Can Tennessee Titans make it to Super Bowl? We asked players from the 1999 team

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·6 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

If the NFL playoffs play out the way Jon Runyan hopes they do and the No. 1 seeds make it to the the Super Bowl, the former Tennessee Titan will end up in a can’t-lose situation.

If it happens, his former team the Titans will be in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1999 when Runyan was a starting right tackle going against the Packers, the team his son Jon Jr. is a part of today.

"It hit me the other day if the Titans win the Super Bowl they've got to go through my Packers with my son playing left guard," said Runyan, who served two terms as a New Jersey congressman after his playing career and is now the NFL's Vice President of Policy and Rules Administration. "That made me smile."

It’s eye-opening that the gap since the Titans' only Super Bowl appearance is wide enough that one of their star players has a son hoping to get there this season.

The similarities

It’s also interesting to consider the 1999 Titans, who lost to the St. Louis Rams 23-16 in Super Bowl 34, had a lot of similarities to the 2021 team lending hope the franchise might finally be poised for another shot.

Like the 1999 team, the Titans have a quarterback playing at the top of his game, a ground attack featuring one of the best running backs in the NFL, who could be back from injury this week, along with a solid offensive line and a stout defense.

THE EXPERTS: NFL playoffs predictions: Our experts pick Tennessee Titans playoff fate, Super Bowl champions

NO. 1 SEED: The Tennessee Titans, Derrick Henry and the No. 1 seed in the AFC

"The Titans are staying in games running the ball and playing great defense," Runyan said. "That's the exact same model we had in '99. It's even more glaring if they get (running back) Derrick Henry back giving them the ability to run the ball and control the game like that."

Even the statistics are similar. The Titans average 201.1 passing yards, 141.4 rushing yards and 24.6 points per game this season. The 1999 team averaged 217.8 passing yards,113.2 rushing yards and 24.5 points per game.

This year's defense allows 245.2 passing yards, 84.6 rushing yards and 20.8 points per game. The 1999 defense allowed 230.9 passing yards, 96.9 rushing and 20.3 points per game.

The Eddie George effect

Eddie George (27) of Tennessee Titans rushes into the end zone past Wali Rainer of the Cleveland Browns for a touchdown in the four quarter at Browns Stadium in Cleveland Nov. 28, 1999. Titans went on to a 33-21 victory.
Eddie George (27) of Tennessee Titans rushes into the end zone past Wali Rainer of the Cleveland Browns for a touchdown in the four quarter at Browns Stadium in Cleveland Nov. 28, 1999. Titans went on to a 33-21 victory.

Running back Eddie George played an integral role in the success of the 1999 team and may have played a role in the success the current Titans are experiencing.

It was George, the franchise's all-time leading rusher, who had a poignant conversation in 2018 with Henry, who hadn't yet become an elite back, which seemed to help elevate Henry's game.

George had paid close attention to Henry, in his third NFL season at the time, and showed up at a Titans practice one afternoon to offer some unsolicited advice.

Henry said at the time the "tips and stuff" George gave him were valuable and paid off.

George said the 1999 team leaned as heavily on his running ability as the current team depends on Henry. He was even more impressed the Titans continued to win games running the ball when Henry was injured.

"They still have the ability to run the football because their strength is up front and they now have a system where a guy can come in and be serviceable until your superstar comes back," said George, who is now the coach at Tennessee State.

"If you're not running the ball effectively in December, late December and early January, you're not going to have much success in the playoffs. You're going to go to places where the weather is going to be cold, you won't be able to throw it as effectively and that ball control won't be there. And ball control is every bit as important for this team as it was with ours."

The assassin and the technician

While George was essential to the 1999 team and the current team is built around Henry and the strengths of the run game, there is no denying the importance of the quarterback position.

Steve McNair could seemingly will the 1999 team to wins with his shear toughness and tenacity. Ryan Tannehill also has some of that perseverance but also relies heavily on his technical skills to win games.

McNair was a bit more unorthodox.

"Tannehill is more methodical and Mac was an assassin; I don't know of any other way to put it," said Kevin Dyson, the leading receiver on the 1999 team. "Mac could be cold for three-and-a-half quarters and then in the last two minutes get hot when you needed him."

Does that mean Tannehill lacks the killer instinct needed to take the Titans deep into the playoffs?

"I'm not saying that at all," said Dyson, now the principal at Centennial High School. "Tannehill is just more of a tactician while Mac would just figure out a way to make a play when it came down to it whether it be a 60-yard run or that big pass play in that moment."

While Tannehill's skillset is different, Runyan believes he may be better equipped to lead the offense than McNair was with the talent the Titans now have at receiver in A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and others.

"I think everybody agrees Tannehill is playing out of his mind," Runyan said. "But you could also argue he might have a better receiving corps than we had back in that day too."

Defensive differences

The 1999 defense featured rookie sensation Jevon Kearse at left end along with linebacker and leading tackler Eddie Robinson, cornerback Samari Rolle and safeties Blaine Bishop and Marcus Robertson.

It was a unit Bishop said followed Kearse's lead and was balanced across the board, while this year's unit is equipped with more stars.

Tennessee Titans safety Blaine Bishop (23) celebrates after stopping Indianapolis Colts running back Edgerrin James of the Colts during the AFC Divisional Round playoff game in Indianapolis Jan. 16, 2000.
Tennessee Titans safety Blaine Bishop (23) celebrates after stopping Indianapolis Colts running back Edgerrin James of the Colts during the AFC Divisional Round playoff game in Indianapolis Jan. 16, 2000.

"I don't know if you can compare individual talent; we kind of did it as a group along with Jevon," Bishop said. "When you've got (left end) Jeffery Simmons, (right end) Denico Autry, (linebacker) Harold Landry having a career year and then (linebacker) Bud Dupree finally coming on for this team; those four right there are serious threats. That's more than we had up front and is a handful for any team in the NFL."

Bishop, now a local sports talk call-in radio show co-host, called safety Kevin Byard an elite player but said his squad was more dependable in the secondary. It's not too late, however, for the unit to prove itself.

"They've got a pretty solid group that does really well against the run the numbers say but the pass, as we saw versus the Texans, could become an issue at the cornerback spots," Bishop said. "I'm interested to see how well those guys play in the moment."

Reach Mike Organ at 615-259-8021 or on Twitter @MikeOrganWriter.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: 1999 Tennessee Titans talk about the 2021 team's Super Bowl chances