The Tennessee Titans have a long and storied history with the St.Louis Rams, dating all the way back to their inaugural season in 1999.
The two teams have stayed in close contact over the last fifteen years, which is ironic given the fact that they are in different conferences. In fact, some of the biggest moments in the history of their franchise have come at the other’s expense.
And it is those series of events that makes tonight’s nationally televised game no preseason game at all.
In the fall of 1999, the St. Louis Rams were undefeated at 6-0, and beating teams down with their “Greatest Show on Turf” aerial assault. The Titans, who were home underdogs, sparked controversy when then they elected to reinsert Steve McNair into the starting lineup for that game after missing a month with a back injury. At that time, McNair was still considered a “project” more than an NFL caliber quarterback, and backup qb Neil O’Donnell led the team to a 3-1 record in his absence.
Well, McNair went on to put 21 first quarter points on the board, and the Titans went on to upset the upstarts. As a Nashville resident at the time, I vividly remember the perception changing on Tennessee and McNair after that game, both locally and nationally. It was their coming out party.
A few months later, of course, the Rams got their revenge by beating Tennessee in one of the most thrilling finishes in Super Bowl history. St. Louis won their first world title, and albeit a consolation prize, the Titans didn’t leave the Georgia Dome empty handed either. They were praised for their grit and toughness, and was widely recognized as a team on the rise.
I remember sitting in the stands when the two teams met in a prime time nationally televised rematch in their 2000 preseason opener. I remember the electricity and intensity of that game, similar to what I experienced in their regular season tilt a year earlier. Both teams were playing to win, but the home team prevailed.
Then they started poaching each other’s talent…
It started in 2001 when the Titans signed defensive end Kevin Carter away from the Rams. Carter was not only one of the best defensive players in St. Louis, he was one of the best in the league. Tennessee became a dominant defense after his signing.
And just like in 1999, the Rams struck back by signing several former Titans over the years. The biggest being longtime head coach Jeff Fisher in 2011.
And in true fashion, the two teams meet tonight with a myriad of storylines as the backdrop. Not only is Jeff Fisher making his long awaited return to the house that he built, but some kid named Marcus Mariota will be making his home debut.
Also, don’t think for one second that Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt isn’t trying to win this game, if for no other reason than his own personal reasons. Beating Jeff Fisher tonight will go a long way in getting back in the fans’ good graces, while hopefully slamming the door shut on that chapter once and for all.
It’s something about Tennessee and St. Louis. Somehow…some way…they always seem to cross paths under unique circumstances.
Kudos to the NFL for recognizing the synergy and electricity of this rivalry. The Titans-Rams game will televised nationally on FOX tonight, over the Cowboys-49ers game. Something I thought I’d never see.
I guess the NFL recognized what Titans and Rams fans have known all along….there is no such thing as preseason when these these two teams play.
And tonight will be no different.