John Glennon, firstname.lastname@example.org
November 16, 2014
Jevon Kearse pretends to blow his nose in a Terrible Towel in the final minutes of the Titan's 2008 win over the Steelers. (AP)
The Titans and Steelers haven't played in the same division since 2001, but the two franchises have hardly grown distant over the years.
Monday's matchup at LP Field will mark the seventh meeting in as many seasons for the teams, who have gone head-to-head 10 times in the past 12 years since the breakup of the old AFC Central.
The level of familiarity — and contempt — between the Titans and Steelers today may not match that of the days when they smashed heads twice a year for nearly two decades.
But there's little doubt in the Titans' minds that a meeting with the Steelers represents something more than the average non-divisional game.
"We've been playing Pittsburgh for seven years in a row now, so you do have some memory of what happened in the previous years," said Titans wide receiver Nate Washington, who's worn both teams' uniforms during that stretch.
"It builds a little rivalry in itself. We're not connected like in-division teams would be. But at the same time, it definitely creates some type of static when we play."
The fact that former Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is now coaching the Titans and that former Titans coach Mike Munchak is now Steelers offensive line coach only adds to the history.
"We've been playing these guys since I came into the league, so you're more familiar with each other and you get a little rivalry going," said Titans outside linebacker Derrick Morgan, a fifth-year pro. "They're always good, tough games. We know we have a fight ahead of us, but they know they've got a fight ahead of them."
Here's a look at five of the more memorable meetings between the teams since the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee:
The Memphis Blues
Dec. 21, 1997: The Tennessee Oilers averaged fewer than 25,000 fans for their first seven games in Memphis before finally drawing 50,000 for the season finale against the Steelers.
The only problem was that the vast majority of the fans who watched the Oilers win 16-6 at the Liberty Bowl were Steelers' fans, on hand to watch their playoff-bound team.
It proved the breaking point for former Titans owner Bud Adams, who pulled the plug on the Memphis experiment a year early and had his team play home games at Vanderbilt in 1998.
McNair off the bench
Sept. 24, 2000: Titans quarterback Steve McNair didn't start because of a bruised sternum. But with backup Neil O'Donnell injured and the Titans trailing late, it was McNair to the rescue.
He came off the bench with about two-and-a-half minutes left and led the Titans on a game-winning, 64-yard touchdown drive in just four plays.
McNair's 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Erron Kinney with 1:25 remaining was the difference as the visitors captured a hard-fought 23-20 victory.
Jan. 11, 2003: A wild and controversial finish marked the end of the Titans' 34-31 divisional-round playoff victory over the visiting Steelers.
Titans kicker Joe Nedney at first thought he'd won the game with a 31-yard field goal, but the Steelers had called timeout. Nedney then missed from 31, but the Steelers were flagged for a roughing-the-kicker call that appeared to be a pretty good acting job by Nedney.
Finally, Nedney nailed a 26-yarder to send the Titans into the AFC Championship, leaving the Steelers deeply frustrated.
Trampling the Towel
Dec. 21, 2008: In a home win that clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Titans forced four Ben Roethlisberger turnovers and hammered the Steelers, 31-14.
But headlines were also made on the sidelines, as Titans Keith Bulluck and LenDale White trampled on Pittsburgh's famous "Terrible Towel." Jevon Kearse added to the insult, pretending to blow his nose in a towel.
Steelers fans, players and even former Steelers coach Bill Cowher were irate over the disrespect shown to the hallowed relic. The Steelers would go on to win the Super Bowl.
Curse of the Towel?
Sept. 10, 2009: In their first meeting since Titans players trampled on the "Terrible Towel," the host Steelers earned some payback with a 13-10 victory in overtime. Roethlisberger threw for 363 yards.
It was the third straight loss for the Titans dating back to the previous season, and they would lose five more in a row.
It prompted Steelers fans to say the Titans had been cursed for trampling the towel.
Reach John Glennon at 615-259-8262 and on Twitter @glennonsports.
STEELERS (6-4) at TITANS (2-7)
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday