The Tennessee Titans are the darling of NFL media right now. There is no shortage of breathless articles from the national writers and analysts this offseason predicting the rise of the Titans in the AFC and a step up to superstardom for quarterback Marcus Mariota. You can check out a few of my favorites here, here, and here.
If When the Titans live up to that #hype this fall we will likely look around and see a bunch of new faces in the crowd wearing the two-tone blue.
If you are one of those new faces, this is the article for you. Before you throw on your brand new Mariota jersey please consider following the steps below to ensure optimal enjoyment for both you and your newfound friends. After all, you don’t want to be the fan that’s screaming for the Titans on Sunday, but has no clue who Bruce Matthews is. This is not a comprehensive history — boiling 57 years down to one article is an impossible task — but it will give you a starting point for understanding this team that you have come to root for.
For you long time Titans fans, I would call for you to welcome these fans with open arms. No, they haven’t struggled with the rest of us over the last decade, but we were all new fans at some point and they shouldn’t be looked down upon for having good timing. This is how a fan base grows. Please feel free to add to what I’ve left off in the comments.
Step 1: Learn the team’s history.
The team was founded as the Houston Oilers of the AFL in 1960. The Oilers found instant success in the AFL winning the first two AFL Championships in 1960 and 1961. The team has yet to repeat that early success since joining the NFL in the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. By the mid-70’s the Oilers entered what is now known as the “Luv ya Blue!” Era. Chris Wesseling of NFL.com wrote an excellent long-form article on this time period in the franchise’s history.
This run also featured one of the greatest players in franchise history, running back Earl Campbell. His highlights are absolutely incredible.
The Luv ya Blue! Oilers also featured Billy “White Shoes” Johnson who is credited as one of the pioneers of the touchdown dance in the NFL. I am hoping the relaxed celebration rules will bring some of this back fun back to the league this year. In fact, if Corey Davis is looking for a signature touchdown dance that would endear him to Titans fans everywhere, might I suggest the Billy Johnson’s Funky Chicken? He’s going to be wearing the same number and everything.
That era of Oilers football was built around Earl Campbell’s bruising runs and Bum Phillips’ 3-4 defense. That run took the team up to the early 80’s when a downturn led to that tough and physical style being replaced by Warren Moon, Ernest Givins, Haywood Jeffries, Curtis Duncan, Drew Hill and the “Run and Shoot” offense operating behind future Hall of Fame linemen Bruce Matthews and Mike Munchak. That offense ranked as one of the best of all-time in the NFL, but never achieved much postseason success.
The team moved from Houston to Tennessee in 1997 after a battle between Bud Adams and the City of Houston over their previous home stadium, the Astrodome. John McClain, who started covering the Oilers in 1977 and is a wealth of knowledge on the franchise, wrote a comprehensive piece covering the fallout between the Oilers and the city that led to their move to Tennessee.
The Tennessee Oilers played in Memphis in 1997, then in Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville in 1998, before settling in to its current home on the banks of the Cumberland River in 1999. That 1999 season was, and still is, the best season the franchise has ever had in the NFL. The team went 13-3 in the regular season including a perfect 8-0 in their brand new stadium, followed by the Music City Miracle game in the first round of the playoffs and, eventually, a trip to Super Bowl XXXIV (more on that later). While they fell short of their ultimate goal that season it did set off a run of five years from 1999-2003 when the Titans were among the elite teams in the NFL.
Since then? Not so great. We had the one great year in 2008 when the team again went 13-3, but this time the Titans were eliminated in the divisional round of the playoffs in a heartbreaking loss to the hated Ravens. That was the last time the Titans made the playoffs.
For some great historical facts about the Titans check out the Hall of Fame’s team page about them.
Step 2: Watch the Music City Miracle.
This is the most famous play in Titans history and the play that this website is named after. Here it is with Titans Radio play-by-play man Mike Keith (the first and only play-by-play announcer since the Titans moved to Nashville) and color commentator Pat Ryan on the call. I still get goosebumps every time Ryan says “he’s got something”.
I like the radio version better than the TV broadcast because you don’t have Joe Theismann breaking in with “that looks like a forward pass” (it wasn’t) in the middle of the play to take the excitement out of it. However, the TV broadcast does show the classic reaction of Steve McNair so I will post it here as well.
Wikipedia actually has a really good history on that play if you are interested to read more about it. The Titans went on to beat the Colts in the Divisional Round and then wallop the Jaguars in the AFC Championship (the Jaguars went 14-0 against the rest of the NFL in 1999, 0-3 against the Titans) before losing a heartbreaker to the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl.
