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Tough loss disappoints Meridian's McCleon

By By Richard Dark/special to The Star
Feb. 4, 2002
NEW ORLEANS Meridian's favorite son sat slumped in front of his locker, minutes after he and his St. Louis Rams absorbed a last-minute shocking 20-17 defeat in Super Bowl XXXVI at the hands of the New England Patriots.
This was the same locker room where Dexter McCleon's season had ended a year earlier, having lost to the New Orleans Saints in the 2000 Wild Card game. But unlike that day, McCleon had the answers to what went wrong on the way to the Rams' perceived coronation.
Mike Martz' crew has a saying that has come to be a moniker for their team: Nobody can beat the Rams, but the Rams. That was true in both of their regular season losses to the Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
And Sunday night, while there was unbridled celebration across the hall as the Patriots rejoiced in their first football crown, McCleon didn't mince words about what went wrong.
Still, despite all the nationwide media hype that this title tilt would indeed turn out to be a rout, McCleon who played this championship game with his family in the stands maintained that no Ram, player or coach overlooked the boys from around Boston way.
But in the same vein McCleon continued to put the blame on he and his team, by minimizing the effectiveness of Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady and his receiving corps.
And although McCleon is technically correct none of Brady's passes during the final frenetic rush to set up Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal came at the expense of the former MHS standout there is at least one play he wished he could have back. Brady's first touchdown strike came on an 8-yarder to his favorite target in wideout David Patten, which gave the Pats the lead for good, in what will be widely considered the greatest Super Bowl in history.
And McCleon set the record straight about losing in a venue so close to home where his family was in attendance.
Still, the competitive fires that burn deep within McCleon and his defensive coach Lovie Smith continue to roar, so its no surprise the desire to regroup and try again next year are quite evident.