[A note to fans of CJ and East Carolina University. I apologize for my late-night blogging and for including the word “State” in the name of your fine university. I should fact-check this blog better (but why start now?). We are all of one accord: CJ is great.]
(Note: Before I launch into this sports-related post, here’s a reminder for those who don’t regularly read this blog: While I confess to hero-worshiping certain athletes, such worship is limited to their accomplishments within the boundary lines of their chosen field, court, course, etc. I’ve learned (haven’t we all?) to pigeon-hole my admiration for accomplishments of human beings. When it comes to athletes, even the swiftest of feet can be made of clay.)
On the day my “home team,” the Tennessee Titans lost the sixth of its first six games of this year’s season, a game that also holds the record for the being the worst routing of a football team in modern NFL history, , I wrote the following:
“This year, I’m learning what it’s like to be a fan of an NFL team that has bad coaching, no team leadership and no soul. I’m learning what it’s like to be a fan of a team that sucks. And not just any sucking — but sucking of Titanic proportions.”
As I wrote that day, I really hated everything about that team. From head coach on down, they were a bunch of losers.
But the reason I love sports, and especially the NFL, is this: the difference between the best and worst in the league is not really raw talent — it’s what coaches and players can do with their raw talent verses what coaches and players on the other team can do with their’s.
Those times I love sports the best are the rare occasions when a team that sucked in September turns into a team that soars in December. Like this year’s Titans.
Today, a team that has no resemblance, except the uniforms, to the 0-6 team hit the .500 mark. The 0-6 team set records for being incredibly bad. The 7-1 team has set records for being incredibly good. The 0-6 team had a quarterback who seemed lackluster and uninspiring. The 7-1 team is led by another quarterback who was written off two months ago, but who is now looking like a shoe-in for “come-back player of the year.”
This year’s Titans season has two stories, either of which is reason enough for me to love it more than ever.
1. The VY Story: We’re talking classic movie sports drama with this one. Here’s the plot:
At the beginning of last year’s (2008) season, an incredible athlete, Vince Young (VY), who has dominated every league he’s played in since middle school, hears his first fan “boos” and is devastated by the experience. He suffers a crisis of confidence that balloons into a full blown “situation” during which friends and family call 911 with warnings that he is suicidal. He is relieved from his starting position and his backup wins 13 games straight. Young’s career is written off by everyone who knows anything about football (except team owner Bud Adams). During the summer, the father-figure in Vince Young’s life, Steve McNair, is killed in a bizarre murder-suicide that leads Young to reexamine his life — and commit anew to his career. Still, no one believes he’s got what it takes to come back. Alas, after his team starts the season 0-6, the team’s owner practically orders the head coach, who has written Young off, to give him one last chance.
The story plays out from there like every movie sports drama since Knute Rockne, All American.
If the Titans make it to the playoffs (an extremely long shot, but statistically possible), Vince Young will have provided the plot for one of the greatest sports dramas of all time: adversity, breakdown, murder, inspiration, redemption, victory. I’m buying a box of Kleenex just thinking of it.
2. The CJ Story: I love it when athletes become so famous they are known by their initials — and the Titans have two such players this year, in addition to VY, they have CJ, Chris Johnson. Here’s his story: A speedster running back from East Carolina University is passed over by many teams in the NFL draft until the 24th pick in the first round, the Titans, select him. Last year, his rookie season, despite “sharing” running back duties with another player, he has a rookie of the year season (except a quarterback for another team actually wins the award). Now, in his second season, CJ becomes the most loved Fantasy League player of all time (well, at least by those who have him on their fantasy teams) while in pursuit of some incredible rushing records. Besides that, his running style complements the versatility of VY, making them a threatening pair.
With both VY and CJ, the 2009 Titans Team is a team of redemption, if not destiny. And it is a team with stories that provide a deep well of metaphors regarding the ability to come back from failure.
For example, the team was up by 18 points when the Miami Dolphins came roaring back during a fourth quarter surge (due, in no small part, to the game-ending injury of Titans linebacker Keith Bullock) that tied the game in the final moments — sending it to overtime. In overtime, the Titans win, continuing their still extremely long-shot at a playoff birth.
Sure, statistically it’s possible: this year’s Titans may make it to the playoffs. But no matter what, the team that played during the second half of the 2009 season will be one of my favorite Titans teams ever.