´ Steel Curtain Rising: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Tennessee Titans -- The Anatomy of a Rivalry

Who gets the game ball for the win over the Colts?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Tennessee Titans -- The Anatomy of a Rivalry

The Steelers and the Titans clash in Nashville this week, and spoils of victory will likely be home field advantage in the AFC playoffs. Although Pittsburgh and Tennessee have not played since 2005, Tennessee is a familiar foe because they were regulars on the schedule until realignment following the 2001 season abolished the old AFC Central division and moved the Titans to the new AFC South.

Regardless of the division, games against the Titans are always hard hitting affairs.

This is an old school rivalry whose roots extend directly back to the Titan’s days as the Houston Oilers. You could fill a small book with anecdotes from Steelers-Oilers rivalry; suffice to say, Bud Adam’s decision to move his team to Tennessee only intensified the tension between these the tension between these two teams.

While the Steelers may lead the series 41 to 29, the naked truth is that the Titans have dominated since arriving in the Volunteer State, to the tune of 10-4.

This once and future rivalry has created some glory, but a lot more pain for the Steelers, and here is a look at some of the highlights from the series.

1996 at Pittsburgh - The Punter Mixes it Up

This was the last time the Houston Oilers visited Three Rivers Stadium and the contest was billed by then NBC studio commentator Joe Gibbs as the game that was to preface the changing of the guard in the AFC Central. The teams played as if division supremacy was indeed at stake. Steelers win, 30-16.

  • Substitute punter Shane Edge gets throw out of the game for fighting – you know there is bad blood when your punter gets ejected.

1997 at Pittsburgh – Tennessee’s First Visit to Three Rivers Stadium

This was Tennessee’s first trip to Three Rivers, although as the “Tennessee Oilers” Steelers win 37-24.

  • Greg Lloyd makes his first splash play of the 1997 season, with a long fumble return.

1997 at Tennessee – Bettis Puts Team First

This was a meaningless game, as the Steelers had all but locked up the AFC Central crown. The Steelers lose 16-6.

  • With 1,665 yards rushing Jerome Bettis could have easily taken a shot at Barry Foster’s single season Steelers rushing record of 1,690. The Bus instead puts prudence over pride and decides to rest for the game.

1998 at Pittsburgh – Is the Giant is Slipping….?

The Steelers bring a 5-2 record into this game, fresh off an impressive 20-13 win over Kansas City on Monday Night Football. But the Steelers performance has been inconsistent thus far, as Kordell Stewart looks lost under center, and all but refuses to throw the long ball. The Steelers come out sleep walking, and Eddie George shreds the Steelers run defense. Tennessee wins 41-31.

  • Kordell Stewart flaunts his immaturity, claiming that he played a good game, his three interceptions not withstanding.

1998 at Tennessee – ...Yes the Giant has Slipped

For all intents and purposes, this game comes down to a missed field goal by replacement kicker Matt George that would have put the Steelers within six to win. But the simple fact is that the Steelers did not get it done. Tennessee wins 23-14.

  • The Steelers almost always found a way to win the close ones under Bill Cowher. Although the Steelers rebound to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars in the succeeding week, the fact is that the losses to the Tennessee signal that the Steelers are no longer contenders.

1999 at Tennessee – Mayhem in the Secondary

Titans win 16-10. The four point difference in this game should fool no one. If you want to know how this game went consider this:

  • Safeties Scott Shields and Travis Davis have a Tennessee receiver (Chris Sanders?) in double coverage deep downfield. Both of them either have a chance to make a play on the ball or land a hellacious hit. Neither player does either. Instead, they more or less freeze as Sanders gets a 46 yard reception to set up a score.

1999 at Pittsburgh – Steelers Become a Side Show

This game was actually played on January 2nd, 2000. If the Steelers had looked lackluster since losing to the expansion Browns at mid-season, they play a spirited game. And that is the problem. The team is horrendously undisciplined and unsettlingly soft at the core. Consider:

  • Bobby Shaw catches a garbage time touchdown and celebrates by lifting his jersey to show off a Superman shirt.
  • Levon Kirkland, all 280 plus pounds of him, intercepts a Neil O’Donnell pass inside the 20, and lets the former Steelers quarterback muscle him out of bounds.

2000 at Pittsburgh – From Glee to Grief in Two or Three Throws

The Steelers have started the 2000 0-2 getting defeated by the to-be champion Baltimore Ravens and upset by the Browns in Cleveland. They have been left for dead by most of the NFL, and many in the Pittsburgh media have started a deathwatch vigil on Bill Cowher’s job. Tennessee arrives for this final game at Three Rivers stadium as defending AFC Champions, and the Steelers fight tooth and nail, only to be heart broken, 20-23

  • Steelers Nation rejoices as Jason Gildon slams Neil O’Donnell to the turf, drawing blood...
  • ...Celebration turns to agony when O’Donnell’s injury brings Steve McNair onto the field. McNair only needs only five throws to take the Titans to the end zone and put them on top for good.

