AFC South Time Machine: Tennesee Titans' "What If"?

Nate DunlevyGuest ColumnistJune 11, 2012

Later in this game, Rolle would get another crack at Rice.
Later in this game, Rolle would get another crack at Rice.Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Every franchise has regrets.

Every fanbase has that frozen moment in time they'd love to have back. There's always one play, one decision that changed everything for the worse.

Obviously, the Titans would love to have gained just one more yard in the 1999 Super Bowl.

But what if they had gotten just one more stop against the Raiders in 2002?

The Titans went to the AFC championship game against Oakland in 2002 and squared off against MVP Rich Gannon. It was a high-scoring affair, but with :39 to play in the third quarter, Steve McNair scampered for a touchdown to bring the Titans within three points.

It was time for the defense to make a stand.

On first and second down, they held, giving up six yards to Gannon and the Raiders. Then came the fateful third and fourth, the "What if?" moment Titans fans would love to have had back.

Oddly enough, footage of the play is impossible to find, as if it has been wiped off the face of the earth. Someone put the whole game on YouTube but curiously omitted the 30 seconds of game time between the McNair score and the start of the fourth quarter.

On the final play of the third quarter, Gannon dropped back to pass and fired incomplete to Jerry Rice. The Titans would get the ball back, down three with a chance to dominate the fourth quarter and go to their second Super Bowl.

There was just one problem. Samari Rolle was called for not one, but two fouls on the play. The officials ruled that he had both interfered with Jerry Rice and committed a personal foul against him. The Raiders were given the ball on 1st-and-10 in Titans' territory.

It was the last real chance Tennessee had to win the game.

Gannon was magnificent from that point on, putting up two more scores on the board for the Raiders, carrying them on to meet Tampa.

What if Rolle hadn't committed interference? What if he could have stopped Rice cleanly?

Could it have been the Titans and not the Raiders in the Super Bowl?

Jeff Fisher was sure it was his team that would be stronger down the stretch in the fourth quarter. If the defense could have managed just one stop on one play, they would have been in position to prove it.

If they had beaten the Raiders at home, could they have won the Super Bowl?

It's certainly possible.

While the Raiders got run over by the Bucs, there's no reason to think the Titans would have. A large part of the Bucs' domination in the Super Bowl came from the fact that Jon Gruden was coaching against his former team. Legend has it that Bill Callahan forgot to change the audibles, and the Bucs knew which plays the Raiders were running.

The Titans could have been a much better match against Tampa Bay. Tennessee didn't play them in 2002 but beat the Bucs in both 2001 and 2003. Even if they hadn't won the Super Bowl, another trip would certainly enhance the legacy of Jeff Fisher in Nashville.

We know that one more yard against the Rams in '99 would have meant overtime and a coin flip's chance to win the Super Bowl.

The consequences of Rolle's hit on Rice are less certain, and the counter-factual reality less easy to parse, but that one play will always have Titans' fans wondering, "What if..."