From two games 10 years ago, Kurt Warner’s presence is forever etched into the lore of the Tennessee Titans franchise.
Warner was the starting quarterback for the St. Louis Rams opposite the Titans in the franchise’s only Super Bowl appearance, Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta at the conclusion of the 1999 season.
Warner’s Rams pulled out a 23-16 victory that day in the Georgia Dome, as his 73-yard pass to Isaac Bruce, provided the decisive points.
Earlier that season, Warner and the Rams had been beaten by the Titans in Nashville, as future Titan Fred Miller false started five times whiled trying to contain Jevon Kearse that day at what was then known as Adelphia Coliseum.
But on Sunday when Warner, who now leads the high-powered Arizona Cardinals, comes to town, it will mark his first meeting against the Titans since Super Bowl XXXIV.
It’s hard to believe, but the 38-year-old quarterback’s path did not cross again with the Titans between that January day in 2000 and Sunday
“I hope the fans appreciated a couple of those matchups, particularly the Super Bowl matchup. It was a great football game,” Warner said. “That’s what you want to be a part of. I’ve been a part three great Super Bowls. That’s what you want the game to be is down to the wire, great players competing on the greatest stage. That’s what that game was.”
Since that time, Warner has bounced from the Rams to the New York Giants and finally to Arizona where he has resurrected his career to the point that he is now considered a potential Hall of Fame quarterback, especially after guiding the Cardinals to the Super Bowl a year ago.
It was Warner’s third Super Bowl start, something only a handful of quarterbacks have done. All who have done so are either already in the Hall of Fame or headed there. Warner and New England’s Tom Brady are the only two QBs with at least three Super Bowl starts, not already enshrined in Canton.
Both of Warner’s Super Bowl losses came down to the last play, just as his win over the Titans did when Kevin Dyson’s lunge for the end zone fell short by a yard.
And Warner’s triumph in that one came in part by a bit of a fortunate fluke on the play. After the Titans had tied the game at 16-16,
Warner went deep for Bruce, and Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse, then a rookie, reached him with pressure just a split second too late. Kearse hit Warner and the pass just a little bit short, forcing Bruce to slow down and reach back and grab it.
Both Warner and Kearse still remember it well.
“He hit me right as I was throwing it. It may have knocked the ball back a little bit or stopped it from going quite as far,” Warner recalled. “I was pretty much in to my throw before I hit him. I know I couldn’t follow through. How that or if that affected the ball I can’t be certain. If it did, I appreciate it because it worked out in our favor. I don’t know one way or another.”
Kearse said perhaps his rush on the play was right in between. Not quite good enough to get the sack or deflect the pass, but good enough that the ball was short and unable to be defended by Denard Walker.
“I think I was too close. That’s one of those plays I wish I could take back. If the ball wouldn’t have been underthrown, it would have been defensed great by [Denard Walker],” Kearse said. “But that’s just how the game goes. … I hit him, and he couldn’t release the ball all the way. As soon as he let it go, we clapped hands and the ball came up short.”
Both men are nearly 10 years removed from the play with Warner now guiding the high-powered Cardinals, and Kearse languishing on the bench as a backup in his second stint with the Titans.
“I think the more you get removed from certain situations, the less meaningful things like that become,” Warner said. “Even going back to St. Louis, as great as it is, I’m so entrenched here with the Cardinals and what we’re trying to accomplish that there’s not that huge football connection like there used to be.”
Still, a part of Warner and Kearse will always recall that 1999 season fondly.
“Everything that season was just a reminder that football is a game of inches. The Music City Miracle was probably within an inch of being a forward pass. The Kevin Dyson thing [at the end of the game],” Kearse said.
Said Warner, “I’ve just had some great games against some great players there. I look on those fondly. But now in this point in my career, to me this is, hey, just another game against a good football team that’s playing really well right now that we want to go out and win.”
Receiver Justin Gage (back) and defensive tackles Sen’Derrick Marks (ankle) and Jason Jones (shoulder) did not practice on Thursday. Also, linebackers David Thornton (hip) and Colin Allred (hamstring) were limited on Thursday.