As Super Bowl XXXIII wound down toward halftime, Morten Anderson kicked a field goal to cut the Denver Broncos' lead over the Atlanta Falcons to 17-6. The clock eventually rolled down to zeroes, and the assembled crowd at Miami's Pro Player Stadium prepared for a halftime show featuring Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
Tens of millions of fans would watch along from home, but for one of the first times in the history of football's biggest games, there was an alternative for fans who weren't interested in "a celebration of soul, salsa and swing."
Instead, they were tuning to the USA Network. WWE was in the midst of a massive spike in popularity and mainstream attention, and they tried to cash in on that golden opportunity with a special they called "Halftime Heat" -- a match that saw The Rock defending his then-WWF championship against Mankind.
"'Halftime Heat' was a concept that Vince had, because he was looking at the Super Bowl -- I believe Fox had alternative programming for halftime -- [and] he says, 'Why in the hell aren't we doing that? Why can't we promote to one event, we could pre-tape it but give the illusion that it's live,'" recalled Bruce Prichard, a former member of the WWE creative team, on an episode of his podcast "Something to Wrestle With."
WWE's idea of counterprogramming against the Super Bowl halftime show had been attempted before. As far back as 1992, FOX aired a special episode of "In Living Color," while MTV similarly attempted to attract an alternative audience with new episodes of "Beavis and Butt-head" through the mid-'90s.
The year before WWE attempted to steal the attention of the masses during the Super Bowl halftime show, MTV aired a secondary pilot episode of "Celebrity Deathmatch" that helped build enough momentum to launch the show as a full series.
"I think a year earlier MTV has had a lot of success doing Celebrity Deathmatch with claymation figures -- one of which was Stone Cold Steve Austin -- and they'd done a tremendous rating during halftime of the Super Bowl," recalled Mick Foley (aka Mankind), in an interview with ESPN. "I don't know when the idea came to Mr. McMahon to take that giant audience and kind of keep it for ourselves, but I do remember being asked about it -- and then it was my suggestion that The Rock and I do an empty arena match."
The timing couldn't have been much better. In the last few months of 1998, The Rock and Mankind became entangled in a rivalry for the ages. They'd go on to trade the title four times by mid-February, including a particularly memorable "I Quit" match just a week before Super Bowl XXXIII.
"I remember that The Rock and I were engaged in a really intense and very personal feud, and we were coming off a very physical pay-per-view match [at] Royal Rumble at the end of January,"
With the idea in place and the participants locked in, there was still the problem of getting the timing exactly right. There was a finite period between the end of the first half and the second-half kickoff, and the idea was to keep fans from missing a single second of the football game. That led to the idea of pre-taping the match, but with such an intense spotlight in play, no one wanted the result of the match to get out.
That's when the empty arena concept picked up steam. A couple of days after the Royal Rumble, in the hours before the WWE taped an episode of Monday Night Raw, The Rock and Mankind battled it out inside the Tucson Convention Center with no fans in attendance.
"That allowed us to have the match, tape it [and] not have an audience, so no one would know what the outcome was," said Prichard. "We shot it at TV and did it with very little crew with nobody in the arena, put that whole package together, edited it down so that it was perfect to fit right in that slot."
The battle between the two fierce rivals spilled all around the arena and backstage areas. Mankind brought the physicality, but along the way he absorbed a multitude of attacks to both his body and his pride.
"The whole experience was memorable," said Foley. "I took quite a pounding... and it seemed like The Rock had a great one-liner in every scenario we found ourselves in."
The Rock took a phone call during part of the match while continuing to lay the boots to Mankind, Foley spilled down a long flight of stairs and everything that wasn't nailed to the ground became a weapon. As the fight spilled into the kitchen, there were some unexpected consequences.
"I addressed something that'd been on my mind for 20 years on social media," noted Foley. "I told the Rock that salsa was definitely not mild. He was literally seeing my eyes burned by a salsa he thought was mild."
The moment that sticks out in the minds of most fans was the closing sequence. As the battle spilled into yet another backstage area, Mankind got the upper hand in the end. He knocked The Rock silly, and then located a forklift with a pallet on top of it.
After trapping The Rock's shoulders to the ground, Foley climbed up on top of the pallet and captured the second of three career WWE championships.
"Whether your opponent is trapped under a pallet of beer kegs or not, any time you walk away with the WWE title it's a nice day," Foley said with a chuckle.
For wrestling fans around the world, though, "Halftime Heat" was a distinct moment in time.
