The Music City Miracle: Story of the Homerun Throwback (forward) Titans v Bills ’99 AFC Wildcard

As we make our way to the NFL’s 100th season we have to take a look back at the great moments over the last century. These great games that go on to impact careers, eras, and Hall of Fame legacies take place in the NFL playoffs. At times you’ll have something momentus happen during the regular season but it’s the finality and visibility of postseason play where everyone is viewing an individual event at the same time that grow into lore.

A first playoff game for a team in a new city and stadium where the Titans had been 8-0 in the regular season. The ’99 campaign had a collegiate type spirit as the Titans finally had a home after bouncing around like nomads for 2 seasons.

Now they were going to take on the Buffalo Bills in the ’99 AFC Wildcard Game. It came with a sense of irony as you looked back at the tumultuous turn that saw the franchise’s descent from the beloved Houston Oilers to the nomadic Tennessee Oilers. It’s genesis was the ’92 AFC Wildcard game some 7 years earlier.

At the time the Oilers were nearing the end of a frustrating era in which they’re Run n Shoot offense had been the scourge of the league. Hall of Fame QB Warren Moon had put up video game numbers as he and his trio of 1,000 yard receivers in Ernest Givins, Haywood Jeffires, and the late Drew Hill torched defenses in the regular season. Yet in the postseason the football gods weren’t so kind.

Between 1987-1991 the Oilers had made the playoffs all 5 years yet never seemed to have that signature game from Warren Moon to get to an AFC Championship Game. Injuries and timely defense from their opponents seemed to undo this team in the postseason and their window for a championship run was nearing it’s end.

Moon was turning 36 and how long could he play at a high level?

The ’92 team went 10-6 and had to go to take on the 2 time AFC Champion Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park. They had beat the Bills 27-3 in the finale to set up the Wild Card tilt. In that game the Oilers knocked out Jim Kelly with a knee injury and wouldn’t have to face him in the Wildcard round.

Andre Reed scores the go ahead touchdown in the greatest comeback in NFL history.

In what should have been his signature win Moon blistered the Bills to go 19 of 22 for 4TDs and took a commanding 28-3 halftime lead. In the 2nd half the Bills turned the tables coming back from a 35-3 deficit to winning 41-38 in overtime. The greatest comeback in NFL history.

The collapse was devastating and the doubt and discourse whittled away fan support as the team descended to medicocrity over the next couple of years.

Finally Owner Bud Adams decided to move the team in 1996. He had watched Art Modell pull the plug in Clevleand & move the Browns to Baltimore the season before. Why try to win back a city that had tired of your failures when you can win anew elsewhere?? The Houston Oilers were no more and the Tennessee Oilers wandered the desert in search of a home.

They played the ’97 season in the Liberty Bowl and ’98 in Vanderbilt Stadium. Both were college arenas where they weren’t the main tenants and playing on a college campus. It didn’t have the look and feel of an NFL ball club as Eddie George and Steve McNair emerged as the team’s new stars. Then they made the decision to change the name of the team to reflect a new identity… the Tennessee Titans and would play in their own brand new stadium as Nashville became their new home.

A new energy hit Adlephi Coliseum immediately as the team was refreshed with new uniforms befitting the change. They played to raucous fans who showed an appreciation for having their own team. It never felt that way when they still had their Oilers name from their years in Texas. The team went 13-3 on the strength of Eddie George (1,304 yds / 9TDs) Steve McNair (337 yds rushing/ 8 TDs) and a smash mouth rushing offense while super rookie DE Jevon Kearse burst onto the scene with a rookie record 14.5 sacks.

The Freak was the playmaker on an aggressive physical defense and turned in the most impactful season since Lawrence Taylor in 1981. He was voted to his 1st Pro Bowl, All Pro, and took home the ’99 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. They won 7 of their last 8 including a 41-14 win over division winner Jacksonville in week 15. They were primed to make a run and 1st up in the wildcard round??

