Remember the Titans. The 1999 Titans, that is.
The Tennessee Titans will take on the Colts in their home opener on Sunday. This day is also the day the team honors two of the best to ever play for them. Former teammates, the late quarterback, Steve McNair, and running back, Eddie George, will have their numbers retired at halftime as they become the seventh and eighth players in franchise history to share that hombre. They will join Warren Moon, Earl Campbell, Bruce Matthews, Jim Norton, Elvin Bethea, and Mike Munchak.
When I think of these two, I think of the 1999 Titans team that came up one yard short of forcing overtime against the Rams in Super Bowl 34 in just their third season since moving to Tennessee from Houston, and the first as the Titans.
That finished their regular season with a record of 13-3.
Eddie George ran for over 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns and had over 450 yards and four touchdowns receiving. Rookie defensive end Jevon Kearse recorded 14.5 sacks. Kevin Dyson, Yancey Thigpen, and tight end Frank Wycheck each had over 640 receiving yards. Journeyman quarterback Neil O’Donnell went 4-1 as starting quarterback when filling in for injured Steve McNair, who started 11 games, posting a 9-2 record. He threw for just over 2,000 yards and rushed for over 300 more.
13-3 equals second place. The Titans ended that season only one game behind the Jaguars in the then-AFC Central division; the Jags finished 14-2, with both losses coming to the Titans and their third loss of the season coming in the championship game to the Titans as well.
Music City Miracle
The Titans’ playoff run started with a game against the Buffalo Bills. The game was a defensive battle all throughout. Buffalo took the lead with under a minute left. A lateral on the impending kickoff from Frank Wycheck to Kevin Dyson, which caught the Bills defense by surprise, was taken to the house. After an official review, the play would stand the Titans a victory.
The Titans’ next task was a road game against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Like the week before, the game was a back-and-forth defensive battle until George broke through the Colts’ defense for a 68-yard touchdown run. The best thing about that run is when George is looking up at the jumbotron watching his own run as it’s happening.
Next up was the AFC Championship game in Jacksonville. The Titans got off to a slow start, trailing at halftime 14-10. Who knows what was said at halftime, but the second half belonged to the Titans. Everything went right, as they outscored Jacksonville 23-0 after the half, leaving town with a 33-14 victory and a trip to Super Bowl 34 to face the St. Louis Rams.
One Yard Short
We all know how that game ended: with Kevin Dyson getting tackled on the one-yard line as time expired. But the game was (if nothing else) exciting. The Titans’ defense stood tall against the explosive Rams offense. As the game was winding down, momentum seemed to be on Steve McNair and Eddie George’s side as they methodically moved down the field, trying to tie the game and for the first time having a Super Bowl go to overtime. But a tackle on the one-yard line stopped that, sending the Titans home with a season-ending loss.
That team didn’t have overwhelming stats by any means, but they played as a team, with the defense picking up the offense and vice versa.
I have been a fan of this franchise since before that playoff debacle against Frank Reich and the Bills. This season is just starting off, but I actually see similarities.
Steve McNair and Marcus Mariota are both mobile quarterbacks who don’t make critical mistakes. Eddie George and Derrick Henry are big bruising backs who are tough to bring down. Jevon Kearse and Kenny Holmes became Jurrell Casey and Cameron Wake, continuing to form an offensive line and quarterback’s nightmare on game week and on game day.
And of course Jeff Fisher and Mike Vrabel, two defensive-minded coaches who aren’t afraid to take a few chances with a trick play or going for two and the win instead of one for the tie.
Will those similarities translate into a playoff run? We’ll have to wait and see. I, for one, am optimistic for this season for the Titans.