The Tennessee Titans had gone over all the plays, all the strategies, all the contingencies as they prepared to break up after their final meeting of the week Saturday night at their team hotel. That's when Coach Jeff Fisher had the lights dimmed, popped a video cassette into a VCR and hit the start button.
Fisher had asked one of his aides to tape the latest episode of Jacksonville Coach Tom Coughlin's weekly TV show. Coughlin had aired a rap song produced by several Jaguars players back in November called "Uh Oh, the Jaguars Super Bowl Song." Fisher showed it to the Titans at the end of the meeting, and many players were saying late Sunday afternoon there was no question it had made all of their personal hit parades.
"When Coach played it, I couldn't believe it," said linebacker Barron Wortham. "We were kind of shocked that they would do something so arrogant. When the video was over, there was total silence in the room. The guys took it to heart. . . . That video was a big factor in our mental approach to the game. Hey, that video is no good. They should throw it in the trash."
The following afternoon, that's precisely what the Titans did to the Jaguars, now just another deposit on an NFL trash heap filled with 29 teams unable to advance to the Super Bowl. The Titans are still climbing their own mountain, having arrived tonight to begin preparations to play the St. Louis Rams in the Georgia Dome on Sunday in Super Bowl XXXIV.
The Rams already have been installed as 7 1/2-point favorites in a game matching two teams that have never before advanced this far. The Rams have no video to stoke the Titans, but being such a heavy underdog--against a team they defeated during the regular season--should suffice to keep the Titans in a foul mood for the week, and then again on Sunday.
The Titans revel in the role of underdogs. They beat Indianapolis on the road two weeks ago. They beat the Jaguars on the road, completing a rare three-peat for the season. They like to play with a chip on their collective shoulder pads, the sort of attitude a team develops through adversity after moving from Houston three years ago, playing in four stadiums the last four seasons.
"I guess you could say we're a bunch of ordinary guys doing an extraordinary thing," said Bruce Matthews, in his 17th season as a starting offensive lineman. "The circumstances we've played under the last few years have defined this team."
The Titans will face more major adversity on Sunday. They will face the NFL's most prolific offense without one of their best defenders. Free safety Marcus Robertson suffered a fractured fibula late in the first half and will not be able to play against the Rams. Robertson had a key end zone interception of a pass by Mark Brunell to save a touchdown, and will be replaced by fourth-year pro Anthony Dorsett, the son of the former Dallas Cowboys running back.
Starting wide receiver Yancey Thigpen, the Titans' leading receiver, suffered a hairline fracture in his right foot on a nine-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter that tied the score at 7. He continued to play, but was taken for X-rays late in the first half and didn't see any action after intermission. The Titans have not ruled him out for Sunday, but his participation will be a long shot, at best.
Quarterback Steve McNair also was limping slightly as he walked out of his team's locker room Sunday. He has played the last month with a painfully sore left big toe, and may have to miss some practice time this week. He will wear a special protective boot to ease the "turf toe" pain, but he said on Sunday "nothing will keep me off the field next week." The field is artificial turf, too, and that won't help.
"He was hurting all last week," said tight end Frank Wycheck, who is playing on a painful and badly discolored left knee. "At one point during the week, he couldn't even touch his toe without it killing him."
McNair may have forgotten about the pain once that videotape was popped into the VCR at just the right time by his coach, a former Chicago Bears defensive back who learned at the feet of irascible defensive specialist Buddy Ryan.
"As a coach, you do different things at different times to prepare your players," Fisher said with a sly smile. "I thought the team meeting the night before the game would be a good time to show the players the Jaguars' mind-set, how confident Jacksonville was going into the game."