Those Buffalo Bills who were nearing the end of their run with future Hall of Famers Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, and Thurman Thomas. Jim Kelly had already left the building after ’96 and the Bills began this strange odyssey of who should be quarterbacking??

Wade Phillips had taken over for Hall of Fame Head Coach Marv Levy and by all accounts favored Doug Flutie. He brought an energy to the team and an excitement even at this advanced age. Things seemed to pick up when he would go on a long serpentine run or scramble then hit an open receiver. An excitment christened “Flutie Magic”.

Eric Moulds was the new big threat in the Bills offense after a breakout ’98 (1,368 yds rec / 9 TDs) which was only bolstered by an NFL playoff record 240 yards in a Wildcard loss to Miami. Moulds was the future yet Andre Reed was still there to provide punch in the passing game.

Antowain Smith had become the featured runner as Thurman Thomas had shown wear after a Hall of Fame career. In ’99 he was injured with a lacerated liver that allowed him to return with fresh legs late in ’99 as Smith and Jonathan Linton had worn down toward season’s end.

One thing the Bills could bank on was the league’s #1 defense as Bruce Smith, Phil Hansen, and Marcellus Wiley provided a solid pass rush.

Yet all that paled in comparison to the ultimate betrayal that haunts Buffalo to this very day.

In an attempt to get a leg up on the franchise quarterback derby the Bills signed Rob Johnson before the ’98 season. He had started one game for an injured Mark Brunell while playing for Jacksonville. The offense would sputter under his leadership as he was often sacked for holding the ball too long. This is what prompted Phillips to replace him in ’98 & Flutie beat him out and started the 1st 15 games of ’99.

With a wildcard wrapped up and unable to improve their playoff position the Bills decided to rest Doug Flutie for the finale. It looked and sounded suspicious as Rob Johnson played the finale against a playoff bound Colts team also resting their starters. Then Coach Phillips dropped a bombshell and named Johnson the starter going into the Wildcard Game.

What?!?!?!?!!? The fanbase went bonkers and blew up switchboards and talk shows all week discussed Flutie v. Rob Johnson. Why would you disrupt the teams momentum to satisfy a front office pressuring you to start the $25 milion free agent?? Facing a Defensive Rookie of the Year coming off the ball with the intensity of a young Lawrence Taylor you decide to face him with an immobile quarterback?? What could possibly go wrong??

Less than 5 minutes into a game destined to be a defensive struggle, Kearse came screaming off the corner and sacked Johnson causing him to fumble out of the endzone. Safety 2-0! The Titans received the free kick and drove for a TD on a short field making it 9-0 just 7:00 into the game. It allowed Adelphia’s rowdy fans to stay at a fevered pitch as Buffalo fought uphill the entire game. Bruce Smith, in his last playoff appearance, kept Steve McNair under wraps sacking him 2.5 times.

The Bills clawed their way back in it and found themselves down 15-13 with 1:41 to go. Johnson had the chance to be a hero. Although he completed just 8 passes going into this final drive, he knew a playoff win could be the launching pad for his career. Johnson appeared calm amid the chaos and drove Buffalo to a last second field goal and a 16-15 lead! It appeared he had done it!! On one play he escaped his nemesis, Kearse and zipped his last completion to Peerless Price, all while scrambling with just one she on.

Once Steve Christie’s kick was good the Bills sideline exploded with emotion as the team brass scrambled to make reservations to go to Indianapolis for a rematch with Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and the 13-3 upstart Colts… all they had to do was get through the final :16

It was The Immaculate Reception of the new millenium since we were in January of 2000. The parallels were there as a city was hosting it’s 1st playoff game, a last second touchdown when the home team had no hope, and a long delay where the officials had to discuss the legitamacy of the scoring play. Only this time Instant Replay was used as an officiating tool. As a Billls fan I was screaming forward lateral and did so right before writing this…

The conclusive evidence is the 4th replay as Joe Theismann, Paul Mcguire, and Mike Patrick exalts “From THAT angle…” and I tried to argue for years it was a forward lateral.

