The 1999 season brought upon a new era for the franchise. They were now the Titans, with a beautiful new stadium and a newly enthusiastic local fan base. The team had an identity now, and a home.
The Titans opened Adelphia Stadium on September 12, 1999, against the Bengals. The Titans came out hot and took a 26 to 7 lead midway through the second quarter, but then things began to unravel. The Bengals scored 28 in a row to take the lead, and suddenly these looked a lot more like the old Oilers than the new Titans.
But the local fans didn’t know that. Adelphia roared as Steve McNair drove the Titans down the field and pulled them within two with a touchdown pass to running back Eddie George. The Titans defense forced a three-and-out and gave McNair the ball back near the 50, and seven plays later, Del Greco kicked the winning field goal with eight seconds left. The Titans had won 36 to 35 in their new stadium, and it felt like a new era was dawning for the franchise. Tennessee would go on to win its first 13 games at home in their new stadium,in downtown Nashville.
Unfortunately, McNair was diagnosed with an inflamed disk after the season opener and had to undergo surgery. He missed a month, leaving the Titans with veteran Neil O’Donnell to hold things down under center. Luckily, the defense was up to the task. Tennessee had used its first-round draft pick that spring on Jevon Kearse, a freakishly athletic pass rusher from Florida.
“The Freak” exploded onto the scene in the Titans’ second game, recording three sacks and electrifying the home crowd. He went on to record 14.5 sacks and force eight fumbles as a rookie, immediately one of the most lethal defensive forces in the league.
The Titans won again, then won their first road game in Jacksonville, 20 to 19. They rallied late against the 49ers and nearly won after being down 11 points with four minutes left but came up short on a two-point conversion. Still, it was clear this team had something special. The next three games were Titans victories, each by a field goal or less.
The final win of the three marked McNair's return and came against the previously unbeaten St. Louis Rams on Halloween. The Rams had averaged 36 points per game before scoring only 21 against Tennessee, their lowest point total of the entire regular season. Little did anyone know at the time that the teams would meet again with much more on the line.
The next week was a letdown in Miami, but the Titans went 7–1 the rest of the way to finish the season 13–3, their most wins ever in the NFL. That included a 41 to 14 decimation of the Jaguars in Week 16. Jacksonville finished the season 14–2. Their only two losses had come against Tennessee. The Jaguars won the AFC Central, so the 13–3 Titans were relegated to wildcard status. They would host the Buffalo Bills in the playoff opener.
The Bills were a familiar foe to longtime fans, and their coach was familiar too. Wade Phillips made a controversial decision to bench quarterback Doug Flutie for Rob Johnson, and the Titans were heavily favored. Tennessee led 15 to 13 late, but Johnson proved Phillips right with a two-minute field goal drive to give Buffalo the lead with 16 seconds left.
It looked like the end of a remarkable inaugural season for Tennessee. The radio voice of the Titans, Mike Keith
, wondered aloud what every fan was thinking: “Do the Titans have a miracle left in them in what has been a magical season to this point?”
As the Bills lined up to kickoff, Tennessee special teams coordinator Alan Lowry called for the “Home Run Throwback.” Steve Christie’s kick came high and short to the 25-yard line, where Titans fullback Lorenzo Neal gathered the ball. Neal drifted right and handed off to tight end Frank Wycheck, who took six more steps to his right as the Bills converged. Suddenly, without any warning, Wycheck leaped into the air, whirled, and threw the ball all the way back across the field to the left sideline, where wide receiver Kevin Dyson was waiting.
“He’s got something! He’s got something! He’s got it! He’s got it!!” came the call from Pat Ryan, as a convoy of Titans blockers escorted a streaking Dyson down the left sideline. The Bills’ special teams were badly out of position, and it was all daylight for Dyson.
"TEN! FIVE! ENDZONE... TOUCHDOWN TITANS! THERE ARE NO FLASS ON THR FIELD! IT'S A MIRACLE! TENNESSEE HAS A MIRACLE!!"
Keith’s call will forever evoke goosebumps.
The referees reviewed the play to ensure the lateral was not a forward pass as an entire state held its collective breath. The play was upheld, the miracle confirmed, and the Titans had lived to see another day.
Finally, this franchise had a miracle comeback of its own.
**Recommended video: Music City Miracle replay**
The next week was an intense defensive showdown against Peyton Manning and the 13–3 Indianapolis Colts. The Titans trailed at the half, but Eddie George ripped off a 68-yard touchdown run two minutes into the second half, and the Titans held on to win, 19 to 16. George had a Tennessee Titans record 162 rushing yards.
The AFC Championship Game meant a third matchup with the Jaguars, who had crushed every opponent all season — except the Titans. It was an extremely weird game, featuring 10 turnovers, four by Tennessee and six by Jacksonville. But a three-point game at the half turned into a blowout as the Titans shut out the Jaguars in the second half, 23 to 0.
For the first time ever, the Tennessee Titans had reached the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XXXIV would be a rematch of that Halloween battle when the Titans had knocked off the unbeaten Rams. The Rams had gone 13–3 under MVP quarterback Kurt Warner. They scored 526 points in the regular season, second-most in league history, and were known as the “Greatest Show on Turf.”
The Rams moved the ball early but stalled three times in the red zone, settling for a trio of early field goals and a 9 to 0 halftime lead. When Warner threw a touchdown to Torry Holt halfway through the third quarter, the game was starting to slip away.
Perhaps these Titans had one more miracle in them.
Tennessee scored a touchdown in the final seconds of the third quarter but failed on the two-point conversion, so it remained a two-score game. The Titans defense forced the mighty Rams into their first three-and-out, then the offense drove 79 yards in 13 plays for a second Eddie George touchdown. The game was within three with seven minutes remaining.
Tennessee’s defense forced a second straight three-and-out, and suddenly the Titans were in business. McNair and the Titans drove again but stalled on the 25. The Del Greco kick was good, and the Titans had scored 16 straight to tie up the Super Bowl with three minutes remaining. No Super Bowl in history had ever gone into overtime.
And then, after all that work to tie the game, the Rams responded immediately. Warner hit a streaking Isaac Bruce on the first play after the kickoff for 73 yards, and the Rams had retaken the lead, 23 to 16.
The Titans were called for a holding penalty on the ensuing kickoff, so they’d have to start on their 12-yard line. McNair completed a pass to Derrick Mason, then another to Wycheck. Two plays later, McNair ran for 12 yards but got a bonus 15 yards on a face mask penalty. The Titans had crossed midfield.
The Titans continued to chip away. Five yards, two yards, seven. McNair spiked the ball on the Rams 31-yard-line with 33 seconds left. The next pass was incomplete, but the Rams were offside, moving the ball five yards closer. On third down and five with the season slipping away, McNair pulled a rabbit out of his hat. Scrambling to keep the play alive, McNair escaped the grasp of two Rams defenders and threw a 16-yard strike to Dyson.
The Titans called their final timeout with six seconds remaining and the ball on the 10-yard line.
As the Titans stood at the line of scrimmage, Kevin Dyson went in motion, a staple of the old Run & Shoot offense. The motion confirmed what the Titans were hoping for: Dyson would be covered by Rams linebacker Mike Jones. Dyson took two strides at the snap, then cut inside on a slant pattern as McNair hit him in stride.
Dyson lunged toward the end zone, but Jones made a textbook tackle. Dyson stretched out the ball to no avail as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
There were no more miracles left in this movie. The St. Louis Rams were Super Bowl champions.
The Titans’ dream season had come up one yard short.