The Tennessee Titans are the ultimate blue-collar team, reflecting the image of their coach. The no-nonsense approach and next-man-up mentality could yield something special this postseason.
If you listened closely, you can hear the hard-working citizens of Tennessee from miles away. Every single day feels and sounds the same. At the crack of dawn, both men and women slam their hands down on an alarm clock, wipe the crust from their eyes, yawn, jump into the shower and get ready to attack the day.
Moments later, a time clock is punched in, signaling the beginning of yet another grueling 10-hour workday. Whether their inhabitants hail from Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville, or Chattanooga, the mentality is the same…work hard every single day…no days off.
The perpetual work cycle can be arduous and mundane for most, but they’ve grown accustomed to dirtying their hands over back-breaking labor. That very same blue-collar mentality has molded their NFL franchise, the Tennessee Titans.
Over the past several decades, the Titans’ hard-working ways haven’t exactly led to success on the football field. Since arriving in Tennessee in 1997, the Titans have often found themselves near the bottom of the AFC food chain. In 25 years, the franchise has only made nine playoff appearances, four of which ended in the opening round.
During one particular brutal eight-year stretch, from 2009 to 2016, the Titans were flat-out awful. They failed to field competitive teams and a postseason run was a laughable notion.
Still, despite it all, Titans fans plunked their hard-earned money down and continued to walk through the doors of Nissan Stadium to show their support.
Mike Vrabel’s no-nonsense, work hard approach has paid off the Titans
With the road to prosperity continuing to look more and more daunting, the franchise got their hands on one of the hottest young defensive coordinators in the league in Mike Vrabel. He was a perfect fit. He was calm, cool, kept his head down, and demanded results. So far, he’s not only blended well within the community but he’s pushed the Titans to the sort of success they’ve been craving for decades.
With four postseason berths in his first five seasons, the Titans are now in an uncommon position. For years on end, the franchise has always looked up to see who’s leading the division. Now, however, as they peek up into the standings, Titans fans find their hard-working bunch at the top of AFC standings following a 12 win season.
There was nothing out of the ordinary for the Titans this year. Like always, they laced up their boots every day, worked hard but unlike most seasons the results showed. Even as most of their players began receiving public notoriety, most notably running back Derrick Henry and wide receiver A.J. Brown – they didn’t allow it to swell their egos. Instead, they demanded more from themselves.
In consecutive seasons, Henry has led the NFL in rushing yards. Brown, on the other hand, hasn’t complained one bit as his numbers and star power has dipped following a somewhat lackluster season. The team-first attitude of the Titans isn’t one that’s enduring to all players or personalities for that matter.
With the addition of former all-world wide receiver Julio Jones in the offseason, many were expecting him to lift this once-moribund franchise on his enormous shoulders and carry them to the promised land. Instead, he hasn’t quite gelled with the unglamorous city. Jones has produced career lows across the board, including receiving yards with 434, receptions with 31, and only touchdown.
No matter how hard he tried and regardless of his desire to fit in, Jones has struggled to find his place in the Titans offense and in Tennessee’s community. In spite of that, the franchise now finds itself as the number one seed in the AFC, forcing the rest of the competition to take a long and arduous trip to Nissan Stadium for the remainder of the playoffs, outside of the Super Bowl.
Titans are an everyman team for an everyman town
There’s nothing about the Titans franchise that catches national attention. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill isn’t considered an elite signal-caller but more so a game manager. The Titans failed to have a single receiver register over a thousand yards.
The most recognizable face on the team, running back Derrick Henry, is far from glamorous and seems to run with a chip on his shoulder even as he’s running away from the rest of the league. Henry is the ultimate team player on a roster full of teammates who get it.
Even losing the league’s best running back for nine games didn’t phase this working-class-hero team. The Titans never lost confidence once he was sidelined, and head coach Mike Vrabel forced them to stick together. As a result, they continued to pound the rock as a unit, racking up 135.8 rushing yards per game without Henry, nearly identical to the 147.6 with him in the lineup.
Number one seeds normally come with certain dynamics. A stellar passing game, an unstoppable wide receiver, or a Hall of Fame-bound head coach. The Titans aren’t dependent on any of the above. And while they aren’t analogous to any number one seed in recent memory, with a family first approach and unparalleled work ethic, that could be the exact reason why they win it all this year.