It was the end of an era as Hall of Famers Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, and Bruce Smith were let go at the end of the season. They were the last of the Bills that had played in the 4 Super Bowls at the beginning of the decade. The football gods struck back for doing Flutie dirty and benching him going into the playoffs. It was only the 2nd time in NFL history where a backup was named to start the playoffs without an injury. Only the Jets in 1986 when Pat Ryan was named to start the ’86 AFC Wildcard over Ken O’Brien after the Jets lost their last 6 games was the other occasion.

As for the Titans… they rode this incredible momentum all the way to Super Bowl XXXIV where Kevin Dyson wound up in another famous play. Mike Jones tackling him at the 1 yard line as time ran out. Over the next 8 seasons the Titans were an elite team as Eddie George and Steve McNair became household names. Kevin Dyson had a good NFL career and is now Principle of a local school in the Nashville area.

The Music City Miracle didn’t become as famous as The Immaculate Reception…however had the Titans won a Super Bowl in the years that followed, it would have.

In January of 2000 it was played on ESPN and NFL Shows the rest of the month as it was truly a great play. One for the ages for everyone that wasn’t a Bills fan. We still bristle.

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SUPER BOWL XXXIV RUNNER UP 1999 TENNESSEE TITANS

The Jacksonville Jaguars were well on their way to achieving a Super Bowl as a part of their 5 yr plan from expansion. An upset win over Denver in the 96 playoffs was the launching pad and after a few roster improvements were ready to do it in 1999!! They were loaded and would steamroll…*huh?*…I’m supposed to be talkin’ about who?*…alright tell Eddie George I’ll call him back…*ahem*

titans_championship_afc_ringWell everything was going according to plan when they traveled north to play their rivals Tennessee Titans with a lot on the line in a week 15 match-up. With the chance to gain homefield advantage, cement that they were the dominant team in the AFC Central (South not created yet), and with only 169 points given up were within striking distance of  the NFL record of 187 points given up by the ’86 Bears.

Man what an asswhoopin’!! The Tennessee Titans lit into them like the Jaguars had stole something from their mother’s house. A 41-14 destruction that ruined the psyche of the Jacksonville franchise while sending a clear message that Tennesse would be a force themselves come playoff time, but surely they wouldn’t see them again…would they??

Oh the agony when I see this ring being a Buffalo fan…sigh   The Music City Miracle was a damn forward lateral…yet I digress. **deep breaths** ahem… where was I?

Ahh yes the 1999 AFC Champion Tennessee Titans.  This team totally derailed the Jacksonville Jaguar franchise.

Although they finished with a 13-3 record, they were the wildcard behind the AFC Central champion Jaguars at 14-2. The two best records ever for two teams in the same division which came with a unique twist: Although the Jaguars lost only 2 games all year, they were both to Tennessee. The Titans finally had a home they could call their own after 3 yrs of wandering the desert once they left the Houston Astrodome in moving to Nashville.

34titan2The Titans were powered on offense by Eddie George from Ohio St. who bludgeoned defenders with his running style for over 1,300 yards.  Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews & John Runyan were leaders on a very physical line.  The late Steve McNair was a developing quarterback who had his struggles in 1999 but was a legitimate running threat himself. In that 41-14 thrashing he threw for 5 of his 12 TDs for the season. He had a short to intermediate passing game that complimented their running game.

However the story of this team was defense. Led by Blaine Bishop at SS, Barron Wortham LB, Marcus Robertson FS, and who could forget the rookie season of Jevon “The Freak” Kearse DE, who set the league record for sacks as a rookie with 13 1/2.  This team came off the ball with a physicality the AFC hadn’t seen since the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier in the 90s.

Going into the ’99 playoffs there was a changing of the guard.  Gone were the two time champion Broncos and with the upstart Colts in the playoffs there was an air of parity on the AFC side of the ledger. The Titans first step was the wildcard tilt over Buffalo at home. Behind with :22 left and the Bills having just pulled ahead 16-15…*I can get thru this*…. then the kickoff where Frank Wycheck throws the ball across field to Kevin Dyson who takes it to the endzone with :08 seconds left.

