When the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans clash on Monday Night Football this weekend, they'll be more than just two 3-2 teams vying for a leg up in the ultra-competitive AFC South.
From the first regular season game in Jacksonville's history back in 1995—and the Jaguars' first win a month later—to a career-best rushing performance by Tennessee's Chris Johnson last year, these teams have plenty of history behind them.
They've been division rivals for 15 years, from the Titans' past life as the Houston Oilers through the NFL realignment that snatched them both out of the AFC Central in 2002 to build the AFC South.
Jacksonville and Tennessee have held onto their old feuds (Pittsburgh and Baltimore, respectively) and developed a healthy hatred for the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans. But it's nothing compared to the gut-wrenching mixture of respect and disdain they inspire in one another.
In chronological order, here's a retrospective look at the 10 most important games between the Jaguars and Titans. Their Monday night clash will kick off the 16th year of this rivalry, and it will have to be a great one to crack this list.
Judging by the on-field action, Jacksonville's inaugural season opener was a snoozer.
The Jaguars completed less than 50 percent of their passes and committed two of the game's three turnovers, and the Oilers' only touchdown was a four-yard pass from Chris Chandler to fading All-Pro receiver Haywood Jeffires in the first quarter.
Houston leaned on the hard-nosed running of Gary Brown, a 230-pound bruiser whose 29 carries for 101 yards killed clock and moved the chains. Kickers Mike Hollis and Al Del Greco traded chip-shot field goals to reach the 10-3 final score.
But Jacksonville Municipal Stadium was filled to its capacity, and those present gave Jacksonville a standing ovation as the team left the field in defeat. The Jaguars and their fans were as hopeful as they were new.
For those Jacksonville fans whose memories reach back far enough, Brunell-to-Howard is the earliest iconic moment from the team's on-field history.
The Jaguars jumped out to an early 10-0 lead in the Astrodome on a one-yard plunge by 237-pound fullback Ryan Christopherson and a Mike Hollis field goal, but the Oilers pulled ahead after halftime in a six-turnover slop-fest that made the teams' Week 1 meeting look polished in comparison.
Down six, second-stringer Mark Brunell led Jacksonville down the field until, with just over a minute left to play, he found Desmond Howard near the sideline for the game-winning touchdown.
When Hollis' extra point cleared the bar, the Jaguars had pulled even for the first time in this series.
Four years later, the stakes in this rivalry were much higher.
Having made the playoffs four years running, including a surprise trip to the conference championship game in 1996, Jacksonville had shed the "new kid on the block" label pretty quickly. Entering the 1999 season, the Jaguars were poised to go as far as their high-flying offense could take them.
They opened the season with a 41-3 thrashing of the San Francisco 49ers, then pummeled the Carolina Panthers with 414 yards of offense in a frustrating 22-20 nail-biter that brought up concerns about their red zone offense.
After Tennessee's Week 3 visit, the negative buzz around Jacksonville's offense grew even louder. Mark Brunell threw three interceptions, including his first to Samari Rolle, as the Titans took a temporary lead in the AFC Central and dropped the Jaguars to 2-1.
On its own merits, this game wouldn't make this list. But in the history between these teams, it was the first in a series of three that escalated their meetings from divisional spats to hate-fueled battles.
By Week 16, Tennessee's 20-19 win in front of Jacksonville's home fans looked like it had been the Jaguars' wake-up call.
After losing to the Titans, Jacksonville went on an 11-game win streak, averaging 344 yards per game on offense and holding all but four opponents to 10 points or less. Entering their rematch with Tennessee, the Jaguars were 13-1 and had reclaimed first place in the AFC Central.
And if the first game had been a wake-up call, the Titans' 41-14 win at home was a bucket of cold water to Jacksonville's face.
Steve McNair threw three first-half touchdowns as Tennessee built a commanding 24-7 halftime lead. On the opposite sideline, Mark Brunell threw another interception to Samari Rolle before getting pulled for Jay Fiedler, who put two more into Rolle's hands as the Jaguars' offense sputtered.
Not content with merely sweeping the regular season series, the Titans were determined to haunt Jacksonville deep into the postseason.
Tennessee had been forced into a wild-card role after finishing behind the Jaguars in the AFC Central. The Titans pulled off the Music City Miracle to eke past the Buffalo Bills, then earned another trip to Jacksonville by clamping down on the Indianapolis Colts in a 19-16 win at the RCA Dome.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars had been busy whipping the Miami Dolphins 62-7 in Hall of Famer Dan Marino's last NFL game and recording a (slightly premature) hip-hop fight song titled "Uh-Oh."
After a closely-contested first half that ended with Jacksonville ahead 14-10, Tennessee took control. Steve McNair scored on a pair of one-yard sneaks and their defense forced Mark Brunell into a pair of back-breaking late-game turnovers.
Stealing the Jaguars' thunder in Jacksonville earned Tennessee the only Super Bowl appearance between these two teams. Ten years later, these three games in the 1999 season still define this rivalry.
The Jaguars would have to wait almost a year to get a measure of revenge against Tennessee.
