed to lose his magic touch, got injured and was ultimately replaced at QB by Marc Bulger. At the same time, Rams head coach Mike Martz — who had replaced the retiring Vermeil after the Super Bowl win — saw his reputation as an offensive genius take a hit. The Rams scored over 500 total points in the three years Warner was starting QB. Over the following three seasons, while Martz was still in charge, they never scored more than 447 points. Warner was cut in 2004, Martz was gone in 2005, and the Rams’ run at the top was over.
Hakim went on to play for four more NFL teams after St. Louis, finishing his career with 316 receptions for 4,191 yards and 28 touchdowns as a receiver, as well as three punt-return touchdowns and an average of 10.7 yards per punt return.