Interested in rooting for one of the NFL’s 32 teams — but don’t know where to start? Adam Rank has you covered with this series, which will present a handy guide to becoming an instantly rabid fan of each organization in the league. Below, find out why you should root for the Tennessee Titans.
What you need to know so you don’t sound stupid
Probably the most important thing you will need to know about this franchise — you might need to take a seat for this — is that the Tennessee Titans used to be the Houston Oilers. Forgive me, because some of you knew that. But it’s funny to find people when I’m out on the road who never knew this. In fact, at the Super Bowl in Houston this year, I talked to a fan who didn’t know. I showed the fan the similarity between the old Oilers uniforms and the current Titans duds, and this dude looked like Terry Benedict when he finally realized that the video of the vault heist was actually staged in a sound studio on the other side of the I-15.
So there you go. From Elvin Bethea to Earl Campbell to Marcus Mariota, that’s some lineage with this club. Although I’m not sure how celebrated the old Oilers are in Tennessee. It reminds me of a time I talked to Jack Youngblood (you are pot-committed on my humblebrags and name-dropping now) and he said it was strange to be out on the field in St. Louis being honored with dudes he played against, like Dan Dierdorf. About the only time we really see a throwback to the past is when the Titans wear those rad Oilers jerseys from the way back. (This needs to be said, but those powder blue and white Oilers uniforms might be the best.)
BTW, the Titans/Oilers also tried to do that thing where they played some lame-duck seasons in Houston. That lasted a year. The Titans moved to Memphis for one season and then played at Vanderbilt the following year before moving into their new digs in Nashville in 1998. They also changed from Oilers to Titans — thankfully, because it helped avoid something unfortunate. Like the Utah Jazz or something. And it saves some pain for the Houston fans.
Best. Play. Ever.
If you want to be a fan of the Titans, you must believe the “Music City Miracle” was the best play of all time. The actual name of the play was “Home Run Throwback.” Fullback Lorenzo Neal took the kickoff from the Bills. Oh, right — I should mention this was the first round of the 1999 playoffs, with the Titanshosting Buffalo. The Bills had done something stupid where they benched regular-season starting quarterback Doug Flutie and replaced him with Rob Johnson. And they nearly got away with it, leading the Titans in the final moments. (Sixteen seconds left, to be exact.)
But then the Bills kicked off high and short to Neal, who handed the ball to tight end Frank Wycheck. Wycheck began running to the right before stopping, pivoting and tossing the ball across the field to Kevin Dyson, who took it 75 yards for the touchdown. There was a replay debate — was Wycheck’s toss to Dyson a lateral? — but the play stood and the Titans won the game. It was really one of the most thrilling endings to a game you can imagine. A crushing defeat for Buffalo that would be the worst of all time — except it was the Bills, who are kind of used to that. (That’s not shade — that’s fact.)
Wait, what happened after that?
The Titans played the St. Louis football club in Relocation Bowl I (both teams bolted for new municipalities in the 1990s). With the Titans trailing 23-16, Dyson was tackled at the 1-yard line as time expired to give St. Louis a dramatic victory.
And let me tell you: I felt this one.
Now, I’m Chicago-born … but California-raised. So I was, at one point, a Los Angeles Rams fan. But I was staunchly anti-St. Louis. So when this game happened, I went to a local watering hole just steps from UNLV to watch the game. Me and my idiot friends wore L.A. Rams gear, but were rooting for the Titans. This poor soul who was there in his Rams gear — Vegas used to be huge (probably still is) Ramscountry — thought we were going to be his allies. We were not. And at some point, our obnoxiousness drove him out of the building. (Nothing malicious, other than lighting his car on fire. Kidding!) And when Mike Jones tackled Dyson, we were crestfallen. Though I suppose there were celebrations happening in Houston with the old Oilers faithful.
The Stanley Cup playoffs are typically lit. But this — by far — was my favorite part of this year’s playoffs: Members of the Titans‘ offensive line wearing Nashville Predators sweaters and pounding beers before playoff games. Oh, I’m sorry, I’m not selling this hard enough. They pounded tallboys. I got heartburn just watching this:
Tennessee Titans offensive linemen crushing tallboys to fire up the crowd in Nashville
Go Preds. pic.twitter.com/v1sHACFVqo
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 17, 2017
The Titans O-Line on their worst behavior and Marcus loves every second of it pic.twitter.com/EapL1N5Huu
— matt (@mattneely_) June 1, 2017
This is what I’m talking about. I know, you see neighboring teams do this kind of stuff all of the time. Hell, Mike Trout was at an Anaheim Ducks playoff game. But most of the time, it’s nothing more than the professional players wearing team gear, cheering, smiling and whatnot. The Titans were invested. They were involved. They were acting like fans. Like you and me! And this wasn’t some sort of publicity stunt. They were in it:
— Taylor Lewan (@TaylorLewan77) June 12, 2017
And I loved it. Wouldn’t you want to back a team that like — one that has the back of the other sports team in town?
What shouldn’t be lost in the section just above is that Marcus Mariota was at the Preds game with his rambunctious O-line. And he appeared to be the only one not pounding tallboys, which means he was either driving or was going to be the one who organized the Lyft. That is a leader right there.