Step 3: Watch Super Bowl XXXIV.
If preseason football isn’t filling that large spheroid shaped hole in your heart, I’d recommend sitting down and spending a couple hours watching Super Bowl XXXIV. It is objectively one of the greatest Super Bowls of all time featuring the Rams “Greatest Show on Turf” offense against a gritty, hard-nosed Titans team led by Steve McNair, Bruce Matthews, Eddie George, and rookie phenom Jevon Kearse.
Even if you don’t want to watch the full game, at least watch the 4th quarter or the last drive. The final sequence of plays is as dramatic as football can get.
Step 4: Choose a side on Vince Young vs Jeff Fisher.
Every Titans fan has an opinion on the Vince Young-Jeff Fisher feud that ruined a promising rebuild in the late 2000s. It still comes up and is hotly debated in the comments on this site, Twitter, everywhere. This story could be a whole series of articles, but I’ll try to boil it down to its basics.
The 2006 NFL Draft featured three top quarterbacks: Texas’ Vince Young, USC’s Matt Leinart, and Vanderbilt’s Jay Cutler. All three had different strengths and a debate raged on about who would be the best of the bunch. The Titans had the #3 pick in the draft and were in the market for a new quarterback with Steve McNair on the way out following back-to-back injury riddled campaigns in 2004 and 2005.
Owner Bud Adams declared prior to the draft that “VY is my guy” and forced his GM Floyd Reese to make Young his selection. We now know that Titans coaches and scouts did not have VY as their top QB in that draft, in fact, he was third among the three.
After Young was forced on Fisher and his staff things didn’t go so well. This is where the two sides begin split. The Young supporters say that Fisher didn’t want Young from the beginning (he didn’t) and that he sabotaged VY’s career intentionally by playing mind games with him and leaving him benched behind Kerry Collins during the 2008 playoff run. The Fisher supporters say that Young never wanted to put in the work to be great (he didn’t) and that Young has no one to blame but himself for his failings as an NFL QB.
Step 5: Know the enemy.
When the Oilers joined the NFL as part of the AFL-NFL merger, they were placed in a newly formed AFC Central Division with the Cincinnati Bengals (also from the AFL), Pittburgh Steelers (NFL), and Cleveland Browns (NFL). The division remained unchanged for 25 years before the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars joined in 1995 to become the 5th team in the division. In 1996 the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Baltimore Ravens followed by the Oilers moving to Tennessee in 1997. In 1999 the AFC Central added a 6th team as the Cleveland Browns returned to the NFL as an expansion team. So that left the Bengals, Steelers, Titans, Browns (new Browns), Ravens (old Browns), and Jaguars as division rivals until 2002. In 2002, the NFL expanded again and this time they restructured the whole league and the AFC Central was split in to two divisions, the AFC North featuring the Browns, Steelers, Bengals, and Ravens and the AFC South featuring the Titans and Jaguars and adding the Indianapolis Colts (formerly of the AFC East) and the expansion Houston Texans.
I am going to attempt a rivalry power ranking here of the teams in the NFL that Titans fans hate the most. Just know that this is highly subjective and will vary substantially depending on which Titans fan you are talking to.
#1 Indianapolis Colts - This is the team most Titans can’t stand the sight of. A lot of that has to do with the Titans struggles against the Colts winning just 1 of the last 17 matchups, but it also has to do with their skeezy owner and the fact that after 13 years of Peyton Manning they immediately had the best QB prospect of the decade fall right in to their lap in Andrew Luck. Meanwhile the Titans after McNair have churned through Vince Young, Kerry Collins, Rusty Smith, Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Zach Mettenberger, and Charlie Whitehurst before arriving at Mariota. The Titans will get a chance to exorcise some demons on Monday Night Football in October.
#2 Baltimore Ravens - This rivalry lost some of its juice when the AFC Central broke up, but in the late 90s and early 2000s it was one of the hottest rivalries in the NFL. The Ravens were the first visiting team to beat the Titans in their current stadium and also dealt the team two of its most painful playoff losses. There will be no love in Nissan Stadium for the Ratbirds when they come to town this season.
#3 Houston Texans - Texans fans think this is more of a rivalry than most Titans fans do. The complication here is that there are still a lot of Titans fans in Houston who stuck with the franchise when the Oilers moved to Tennessee. For those fans this rivalry is everything, but these two teams just haven’t played that many memorable games to foster the hatred needed for a good rivalry. That may change over the next few years though.
