As Super Bowl 51 gets ready to kick off, it’s time to revisit the last time the Tennessee Titans were in the Big Game.
For Tennessee Titans fans, it’s been a long time since Super Bowl Sunday was a nerve-racking, meaningful affair. Not since the 1999 season have the Titans been in the Big Game. And not since 2008 have the Titans even made the playoffs. This post might be painful, but we must recall what happened in the Super Bowl that almost brought a championship to Tennessee.
That Super Bowl was a classic tale of teams that weren’t expected to make it that far. The St. Louis Rams came into the season not expected to do much damage. In fact, ESPN The Magazine predicted them to be the worst team in the entire NFL. What ensued that year was the creation of the “Greatest Show on Turf”, a record-breaking offense that exploded on the back of Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, and Torry Holt. Holt was a rookie wide receiver and Warner was an undrafted backup quarterback who took the reins of the offense after starter Trent Green suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason. This would be only the second Super Bowl appearance in the team’s history.
For Tennessee, it would be their first ever Super Bowl appearance in team history. The team was led by Steve McNair, who was in his fifth season with the Titans. His 1999 season was a bit marred by injuries that forced him to miss five games. While his passing numbers weren’t anything to brag about, his rushing ability was a dynamic that made the offense unpredictable and kept the chains moving. Eddie George had a fantastic season that year, rushing for 1,304 yards and catching 47 passes for 458 yards, while totaling 13 touchdowns in a third straight Pro Bowl year. The defense was the bread and butter, led by playmakers like Jevon Kearse, Blaine Bishop, and Samari Rolle.
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The game began with a pair of failed field goal attempts by each team. The Rams’ attempt was a botched snap by the holder, while the Titans’ attempt was a missed 47 yard kick by Al Del Greco. The Titans got absolutely nothing going for the rest of the half, being forced to punt on all of their other first half possessions. The Rams were able to drive on the rest of their first half possessions, but had to settle for four field goal attempts. Kicker Jeff Wilkins made three and missed one, meaning the Rams went to halftime leading the Titans 9-0. All in all, a nine point deficit was generous to the Titans as they were out gained 294-89 by the potent Rams offense.
The Titans’ initial second half possession started well, but a Del Greco field attempt was blocked and Tennessee remained without points. The Rams then proceeded to drive down the field with ease, a drive which culminated in a Warner to Holt nine yard touchdown strike. The times were getting dark for the Titans. A 16 point deficit against the best offense in the league was not a good spot to be in. But that Titans team was the personification of the cliched “never give up”. That team was why I fell in love with football, and why I fell in love with the Titans.
The Titans responded with a touchdown drive on the back of a few McNair passes and a long scramble of his. George capped off the possession with a short touchdown run. After forcing a punt on the Rams’ next possession, the Titans embarked on a 13 play, 79 yard drive that finished with another short touchdown run from George. The lead was cut to three, and after another forced three and out from the Rams and a Del Greco field goal, the game was now tied at 16 with just 2:12 left in the game.
As has been the case for the Titans, though, whenever something can go wrong, it goes wrong. On the Rams’ next drive, Bruce got free on a long reception and ran it all the way in for a 73 yard touchdown. But it left a lot of time on the clock for McNair to engineer a game tying drive. With under two minutes left in the game, Air McNair kept scrambling and kept completing short passes, methodically moving the Titans down the field. With the ball on the Rams’ 10 yard line and just six seconds left in the game, the Titans used their final timeout.
And then it happened.
With one last opportunity to tie the game, McNair hit Kevin Dyson in stride on a short slant through the middle of the field. Dyson has a small window to get into the end zone with a few yards to go. But Rams linebacker Mike Jones, who was designed to be drawn away from Dyson, noticed him coming open across the middle. Jones changed directions and corralled Dyson’s legs, tripping him up as he stretched the ball towards the end zone. Dyson came up short, the clock ran out, and the Titans had lost the biggest game in franchise history in excruciating fashion.
The Titans haven’t been back, and haven’t been close to being back, since that day. But the future looks particularly bright in Tennessee. They have their franchise quarterback, a lot of good, young talent, and GM and head coach that are on exactly the same page. Their time is coming, I just know it.