"I remember it being amazing," said current WWE NXT star Johnny Gargano, in recalling the match. "I remember The Rock versus Mankind empty the arena match. I remember that shot of the forklift coming down on The Rock and pinning him for the finish of the match as well, because the camera was attached to the forklift for some reason. I remember being like, 'Oh, that's crazy.' I was 11 years old, and someone told me recently, 'Oh, it was 20 years ago,' and I was like, 'I can't believe it's been that long,'"
It wasn't the most elegant of ends, and there were some silly moments along the way, but the bulk of the match showed why The Rock and Mankind were such ideal foes for one another.
"The fact that it was so completely different than anything on television was also indicative of the chances we regularly took, whether it was on the microphone or in the ring," said Foley. "Later on, [that] really led to great chemistry as a tag team. We were really rolling, and it was understood that The Rock was going to go on to bigger and better things -- one of them being a WrestleMania main event with Stone Cold Steve Austin."
In the days between when "Halftime Heat" was taped and when it aired on Jan. 31, Foley returned to life on the road. He was in an airport as Super Bowl XXXIII wound down to halftime, and he had to convince a few people to put the match on so he could watch it in its entirety.
That part of the experience ended up being a bit of a mixed bag.
"I do remember really hustling through the airport to try to catch that match live [on USA Network], and so I walked into a lounge in the airport where some guys were watching the Super Bowl halftime," recalled Foley. "I convinced them to switch over to 'Halftime Heat.'
"They were really getting into the match, up until I hit the Rock with a bag of popcorn," Foley continued. "Up until that point I had been taking a pretty legitimate pounding at the hands of 'The Great One' and they were ooh-ing and ahh-ing. All of a sudden the popcorn [spot happens] and they turn to each other and go, 'That wouldn't hurt.' Maybe in retrospect I should've found a different devastating object to pummel him with."
The result was overwhelmingly positive. "Halftime Heat" drew a 6.6 TV rating, but for whatever reason it ended up largely being a one-off moment. The following year, the WWE aired another show with that same title, but the second time around it was simply a highlight show anchored by an interview with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
Twenty years later, plus a couple of days, the WWE is bringing back "Halftime Heat" with a dramatically different premise. One week after six stars of WWE's NXT brand mixed it up during an event at Royal Rumble weekend in Phoenix, they will take part in a six-man tag team match that will once again take place during halftime of the Super Bowl.
"To be able to be a part of the first 'Halftime Heat' in 20 years, it's pretty amazing,," Gargano said. "The fact that there's so much confidence in us speaks extremely highly of how they feel about all of us."
"I mean, I can't believe it took him 20 years to do it again," said Foley. "I hope those guys not only meet the level The Rock and I set, but surpass it. I really hope they have an amazing match -- they certainly have the talent to do it."
Rather than airing on the USA Network like the original version, the company will leverage its WWE Network streaming service as well as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and its own website to push its halftime event.
"If you're just a normal person, you're not a wrestling fan, you can just pull out your phone and be scrolling and say, 'Oh, what's this?'" said Ciampa. "And that fact that it's NXT it's extremely perfect, because what we do with NXT is put on a show like people have never seen before. I think you have the right six guys to do it. Me, Tommaso Ciampa, Adam Cole, Velveteen Dream, Ricochet, Aleister Black -- six guys who are going to go out there and give their all.
"Whether there's 15,000 people or 50 people in the crowd, we're extraordinarily hungry and we want to go out there and give people their money's worth. We know what this means, we know how big this is, and we know how big this could potentially be for NXT. We want to show the world that NXT isn't like anything they've ever seen before. NXT is not the future of professional wrestling, NXT is the now of professional wrestling -- and if you're not on board, you better hop on."
For his part, Foley has stayed involved with the world of pro wrestling since he last stepped into a ring as a competitor in 2012. The match and the event itself are drastically different from what The Rock and Mankind did in 1999. A variety of channels have experimented with counterprogramming the Super Bowl halftime show with events like "Puppy Bowl," but "Halftime Heat" promises the opportunity to reach out to an audience that's rarely been catered to directly in that window.
"The future's definitely looking bright. I was in a couple months ago and spent a couple days with some of the NXT superstars, and I think they're WWE stars of tomorrow that you can watch today," said Foley. "I was so impressed by the NXT entrants in the Royal Rumble. The Rumble really reinvigorated my passion for WWE and NXT, and then I found myself on the Network this last week checking out some [more] of these people."
For Gargano, a lifelong wrestling fan and one of the breakout stars of the last year in the world of WWE, it's a chance to walk in the footsteps of those who inspired him to pursue this career, while attempting to expand a legacy for himself and everyone currently pursuing their dreams in WWE.
"The fact that we have a chance to open up a lot of eyes this Sunday is not lost on us," he said.