#4 Jacksonville Jaguars - I could see the argument for having the Jags at #2 on this list and their fans probably hate the Titans more than we hate them. They just haven’t been good enough to hate for so long. The early days of this rivalry were great though.
#5 Pittsburgh Steelers - Some will argue this should be higher and I get it. The Steelers were the bullies of the old AFC Central and the Oilers/Titans have had their fair share of dust ups over the years. All Titans fans know the Curse of the Terrible Towel.
The Titans went on to lose their first game in the playoffs to the Ravens and haven’t been back to the playoffs since. A road game in Pittsburgh on Thursday Night Football this year seems like a good time to reverse the curse.
#6 Buffalo Bills - This doesn’t seem like a natural rivalry and it isn’t but these two teams have played in two of the most famous games of NFL history. The first of these came when the Titans were still the Oilers and is simply known as "The Comeback" as the Bills were down 35-3 in the second half of a playoff game and came back to win. Of course the Titans got their revenge years later with the Music City Miracle.
#7 Los Angeles Rams - The Rams were the team that beat the Titans in the team’s only Super Bowl so that will always carry some weight. Then there was the Jeff Fisher common bond and the big trade a year and a half ago when Jon Robinson fleeced the Rams for a boatload of draft picks in exchange for the right to move up and take Jared Goff.
Q: Why are they called the Tennessee Titans?
A: Nashville is known as "The Athens of the South" due to its abundance of colleges and universities. In 1897, the city built a to-scale replica of the Parthenon which is still a major tourist attraction. In Greek mythology the Titans were the gods that preceeded the Olympians (Zeus and the gang). I suppose they could have gone with Tennessee Olympians but that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, besides everyone loves alliteration.
Q: My friends mock them by calling them "The Flaming Thumbtacks", whats that all about?
A: This can be traced back to a sportswriter named Gregg Easterbrook who used to write a very good weekly column for ESPN (back when they still paid talented people) called Tuesday Morning Quarterback. In that column he regularly developed inside joke-y nicknames for NFL teams and Flaming Thumbtacks was his name for the Titans since the "T" in our primary logo looks kind of like a profile view of a thumbtack.
Q: Which jersey should I buy?
A: The obvious answer is Mariota. He’s the franchise centerpiece and could turn in to one of the true superstars in the NFL over the next few seasons. However, there are going to be thousands of #8 jerseys around Nissan Stadium on gamedays.
If you want something a little different, my suggestions would be Derrick Henry and Corey Davis for the guy who wants someone he can have on a fantasy team. Those two are young and should be around for a while. If you love defense you might go with Jurrell Casey who just got a big, new contract extension or potential rising star Kevin Byard.
You could go throwback as well which would gain you favor with more established Titans fans. Can’t go wrong with a McNair, George, Bulluck, Kearse, or Wycheck jersey. With the team changing uniforms before the 2018 season, going with a throwback may be your best bet.
My personal choice, if you don’t go the throwback route, is Taylor Lewan. He’s an offensive lineman so you will be one of the few running around in a #77 jersey, but the guy is among the best in the NFL at his position and has a big time personality. He’s also likely to get a contract extension soon that will make him a Titan for a long time.
Q: Why are yawns contagious?
A: I’m not sure, but it is probably Jeff Fisher’s fault.
Q: What is the most embarassing moment as a Titans fan?
A: The 2013 Titans set the NFL record for fastest team to get scored on in an NFL game at 14:59 remaining in the 1st quarter. It also just so happened to be the first game of the regular season which means it also holds the distinction of fastest score in a season as well. This is one of the few records that is guaranteed to never be broken.
Q: Who is the greatest player in Titans history?
A: There are four answers to this question that I could make an argument for: Earl Campbell, Warren Moon, Bruce Matthews, and Steve McNair. Campbell was the 1979 NFL MVP, a 5-time Pro Bowl selection, and once won back-to-back-to-back NFL Offensive Player of the Year awards (1978, 1979, 1980). Moon was a 9-time Pro Bowl selection who once won NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1990). Matthews was a 14-time Pro Bowl selection (tied for the most in NFL history) and a 10-time First Team All-Pro selection. McNair was a 3-time Pro Bowl selection and was the co-MVP in 2003 along with Peyton Manning. He also led the team to it’s only Super Bowl appearance.
If you’re asking me, it’s Bruce Matthews. The guy played every position on the offensive line at different points in his 19-year NFL career and made First Team All-Pro at three different spots — left guard, center, and right guard — which is absolutely incredible. I won’t fault anyone for choosing any of those other three though.