We're at the end of an era. An awful, awful era, marked with heartbreak and defeat. I had high hopes for this particular snapshot in time, but those dreams were shattered as soon as I realized that my quarterbacks were, in no particular order, a geezer with good intentions and a dumbass with...well, they were intentions.
However, one thing lead to another and it all came crashing down on our collective, brown bag covered heads. The unfortunate reality is that maybe we should have seen it coming. Our team wasn't adapting to an ever evolving NFL landscape that called for ingenuity and creativity as opposed to the knock down, drag out style that rewarded teams who were simply bigger, stronger, and faster than everybody else. This was a thinking mans game more than it had ever been and our staff just wasn't equipped to deal with the drastic change. Teams who have coaches that are stuck in their ways have always faltered, and the Titans were the walking embodiment of the definition of insanity.
Sometimes, dreams just don't come true.
I'm no stranger to disappointment, most of us aren't, but I can't help but feel that these past three years represent one massive missed opportunity to build a dynasty. Had Vince Young been the guy we all thought he was, a dynamic, albeit raw, game changer in the mold of McNair, perhaps we would be getting ready to gear up for a Super Bowl run this year. Had Jeff Fisher realized that the ground and pound strategy was a one way ticket to the unemployment line, maybe things would've turned out differently. Had Alge Crumpler and LenDale White held onto the football and had Mike Griffin picked off Flacco's desperation heave to Todd Heap in the 2008 Divisional Round, maybe we would still be celebrating the achievements of the 2008 Super Bowl winners.
Then reality sets back in. Nope, none of those things happened. So here we sit, a beaten down, but still embattled franchise searching for something to cling to. All of a sudden, we see a ray of hope at the end of the tunnel. The 2011 NFL Draft will make or break this team. A new quarterback is coming to town. Who will it be? No one knows, but everyone pines for that big red haired fella' from just north of the border and the gunslinger from Tallahassee as we recognize that no matter what, Mike Reinfeldt can't afford to screw this one up. Looking back on this, I realize that we were far too conservative in our thinking. Despite the healthy "make a safe pick" mentality that was spreading like wildfire, we should have been pining for the big gamble. Selecting Dalton or Ponder would have symbolized that we were willing to accept years of low risk, moderate reward football. That was the ceiling that they had been pegged with. We pointed out stats that favored both of them, but ultimately, I feel like picking either one at eight overall would have left us wanting more five years down the road. As Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton lead their teams to playoff appearances, Andy Dalton and/or Christian Ponder might have been doing the same, but the skeptic in me tells me that they would have been quarterbacking 9-7 or 8-8 football teams while putting up good, but not great, stats. For the sake of the two players I have just mentioned, I hope I'm wrong. I hope they have long, successful, and healthy NFL careers and prosper in the new pass-heavy league.
All that being said, we sure as hell made the right pick.
Jake Locker is a player who just needed a franchise to have faith in him. Remember how in 2010 he was going ahead of Sam Bradford in certain mock drafts? I do. I remember thinking "This guy is going to make somebody really, really good for a lot of years." Then, last season happened. Injuries, crummy teammates, and a quasi-toxic environment had Locker's draft stock falling faster than a drunk on a mountain bike. I was off the bandwagon. I knew exactly what his future held and it wasn't pretty. In the days leading up to the draft, I reconsidered. I threw the numbers to the wind , sat down, and thought long and hard about what I would do if Locker was selected. After about twenty minutes of brainstorming, I arrived at a conclusion. I was going to get behind it 100%. If anyone deserved the benefit of the doubt in this year's class, it was Jake Locker. He wasn't a finished product, his team was a black hole of suck, and he had a Cam Newton sized chip on his shoulder. This was someone who was hungry for the chance to get after it. The Tennessee Titans have given him that chance and in doing so, have bet the farm on a guy that most analysts had given up on.
For as much as I enjoy empirical debates with fancy numbers and stuff, I love it even more when a guy like Locker spits in the faces of all of those who "prove" that he can't do it. Jake Locker is the new era. He is all we know. To me, he symbolizes the beginning of a whole new mentality for this team even more than our fearless leader, Mike Munchak does. I, for one, welcome our new Husky overlord and will be ready to say "I told you so!" at every single turn.
So then, back to my original question. Before I got side tracked on my rant about my new favorite person ever, I asked "what have we learned?" If there's one thing that I've learned, it's this: we are either an incredibly dedicated or an incredibly stupid group of people. Perhaps a little bit of both.* As a fan base, we've been through it all. The climactic highs, the crushing lows, and though this journey has made me question my faith in humanity at times, it's all been worth it. Now, as we bravely press onward, it's time for some of our faith to be rewarded. I'm ready, I know all of you are too, and I can't freakin' wait to see what the future holds for us.
*disclaimer: I'm kidding, it's a joke, stop being offended please.