Super Bowl Or Bust: Tennessee Aims to Get Over The Hump
One hash mark.
Three $5 foot longs away from the Vince Lombardi trophy.
It has been nine seasons since Kevin Dyson and Mike Jones met up for "The Tackle," the play that prevented the Tennessee Titans from finishing their magical 1999 campaign on a good note.
Perhaps even more significant is what happened the next year.
Again, the Titans went 13-3 and appeared to be on a mission; playing with a rare focus and determination.
Then, January 7, 2001 happened. Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens marched into Nashville, stripped Eddie George of the ball (and some would say, his career too) and marched to Super Bowl glory.
Good times and bad times have since ensued for the franchise, with playoff appearances peppered with a rebuilding year here or there.
But it just might bode well for coach Jeff Fisher and his staff to revisit that painful winter day, at least once before they open the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
And then maybe once more before week two.
Actually, it couldn't hurt to watch it before every game.
Why the need for the de facto "Remember the Alamo?"
In this day and age, a franchise's window of opportunity is infinitesimally small. Rare is it that a team finds itself in Tennessee's shoes, where they have just as good a shot at getting to the oh-so-close pinnacles of the season before and improving on them.
That was the case for the Titans in 2000, and that is the case for them today.
Last season, coach Fisher's squad posted a better-than-expected 13-3 record, which included a surprising 10-0 start. Yet as most people know, the dream was over in a matter of hours, with Tennessee bowing out after just one playoff game; coincidentally to the Baltimore Ravens.
What hurt the most was that the Titans dominated the Ravens in nearly every facet of the game. They merely couldn't convert when it mattered.
Granted, last year's unceremonious departure wasn't quite as heartbreaking as the Super Bowl XXXIV loss to the St. Louis Rams. But considering that the Titans made easy work of the eventual champions, the Steelers, it makes one wonder about what could have been had things gone differently.
This season, Tennessee sees 20 of 22 starters returning. While there is a bounty of talented youth on the team, there are also an uncomfortable amount of Ben Gay and knee braces in the skill position players' lockers.
But the consensus is that the Titans are ready to bounce back and advance further than last year, considering that there are no major holes to fill. Nor are there any glaring weaknesses.
All of the other contenders in the AFC, by far the stronger conference, may pose challenges for Tennessee, but are hardly unconquerable.
In fact, there is almost an air of inevitability that a Super Bowl title is in the cards.
Just like in 2000.
What will make or break these Titans hinges on whether or not they can execute and live up to their potential. While that phrase might initially come across as a trite sports cliché, it is in fact the key to any team's success.
For instance, there could theoretically be up to five title banners on display at LP Field if that simple advice were to have been employed in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2008.
But realistically, that could be said about any team; everybody has their "what if" stories. Winning it all doesn't necessarily mean who's the best on paper. No, the success of a team is more so based on proper utilization of talent, not having major injuries and, in particular, getting hot at the right time.
A snazzy record in October means nothing when you're on the wrong end of the score in January. It's obviously much more desirable for a team to parlay a mediocre start into a championship ring.
In essence, the advice for the Titans this year is to not only learn from last year's mistakes, but the past decade's as well. At this point, they're pretty much the Utah Jazz of the NFL. Always "right there," but usually the platform for someone else's shining moment.
January 7, 2001.
For Jeff Fisher and the Titans, it is time to exorcise the demons and turn the colossal failures into harmless footnotes
The blinding glare of a Lombardi Trophy has a way of doing that.
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