Yes, the Tennessee Titans were part of the national spotlight, debuting last Thursday against the Pittsburgh Steelers in primetime. Yes, it made for entertaining television even though they lost.
But save for the precious few Tennessee fans who managed to wrangle a ticket into Heinz Field, Tennessee fans were forced to take in the proceedings from a television set.
To be honest, there’s just something about the excitement of the home opener to any football season.
This Sunday, when the Titans return to LP Field to host the Houston Texans, Titans fans will get a first-hand look at the 2009 edition of the team and draw their own conclusions as to the team’s chances for success this season.
They will do so in loud rabid fashion just as they have done since the first home opener in 1999 (actually, 1997 if you count Memphis and Vanderbilt University openers). In fact, fans have packed the stadium for every game since, never failing to garner a sellout.
Home openers also make for memorable moments. In fact, since the team arrived in Tennessee in 1997, the team’s first game of the season has brought many such moments — both good and bad — Titans fans.
In order of impact, here is a six-pack of the best of the best of those home openers.
1. Sept. 12, 1999
Titans 36, Bengals 35
The first ever regular-season game at the new stadium turned out to be one for the ages in Tennessee Titans annals.
The Titans trailed the Bengals 35-26 in the fourth quarter of the opener, until Steve McNair, actually booed earlier in the game because of an interception, led the Titans on two fourth-quarter drives to salvage not only the win, but set the tone for 13 straight victories over nearly two seasons to open what was then known as Adelphia Coliseum.
The game would also help lay the foundation for what was to be the franchise’s only Super Bowl season to date.
2. Sept. 8, 2002
Titans 27, Eagles 24
Titans fans are given a scare when star defensive end Jevon Kearse is injured with what turns out to be a broken fifth metatarsal bone in his foot.
But Tennessee gets an unexpected infusion of help when rookie defensive end Carlos Hall, a seventh-round pick out of Arkansas, comes off the bench for the Pro Bowl defensive end and has the biggest game of his career. Hall sacked Donovan McNabb three times, as the Titans hang on to win by a field goal.
Despite a four-game losing streak immediately after that, the Titans rallied to finish 11-5 that season and reached the AFC Championship Game.
3. Aug. 31, 1997
Oilers 24, Raiders 21, (Overtime)
In their regular-season first game on Tennessee soil, the then-Oilers began their nomadic existence of playing games in Memphis’ Liberty Bowl by stunning the Raiders in overtime.
Eddie George gave strong hints of what was to come for him, rushing for 216 yards in the game. That game and the atmosphere would be one of few truly rewarding moments in the Liberty Bowl for the Oilers that year.
One of the other memorable highlights was a regular-season finale win over Pittsburgh in which a season-high 50,000 fans attended. But when most of them showed up wearing Steelers black and gold, that’s when Oilers owner Bud Adams pulled the plug on the Memphis experiment in favor of 1998 games at Vanderbilt.
4. Sept. 7, 2008
Titans 17, Jaguars 10
This changed the dynamic of the Titans franchise, thanks to an interception, booing fans and an injury all in the span of a few minutes in the fourth quarter.
After starting quarterback Vince Young was booed for throwing his second interception of the game, it appeared that he had to be coaxed back into the game on Tennessee’s next offensive series. On that series, Young suffered a sprained knee, and Titans coach Jeff Fisher turned to veteran Kerry Collins, who responded with a drive to help season the victory.
Thanks also in part to other issues at play with Young in the aftermath, Fisher decided to stick with Collins as the starting quarterback for the rest of the season. The Titans finished a league-best 13-3 before falling in the playoffs to Baltimore.
5. Sept. 10, 2000
Titans 17, Chiefs 14
This game is remembered more for what happened to Steve McNair and what it led to as anything. McNair took a vicious hit to his sternum courtesy of the Chiefs’ Duane Clemons. Neil O’Donnell finished up, and the Titans had a bye the next week.
That injury set the stage for McNair’s heroics in Pittsburgh when he replaced a dazed O’Donnell late in the game and led a game-winning drive against the Steelers.
6. Sept. 13, 1998
Chargers 13, Oilers 7
In the Oilers' first ‘Nashville’ home game at Vanderbilt, the offense struggled, and the defense gave up just enough plays to allow the Chargers, with a rookie quarterback at the helm, to pull out the victory.
The worst part about the loss was exactly who that rookie quarterback was — the infamous Ryan Leaf.
Leaf, of course, would go on to become one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history, but on this day, he played well, completing 13 of 24 passes for 179 yards and rushed for 31 more yards on seven attempts.