Here we go, Titans, here we go! Right?
Well … not so fast.
An NFL team representing Tennessee — the state in which Memphis has long lived — is one win away from playing in the Super Bowl. So naturally, those of us in the Bluff City will find a Derrick Henry jersey or at least some shade of blue when the Titans face the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday for the AFC championship. Or will we? The Titans call Nashville home, of course, however they choose to present "Tennessee" on team merchandise. Nashville and Memphis share a home in much the same way Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier once (actually three times) shared a boxing ring. So might red be the color of choice this Sunday, support leaning toward a team — the Kansas City Chiefs — a half-century removed from its last Super Bowl appearance?
Herewith, a case for Memphians to root against
the Titans this weekend … and a case for full support of "Tennessee's team."
• Titans down!
If you're old enough to remember the 1997 Tennessee Oilers, you're as likely to wear a Patrick Mahomes jersey this weekend and pull for the Chiefs as you are to don Titans gear. Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams departed Texas for Tennessee after the 1996 season when taxpayers wouldn't fund a new stadium for the franchise he founded in 1960, longtime tenants of the Astrodome. Trouble was, it would take a couple of years for Nashville to build that swanky new coliseum. So Adams convinced Memphis mayor Willie Herenton (among others) to let his team play two seasons in the Liberty Bowl. Memphis would pay for dinner but let someone else take its date home.
Those ’97 Oilers went 8-8 and featured a pair of rising stars in quarterback Steve McNair and running back Eddie George. But Memphis saw through the artificial wooing of Adams and didn't even take a seat for that dinner. Tennessee drew the smallest crowds in the NFL that season, selling an average of 28,028 tickets for its eight home games. (The next-lowest total was the Atlanta Falcons: 46,928.) The most popular sports brand in America got a collective "who gives a s*^t" from Memphis. If "Tennessee's team" wasn't ours playing at the Mid-South Fairgrounds, you think they're our team today? This is Cowboys country, Saints country. Hell, this is Falcons and Steelers country before Titans territory. The most famous player in Titans franchise history is Earl Campbell, and he never carried a football in the state of Tennessee.
• Titan up!
An informal survey of Memphians among my Twitter community yielded a lot of support for the Titans ("they're not the Nashville Titans"), with skeptics interrupting (often with a mention of Adams, who died in 2013). There's something to be said for regional support of a pro franchise. Six states claim the New England Patriots as their own, and those are merely the geographically connected. (Wouldn't matter if they were the "Boston Patriots." Maine loves the Red Sox. Vermont adores the Bruins.) The fact is, the Titans are the closest NFL team to Memphis (and this would be the case were we on the west side of the Mississippi River and called Arkansas home). Someone can wake up in Midtown on a Sunday morning, be seated for a noon kickoff in Nissan Stadium, and be home in time for 60 Minutes
. (Yes, this person would need radar protection, but it could be done.)
The Titans have never won the Super Bowl. They are one of eight franchises that have played since the dawn of the Super Bowl era (1966) without winning a championship. These are underdogs
, and what's more Memphis than that? The team's logo features the three stars representing each region of the Volunteer State, and symbolism matters, especially in sports. Finally, we need a team to pull for on Super Sunday. The nachos taste better, the commercials are funnier, and the halftime show goes by quicker. I'll leave the final word to one of my Twitter pals, a man who understands the NFL landscape in 2020 better than most. Says Chuck Rogers (@ourpoppy), "Any team that beats the Patriots is worthy of my support."