And if I may bring up this little bit of unpleasantness … Recently, NFL.com had an “Instant Debate” about which young quarterback was going to win the most rings: Derek Carr or Dak Prescott? And I would like to know just why in the hell Mariota was not included. Because he’s the next big thing in the NFL.
OK, so my editor has reminded me that that “Instant Debate” question was tied into the close proximity of Prescott and Carr in NFL Network’s “Top 100 Players of 2017.” Yes, Carr ranked 11th and Prescott ranked 14th. Meanwhile, Mariota came it at No. 50. Well, the players screwed up by having Mariota so far below the other two young guns in the voting.
Mariota’s coming along fine in his rehab from last December’s broken leg, and he’s going to be ready to go for the coming season.
And they are getting better
Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker(whom I implored to keep wearing No. 46 when he went to Tennessee, but he didn’t listen) were very good for the Titans last year. But you can always use more help. It’s like what Nic Cage’s daddy taught him in “Con Air”: “Many hands make light work.” (Sorry, it was on before I went to bed and … well … I watched the whole thing. I can’t help it.)
But the team used the fifth overall pick on the most talented receiver in April’s draft, Corey Davis. And then the Titansadded free-agent receiver Eric Decker. He’s a touchdown machine. Pretty great acquisition in mid-June. Yeah, he’s 30 years old, but that age is not the death knell for wideouts that it is for running backs. In fact, Danny Kelly of The Ringer put together a pretty good list of 30-year-old receivers who have switched teams and done pretty well, including Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and even former Titan Derrick Mason.
Oh yeah, and they haven’t even fully utilized Derrick Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner and 2016 second-round pick. That’s ridiculous. Because DeMarco Murray is an A+ running back in this league (save for the year Chip Kelly tried to ruin his career). So it’s a pretty big embarrassment of riches, having these two options at running back. The Titans treat the RB position like Batman treated his various Robins. If Dick Grayson (DeMarco) wants to go be Nightwing or something, that’s cool. Tim Drake(Henry) is right there waiting to take the gig. Oh, shoot: Marcus Mariota is Batman!
All that said, I wish Henry would have been allowed to wear No. 2, like during his Alabama days. It looked pretty dope in training camp. Come on, NFL. You’re trying to be more fun. Letting running backs (and receivers) wear single-digit numbers is fun, for sure.
Not enough credit
Somehow I feel like Chris Johnson never gets enough credit for how great he was as a running back. He got the cool nickname — CJ2K is legendary — but nobody seems to bring him up when you talk about the best running backs of his era. That’s a mistake.
Jeff Fisher parlayed one miracle play into one of the most improbable coaching tenures in NFL history. And he nearly ruined the Los Angeles Rams! Just kidding — he did.
But Fisher will help the Titans win games in the future, as he (and the Rams) sent a bevy of draft picks to Tennessee for the right to draft Jared Goff. The Titans turned one of those picks into Corey Davis. I loved the selection. I mean, if you’ve got a pick that’s basically house money, why not take the high-upside receiver? So toast Fisher every time Davis scores a touchdown for the Titans in his career.
Did you not read the part about the best play ever? Wear a Frank Wycheck No. 89 jersey and you’ll probably never have to pick up a tab at a Nashville bar again. Which is kind of overstating it. It’s not like you’re actually Frank Wycheck. Have you ever seen somebody wearing a cool jersey and said, “Dude, great jersey. I’m going to buy you a beer!” I mean, I’ve done that. But I’m a lunatic. You’ll probably get a pat on the back. Or a cool-guy head nod:
Wait, can I wear an Oilers jersey?
My gut reaction is no, because those guys played in Houston. And you see a bunch of Texans fans rocking Houston gear. But you can actually tweak those same fans by wearing Oilers gear, since it isyour franchise. You know what? Get this Chris Johnson throwback jersey. So awesome.
The franchise’s best
Oh, man — you’re going to make me get into this, aren’t you? All right. The franchise’s best: quarterback Steve McNair. The guy who guided the organization to its lone Super Bowl appearance. And then I’ll take Earl Campbell from the Oilers years. If you have some time to burn today, go watch some of Campbell’s highlights on YouTube. I can’t imagine how popular he would be if he played in the modern NFL.
Closing fun fact
Titans are from Greek mythology, so the name change was a great one when you consider Nashville is often referred to as the “Athens of the South.” Mind. Blown.
Enthusiasm is running wild
— tay ⚡️ (@TaySxpreme) June 19, 2017
That’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off.
If the images of the Titans‘ offensive line cheering on the Predators in the Stanley Cup Playoffs didn’t swing you over, man, you might be a lost cause. I had the chance to hang out with Taylor Lewan prior to the 2014 NFL Draft. He’s a quality individual. So it really didn’t surprise me that he and his mates embraced this so hard.
So, the line is great. You have a franchise quarterback to root for. Two quality running backs. Corey Davis. Jessie James’ husband. (I kid — I’m an Eric Decker guy.) The defense is coming around. Plus, Titans fans are pretty cool. Nashville is one of the best up-and-coming towns. Again, this is an important point when considering a team: Do you want to actually hang out in the city where the team plays? With Nashville, that answer is an overwhelming yes.