Originally created 08/28/99

Falcons lose in stadium debut



NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The NFL's nomads finally found a home Friday night.

The Tennessee Titans, who played in three stadiums the past three seasons before the league's worst crowds, debuted at Adelphia Coliseum before the largest crowd in franchise history. They responded with a 17-3 exhibition victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

"Oh, man, I feel like we were playing in the Super Bowl," Titans safety Blaine Bishop said. "The fan support is unbelievable. The place is rowdy, and it is making all the difference in the world."

Eddie George scored a 1-yard touchdown and the defense forced five turnovers as the Titans (1-2) fed off the presence of 65,729 fans. The fans cheered every play and were on their feet repeatedly as the Titans took the lead on the opening drive with George's TD and never trailed Atlanta (1-2).

"It was probably too exciting," linebacker Joe Bowden said of the atmosphere. "By the time we came out of the tunnel, I was tired. We were all yelling and carrying on. I needed some water because my throat was dry."

Neil O'Donnell, starting at quarterback with Steve McNair sidelined by a stiff back, showed he has picked up the offense quickly since being signed last month. He completed nine of his first 11 passes and was 14-of-21 for 180 yards with one interception.

He had help from receiver Yancey Thigpen, his former teammate with the Pittsburgh Steelers. O'Donnell started three drives by finding Thigpen for passes of 48, 16 and 10 yards, and Thigpen wound up with five catches for 117 yards.

"Without a doubt, I didn't want to stop," said Thigpen, who suffered a mild concussion on his final catch. "We wanted to come out and establish ourselves early, and we did."

The Titans led 10-3 at halftime, and coach Jeff Fisher padded that lead by keeping his starters on the field for the opening series. O'Donnell obliged by hitting Thigpen on a 36-yard pass to the Falcons 1, and Mike Archie scored three plays later.

The Falcons had planned to start Chris Chandler at quarterback, but he was sidelined just before kickoff with an injured hamstring. Chandler said he could have played if it was a regular-season game.

That put Danny Kanell, bidding to be Chandler's backup, in at starter. He was spotty, going 11-of-28 for 135 yards, and the Falcons got only Morten Anderson's 35-yard field goal in the second quarter.

"We wanted to look at Danny tonight, but we certainly didn't want to start him," coach Dan Reeves said. "We wanted Chris to play a half and let Danny play a half."

But Kanell wound up playing most of the game when Tony Graziani sprained his right knee while being sacked in the fourth quarter.

The crowd was the franchise's largest since setting foot in Tennessee in 1997.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was on hand for the game. Tagliabue, who first learned about the Tennessee market through Memphis' failed bid for an expansion team, said he always thought the team eventually would thrive in a state where college football is king.

"I felt that once the team was no longer a nomad, once fans knew it was going to be Tennessee's team in a new stadium ... that this would be very, very successful," he said.

For owner Bud Adams, it was everything he wanted when he decided to leave Houston.

"We're at home now finally after four years. It was a tough road. We're here now. Nashville and the state of Tennessee has been great to us," Adams said.

The Titans needed the exhibition game to work the kinks out of the new stadium before the season opener Sept. 12.

The scoreboard didn't get the yardage right until the end of the Titans' opening touchdown drive, and a message board welcomed fans to Adelphia Stadium. The public address announcer confused the names of players and repeatedly got the down and distance wrong. And each clock showed a different time -- all wrong.