34logoIt was a miracle finish of epic proportions and the energy and momentum sent the Titans hurtling through the heavens where they took down the favored Colts in Indianapolis the following week.  Which earned the Titans an all expenses paid trip to Jacksonville for the AFC Championship Game. Even though they ran over Miami 62-7 in the playoffs, they were still fearful of Tennessee.

No way the Titans could come in and outhit them again.  Well by virtue of a 30-14 thrashing.  The Titans owned the Jaguars who were never the same after that ’99 Championship.

Now we know they go on to play a competitive Super Bowl against the Rams and came up one yard short but don’t forget that injuries are a part of the game.  The Titans lost FS Marcus Robertson to injury in the AFC Championship Game after a 1st half interception, and Blaine Bishop SS fell to an injury in the 3rd quarter of the Super Bowl.  Why am I bringing this up??  Kurt Warner’s 73yd touchdown to Isaac Bruce to pull ahead of the Titans 23-16 was his ONLY completion of the 4th quarter, and it was thrown on TWO backup safeties in Perry Phoenix and Anthony Dorsett.

McNair, in a display of immense heart, willed the Titans downfield on a last second drive to bring Super Bowl XXXIV to a crescendo. On the last play with :07 left from the 10, McNair hit Kevin Dyson hoping for another miracle finish. This time Ram Linebacker Mike Jones brought down an outstretched Dyson at the 1 as time ran out.

So did they come up a yard short or a few injuries short??

dyson-jones-012819-sn-ftrjpg_1egrhgfwlnzfu1x891fcq107kz

This is the jewel for their fine season….and it WAS a forward lateral….*sigh*

This article is dedicated to the memories of Steve McNair and owner Bud Adams.

Missing Rings – 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars

Elusive Fred Taylor was one of the best running backs in the NFL.

Elusive Fred Taylor was one of the best running backs in the NFL.

There comes a point and time where your greatest effort is rewarded with your greatest prize. At least that is what we are all lead to believe. However that isn’t always the case and it’s what makes the NFL playoffs so compelling. To know that a one and done scenario exists in the playoffs, heightens pulses, nerves, and ultimately leads to the best and worst in players and coach alike. Jimmy Johnson before Super Bowl XXVIII asked his team “How would you feel if you lost the game and you had the best team in the NFL?? How sick would you feel??”

Enter the 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars…

This was a team borne from expansion in 1995 along with the Carolina Panthers. Each team surprisingly made it to their conference championships in their second year. However the Jaguars were able to sustain their success. They honed and developed offensive talent that had been mired on NFL benches with QB Mark Brunell (Packers), WR Jimmy Smith (Cowboys), and Keenan McCardell  (Browns). In 1996 & 1997 both Smith and McCardell had over 1,000 yards receiving. In fact it’s debatable that Smith had become the NFL’s best receiver.

Through the 1999 season, Smith had averaged 90 receptions 1,346 yards and 6 touchdowns over those 4 years. He had been to the Pro Bowl in 3 of those 4 seasons. They had former Charger RB Natrone Means and James Stewart who teamed to run the ball with minimal effectiveness.

Brunell had made a name for himself playing like the AFC version of Steve Young. A gritty, mobile quarterback who could make every kind of throw. Yet his spontaneous scrambles unnerved defenses.  He also had been to the Pro Bowl in 3 of those 4 years. Mark came of age in the 1996 AFC Divisional Playoff upset of the Denver Broncos. Mark BrunellIn that game the 9-7 Jaguars made the playoffs by the skin of their teeth.  After upsetting the Buffalo Bills on the road, it was expected their Cinderella season would end at the hands of the 13-3 Broncos in Mile High Stadium. Not only were they 8-0 at home but nationwide sentiment favored John Elway making it back to the Super Bowl with the NFL’s strongest team. Denver had rushed out to a 12-1 record wrapping up the AFC West and homefield advantage before resting their players.

