Jeff Fisher circa 1999. Love the Lennon sunglasses.
1999 was a watershed year for the Tennessee Titans' franchise. After three years in limbo, playing to sparse crowds in Houston, Memphis, and Vanderbilt's Memorial Stadium in Nashville, the Titans needed a strong start. Nashville wooed Bud Adams to leave Houston after almost 40 years in the city.
The Oilers were put away and replaced by a new name (Tennessee Titans), a new look, a young coach and a hungry defense.
Quarterback Steve McNair was 26 and a team leader who had not reached the heights in the NFL that he did as a record-setting quarterback at Alcorn State. Eddie George was the bruising running back of Jeff Fisher's dreams.
The receiving corps was underwhelming, led by second-year player Kevin Dyson, who was best known at the start of the season as not being Randy Moss. Frank Wycheck was the dependable tight end who averaged a very workmanlike 9.3 yards per catch.
The leader of the veteran defense was a speedy defensive end from Florida called Jevon Kearse. He finished the year with 14.5 sacks and won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. His 54 sacks and 40 total turnovers are numbers that current Titans fans can only dream of seeing.
The Titans had the psychological advantage going into the AFC Championship game in Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville. In Week Three, the Titans won there, thanks to a 13-point comeback led by backup QB Neil O'Donnell. Samari Rolle intercepted Mark Brunell in the end zone in the final minute to seal the win.
In the Week 16 showdown, the Jaguars hadn't lost another game, while the Titans were 11-3 with not much of a chance to take the division. At that time, it was the AFC Central.
The Jaguars came in looking for revenge and were blown out of the stadium as Steve McNair set a career high with five touchdown passes. The Jaguars won their season finale and demolished the Miami Dolphins in Dan Marino's last game. The Titans needed a lot of luck to beat the Bills in the first playoff game in Nashville and held off the Colts in Indianapolis.
It was time for Titans vs. Jaguars, part three.
I found the entire game broadcast on YouTube. This was my first opportunity to watch the entire game. I was living in Atlanta in 2000, and there was an ice storm the day of the game. Here's the recap of one of the best days in Titans' history.
January 23, 2000: Titans 33, Jaguars 14
The score makes the game look like a blowout. It wasn't like that.
In the pregame interview, Tom Coughlin described the game as a "rite of passage". Jeff Fisher was wearing the John Lennon sunglasses, the mullet was tight and the mustache was firm with no signs of grey. On the day of this game, he was 41 years old.
I'll try to keep the Jag-bashing to a minimum here, but I do have one comment: So that's what the stadium looks like when it's full.
In the first two games, Mark Brunell threw for less than 50 percent and had a 1-4 TD-to-interception ratio.
The Titans went three and out to start the game, throwing the ball more than expected. The Jaguars made it look easy on the first drive, as they drove 62 yards for the first touchdown in less than two minutes. Mark Brunell to Kyle Brady. Brady will be involved in more key plays as this one continues.
Fun fact from 2000: Fire Down Below, starring Steven Seagal, was the Sunday night movie.
All game, Steve McNair made something out of nothing while running. He broke more tackles in that drive than Chris Johnson did all last year. The first Titan passing TD in history went to Yancey Thigpen. Thigpen played through pain for a while but left the game with a broken foot.
I loved seeing the styles of the day. Jacksonville middle linebacker Kevin Hardy had a neck roll under his jersey.
After a Steve McNair interception, announcer Phil Simms let us know that new footballs are firm, hard, and slick. The more you know.
Jaguars fans must watch this game, see Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell and start singing the Maria McKee song "Why Wasn't I More Grateful (When Life Was Sweet)". Ditto on Mark Brunell and not peeing his pants when pressure came in.
In the second quarter, with the ball inside the ten-yard line, Mark Brunell threw the ball to Damon Jones. Titan safety Eddie Robinson stepped in front for the interception. This was one of many plays that could have led to a Jaguar victory if it went another way.
Steve McNair took a helmet to the chest from Tony Brackens. Brackens was off-balance after getting blocked. I wonder if that would be a penalty today. McNair needed help off the field but came back.
James Stewart came in for Fred Taylor and went the distance for a long touchdown. The Titans' D was worn out. It's lucky that the Jags weren't up 21-7. Jaguars had all the momentum at this point.
When James Stewart scored, Phil Simms called him Fred Taylor. He works hard for the money so you better treat him right. When Gumbel recapped the score, he said, "James Stewart," extra loud and extra long. Did Simms punch him during the ensuing time out?
Remember when the Pro Bowl was after the Super Bowl, and the Super Bowl was in January?
The Titans, playing for the Oilers, were the last original AFL team to make the Super Bowl.
Here were the final two key plays of the first half. With less than two minutes left, Reggie Barlow muffed the Craig Hentrich punt. Th Titans recovered. On third down, McNair scrambled and fumbled, but Benji Olsen recovered. The field goal try went through, and it was 14-10 at the half.
The Jaguars had the ball to start the half. Another foot-shooting moment occurred when Mark Brunell hit Alvis Whitted for a 30-yard gain on third and long. The problem was that Whitted went for the body catch, and the ball fell to the turf. If I played dynasty fantasy football in 1999, I would have had Whitted on my team.
The next Titans' drive was huge. On third down, Steve McNair was attacked by two Jaguars. He rolled out to his right, reversed field and found Eddie George for a ten-yard gain. McNair was also hit late, kind of a modern-day late hit (not much contact), and a flag flew.
A couple of plays later, McNair tried to go deep to Kevin Dyson, and a pass-interference call gave the team 43 yards of penalties on one drive. McNair sneaked in for the first Titan lead of the day.
Here is another example of how fortunes change in a football game so quickly.
Kyle Brady fumbled. The Titans got the ball inside the Jaguars' ten-yard line. McNair hit Frank Wycheck inside the three-yard line. As Wycheck fought for the end zone, the ball was stripped, and the Jaguars recovered at the goal line. This could have been a big momentum switch. Brunell was sacked in the end zone two plays later.
It was 19-14 at this point. The following play was the dagger. The Jaguars punted the free kick. Derrick Mason took the punt at the Titan 21. Three Jaguars had a shot but missed. Mason stumbled a bit but made it into the open field and scored. It was the first lead of more than a touchdown all day.
The Jaguars had a couple of shots to get closer, but penalties and turnovers finished them. On one third and long, Mark Brunell was sacked and lost the ball. Jevon Kearse picked up the ball and as he was falling out of bounds, tried to hand it to Samari Rolle. Rolle fumbled, and the Jaguars recovered.
On the final scoring drive, McNair completed play-action but had no intention of throwing. He ran up the middle 51 yards to get the ball inside the five-yard line. Fittingly, he scored the final touchdown on a sneak.
Yancey Thigpen, being interviewed on the sideline, said, “It’s going to take a miracle for me not to play” in the Super Bowl.
Do you believe in miracles?
The Titans didn't have the fairy-tale finish to their 1999 season, but this game was one of the best moments in franchise history.