2000 at Tennessee – The Virtue of Disappointment

After losing in the final moment of week three to the Titans, the Steelers show their tenacity in that game, loss notwithstanding, was no fluke. They arrive in Nashville with a five game winning streak only to lose 9 to 7.

  • Bill Cowher states that after the game his team is more disappointed than it was during previous losses – and this is a good thing, because it reveals that the Steelers are once again accustomed to winning.

2001 at Pittsburgh – A Corner of Steelers Nation Goes Global

Plaxico Burress, of modern day “shoot thyself with an unlicensed hand gun in a night club” fame has done everything thing possible to earn the “bust” label that has followed him since he was drafted… Until today. Burress has a breakout game as the Steelers win 34-7.

  • Most will either remember the game as the day Dennis Miller got the key to the city of Pittsburgh, or the first Monday Night Football game at Heniz Field. But it marks another milestone. It is the first game that yours truly watches the Steelers from Buenos Aires. An ESPNDeportes tape delay means that game is shown at 2:00 am locally, but we dutifully rise to watch and the Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Buenos Aires is born!

2002 at Tennessee – Tommy Gun Caught in the Crossfire

Tommy Maddox, of XFL Fame, has come off the bench to rescue a season that appeared doomed after the Steelers opened the season with to back losses to the Patriots and Radiers.

In fact, Maddox takes the league by storm lighting up opposing offenses, to the point where commentators begin to suggest that perhaps the Steelers are scoring too quickly with him under center. Unfortunately, Maddox takes a vicious hit that leaves him momentarily paralyzed on the field. Titans win in 31-23.

  • Although Maddox is not permanently injured, and does return to lead the Steelers to the playoffs, he is never quite the same.
  • Also, coming off the bench, Kordell Stewart almost brings the team back. In fact, he’ll play his best two games as a professional in relief of Maddox.

2002 playoffs, at Tennessee – And the Oscar Goes to…. Joe Nedely

The Steelers fall behind early, but claw their way back in a pure dog fight that sees James Farrior land straight on his head, and Hines Ward throw a two point conversion pass. The game goes into overtime as the Titans win, 34-31.

  • The Steelers make a clean block attempt on Joe Needley as he misses his first attempt at a game winning field goal. Needley takes soccer player like dive, drawing a penalty. Given a second chance, he makes it sealing the game for Tennessee.

2003 at Pittsburgh – Its Going to Be a Long Season….

The Steelers jump out to an early 10-0 lead, only to implode on two Tommy Maddox interceptions, a safety, and a blocked field goal, as the Titans win 30-13.

  • The combination of poor pass protection and poor decision making by Maddox is to become one of the common threads in what will ultimately become a 5 game losing streak for the Steelers.

2005 at Pittsburgh – The Bus Begins its Final Rounds

The Steelers open the season by dominating the Titans 34 to 7. Bill Cowher had concluded the preseason by admonishing that “the passing game isn’t where it needs to be,” but Ben Roethlisberger completes 9 of 11 for 218 yards and two touchdowns. Willie Parker also runs for 162 yards.

  • While the road would get far rockier further on, this will always be remembered as the Steelers first victory on the Bus’ final stop at the Lombardi Trophy presentation at Super Bowl XL.

2008 At Tennessee -- The First of Two Meetings?

This will be Mike Tomlin’s first trip to Tennessee, and his first game against the Titans. Regardless of who wins Sunday, these two teams could easily see each other again in January.

Game 15, 2008 at Tennessee -- The Titans Continue to Torrment

Entering the game the Titans appeared to be a team on the decline, while the Steelers appeared to be a team on the rise. All of the pundits were picking Pittsbrugh.

They should have known better.

The Steelers defense has spentthe 2008 season stuffing opposing offenses, and humbeling Pro Bowl quarterbacks like Tony Romo and Philip Rivers. Even in victory Peyton and Eli Manaings have looked like mere mortals in front of the Steelers defense...

...So it would only go to figure that the Titan's would be the first defense to net more than 300 yards and journeyman Kerry Collins would be the first quaterback to finish a game with a passer rating over 100.

Credit the Titans for play a well hard fought and well executed game. They deserved to win.

But its also true that the Steelers simply left a lot of plays out on the field, on both offense, defense and special teams.

Thanks for visiting Steel Curtain Rising. Take time to leave a comment reministing about your favorite moments from games against the Oilers and/or Titans, and make sure to take a second to vote in our on-line poll (upper right hand corner.)

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