After falling behind 12-0, Brunell engineered a comeback where he passed for 245 yards and 2 scores, but came up with timely scrambles that kept drives alive. Along with the running of Natrone Means (140 yds / 1TD), Brunell ran for 44 more as the Jaguars scored on 6 straight possessions in front of a shocked Denver crowd taking a 30-20 lead. The final 30-27 score stunned fans around the nation and everyone hailed the coming of Brunell and the Jaguars.

On the ground the Jags had a plodding rushing attack with RB James Stewart and Means. Two big backs with very little wiggle and no splash plays of any kind. They needed a spark. In 1998 the Jaguars addressed their running issues by drafting the electric but often injured RB Fred Taylor of Florida. He brought the big play from the backfield whether it was a spectacular run or pass reception. His 1,223 yards and 14 TDs should have landed him in the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

Brunell passed for 20TDs and only 9 interceptions in a season where he missed 3 games. Jimmy Smith exploded for 78 receptions 1,182 yards and 8 TDs and one of his Pro Bowl berths. As an offense they finally had everything and it looked like 1999 would be the year they would put it all together.

As a defense the Jaguars began to bring in blue chip players to replace those received in the expansion draft. In their 1995 they drafted linebacker Kevin Hardy and defensive end Tony Brackens. Over the next two years, these two matured into two of the AFC’s best as the Jaguars added blue chip draft picks S Donovin Darius & CB Aaron Beasley.

Free agency brought former Defensive Player of the Year linebacker Bryce Paup and perennial All Pro Carnell Lake formerly of Pittsburgh. Then they hired former Panther Coach Dom Capers to be the defensive co-ordinator and the team that finished 6th in the NFL in defense looked to improve in 1999.

The ’99 campaign began with a 41-3 devastation of the San Francisco 49ers at home. Hall of Famers Steve Young, Jerry Rice and the 49ers were still intact at the time. They started 3-1 before Young’s career ending concussion, but that one loss?? The Jags chased him all over AllTel Stadium. He was 9 for 26 while throwing for only 96 yards and 2 interceptions before getting benched.

They held Rice to only 2 receptions while Terrell Owens had 5. After giving up an early field goal, Jacksonville scored 41 unanswered points with the last touchdown being a 90 yard interception return by Aaron Beasley. This sent a shock-wave through the NFL.

Through the first 15 weeks of the season, the Jaguars looked like they were on a collision course with the St Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV. They were 13-1 going into a game with the Tennessee Titans that could wrap up home-field advantage and the AFC Central Divsion Championship. They had only given up 169 points and were on pace to break the record of the ’86 Bears for fewest points in a season at 187. In fact they had a 6 game stretch where they held their opponents to 10 points or less.

They also beat the New York Jets and the Denver Broncos, who were the teams that knocked them out of the playoffs each of the last two seasons. Jimmy Smith was having a career year with 116 catches for 1,636 yards and 6 touchdowns. They had outscored their opposition 358-169 and were on an 11 game winning streak. What could go wrong??

Well early in September they lost 20-19 to the Tennessee Titans when Neil O’Donnell subbed for an injured Steve McNair at home. They were a 1 point loss from being 14-0 and now traveled to Tennessee to get revenge and ran smack into a buzzsaw. A division rival that had been chasing them all year had their number as Steve McNair, who was now healthy, threw for 5 touchdowns in a convincing 41-14 win. Surprise!

They now had been swept by their division rival who bullied and outhit them in that game. Not only was their confidence shaken, but questions about their Super Bowl legitimacy could be heard around the NFL and by fans. They did finish with a 24-7 win against the Bengals to finish 14-2, but they were going into the ’99 playoffs asking themselves two questions. Were they the team that was 14-0 against the rest of the NFL??Or were they the team that got swept by the Tennessee Titans??

First up came a game with in-state rival Miami in the AFC Divisional round. It would be the first time Jacksonville would have a home playoff game. How would they fare??