Near the end of the 2000 season, Jacksonville had been effectively eliminated from the playoffs with a 4-7 record through 11 games. But when the 9-2 Titans came to town, the Jaguars' buried pride came to life in a tooth-and-nail fight that saw them answer Tennessee score for score.
Eddie George and Fred Taylor traded first-half touchdowns before the defenses dug in, reducing the game to a battle between kickers Al Del Greco and Mike Hollis.
Jacksonville won on Hollis' third field goal in the fourth quarter, but the Titans arguably had the last laugh. Samari Rolle added two more interceptions to his history of tormenting Mark Brunell, and Tennessee didn't lose another regular season game in rolling to a 13-3 finish and the top seed in the AFC playoffs.
As the Jaguars transitioned from Tom Coughlin to Jack Del Rio at head coach and the Titans bottomed out from their Super Bowl form, these two teams engaged in a string of forgettable contests after the turn of the century as their out-of-division rivalries heated up.
Then Tennessee picked Texas quarterback Vince Young third overall in the 2006 NFL Draft, planting a seed of controversy that would grow the Jaguars-Titans feud back to its former importance.
That year, Jacksonville took diminutive UCLA running back Maurice Jones-Drew with the 60th overall pick, hoping to work him in as a third-down back and return specialist. Instead, he forced his way into the offense with 1,377 yards on 212 touches—an average of over six yards per carry or reception.
The powers that be crowned Young the NFL's Rookie of the Year, but the Jaguars made a convincing case against the Titans' rookie signal-caller. In Week 9, Young's fifth game as a starter, they intercepted him three times and held him to 177 total yards in a dominating 37-7 win at home.
The teams' rematch that year was the fifth game in a six-game winning streak by Tennessee. As such, it helped give birth to Vince Young's much-trumpeted reputation as a quarterback who, despite unimpressive statistics, "just wins games."
Coincidentally—or not—it was also part of a five-game stretch in 2006 where the Titans' defense woke up from a slow start to play like a top-10 unit. By Week 15, they were sharpened and ready for Jacksonville's David Garrard.
Led by Young, Tennessee's offense managed just 98 yards and five first downs on the day. Fortunately for the Titans, three of the shell-shocked Garrard's four turnovers were returned for scores to earn the win.
Easily the worst self-destruction in the Jaguars' short history, Garrard's implosion against Tennessee sunk Jacksonville's playoff chances one week after a 44-17 blowout win over Indianapolis put them in the hunt.
Two years later, the Titans had decided to "just win games" with Kerry Collins at quarterback—and they were winning a lot of them.
Tennessee entered Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in 2008 undefeated through nine games and headed for the playoffs. The Jaguars, fresh off an 11-5 record and their first playoff win this century, had hoped to be right there with them, but a rash of injuries to key offensive linemen had derailed their ground game.
Having lost both starting guards (Vince Manuwai and Maurice Williams) by the first quarter of a Week 1 loss to the Titans, Jacksonville still had a chance to improve to 5-5 and spoil Tennessee's perfect run. The Titans led 3-0 early, but Maurice Jones-Drew's two touchdowns put the Jaguars in front, 14-3, by halftime.
Somewhere inside the bowels of that stadium, Tennessee figured out where to attack Jacksonville's defense. As the Titans kept the Jaguars off the scoreboard in the second half, Collins took advantage of rookie safety Reggie Nelson's poor up-top coverage on two deep scores.
After failing to blemish Tennessee's record, Jacksonville ended the year in a 1-6 tailspin that led to the firing of general manager James "Shack" Harris.
Up until the second leg of the Jaguars-Titans series last year, this was a rivalry characterized by its quarterbacks.
For Jacksonville, Mark Brunell never quite solved Samari Rolle and Tennessee's secondary, and David Garrard had swung schizophrenically against the Titans from "goat" in his losses to "great" in his wins.
For Tennessee, Steve McNair consistently picked the Jaguars' defense apart, both through the air and with his legs, while Vince Young was more notable for his poor play and 2008 benching.
But in a history of running backs from James Stewart and Gary Brown through Fred Taylor and Eddie George, Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew and Tennessee's Chris Johnson were the first to take over that spotlight.
Last November, the Titans built a 13-0 first-half lead while the Jaguars' pass-heavy game plan fizzled out. With 5:50 remaining before halftime—and after rookie receiver Mike Thomas had first tried a reverse—Jacksonville gave Maurice Jones-Drew his first carry at his own 20-yard line.
One lane, one cut, and 80 yards later, Tennessee's lead was down to 13-7.
After that, the Jaguars fed the Titans a steady diet of Jones-Drew up the middle for the next few drives, including a 79-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage in the second half.
Then Chris Johnson woke up, answering Jones-Drew's long runs with 52- and 89-yard slashing, dashing scores of his own. Johnson managed only 87 yards on his 22 other carries, but they all added up to a career-best 228 rushing yards and a big step toward his historic total of 2,005 at season's end.
Whatever Garrard and Young might contribute to this rivalry in the future, Jones-Drew and Johnson's heavyweight fight in 2009 made this rivalry more of a must-watch than it's ever been.