After the 62-7 trouncing of Miami, the Jaguars knew they had to go through the Titans again in the AFC Championship Game. The Jaguars had pulled off the most lopsided playoff game in modern (post 1960) NFL history. For one that was labeled a finesse team, they had been physical with their demolition of Miami and they flew into the AFC Championship Game. The question was: Were they physical enough to beat a true phyical team in the Titans??

At least it would be at home where they had gone 8-1 when you include their playoff game. Winner take all for the right to go to Super Bowl XXXIV. The story lines surrounding this championship was the relative health of both Mark Brunell (knees) and Steve McNair (toe) who were nursing injuries. Wouldn’t you know it was the turning point of the game.

Mark Brunell sacked for the safety which turned the momentum in the '99 AFC Championship Game.

Mark Brunell sacked for the safety which turned the momentum in the ’99 AFC Championship Game.

The AFChampionship was a hard fought affair that saw the Jaguars hold onto a 14-10 lead at the half. While driving for what would have been a momentum building score at the end of the half turned out disastrous for Jacksonville when Brunell was intercepted in the end zone by Marcus Robertson. The momentum switched from there…

McNair, whose foot finally responded, escaped Jacksonville’s defense for a 51 yard run down to the 1 yard line on the first drive of the second half. He scored on the next play to give the Titans a 17-14 lead. Brunell on the other hand was immobile wearing two knee braces. During the regular season where he escaped the pocket 47 time for 208 yards and a touchdown, he was uncomfortable all day and left the pocket once for -1 yard.

In fact after the Titans pinned Jacksonville to their own 3, the immobile Brunell was sacked for a safety by DT Josh Evans that helped break open the game at 19-14. The resultant free kick was then returned 80 yards by Derrick Mason and now the Titans were up 26-14. In less than half a quarter, the Titans scored 16 unanswered points and had a 2 touchdown lead. With their ears pinned back, the Titans pass rush forced Brunell into his roughest outing of the season. He went 19 of 38 for 239 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 costly interceptions. They lost 33-14.

Epilogue: For one brief moment in time, the Jacksonville Jaguars soared to new heights. Most people forget that they were the first to flirt with breaking the record for fewest points given up in a season and not the Ravens. It was Baltimore who broke it in 2000. They had the NFL’s best record (14-2) and finished the season scoring 396 while allowing just 217 which was the fewest.

That 179 point differential was 2nd only to The Greatest Show on Turf ’99 Rams that many wanted to see them play in Super Bowl XXXIV. They finished 4th in total defense, 7th on offense, and had 5 Pro Bowl performers in Brunell, Kevin Hardy, Tony Brackens, Carnell Lake, and Jimmy Smith. Yet they had to sit home and watch someone else represent the AFC in the Super Bowl in Atlanta.

The team would never be the same. Injuries and disappointment followed in 2000 as they went 7-9. In fact the Jaguars had 3 successive losing seasons which led to Tom Coughlin’s dismissal after the 2002 season.

Want some irony??

Fisher had some parting verbal shots at Jacksonville on the field after that ’99 championship. Coughlin gets fired a few years later. Fisher goes on to lose Super Bowl XXXIV to the St. Louis Rams. Now Jeff Fisher is the St. Louis Rams head coach after NOT winning a Super Bowl in Tennessee. Guess what Fisher did last February?? He sat his ass on a couch and watched Tom Coughlin win his second Super Bowl with the New York Giants to put his name on the short list of great coaches who have accomplished that.

Always be classy when you win…

The 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars were one of the best teams that didn’t win the Super Bowl

Searcy

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Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

For those avid readers of the Taylor Blitz Times, I would like to thank you for your continued patronage and we are growing in leaps and bounds. In the future we will have a new logo adorn the top of the website that reflects where we’re going. We have just been reached through specific searches in 100 different countries since February 25, 2011. Thanks again for reading and there are more changes to come to keep this the fun, informative site that it’s been.