Originally created 01/26/00

Titans relishing role as underdog



ATLANTA -- Frankly, Jeff Fisher doesn't get this Team of Destiny thing.

Seems all Fisher, coach of the Tennessee Titans, heard in recent weeks -- particularly since a miracle victory in the first round of the playoffs -- was how the Titans were the chosen team, the team destined to win, the team of fate. He has heard it since the Titans arrived at the Super Bowl, too.

But, for a chosen team, no one seems to be choosing them at all.

"I think it's just the opposite," Fisher said as the Titans (16-3) prepared to play the St. Louis Rams (15-3) in Super Bowl XXXIV at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta at 6:25 p.m. Sunday. "We've been the team chosen not to win."

And so it goes for the Titans, and so it went Tuesday at media day.

Titans players talked about the enormity of the event, and the influx of media. Players told stories, and filmed each other with portable cameras, but mostly -- as they have done for the past two months -- they talked about respect, and proving they belonged.

"Lack of respect has been there for us all year," Titans running back Eddie George said.

The Titans won 13 games during the regular season, and when they played another team that had won 13 games -- Indianapolis -- in the playoffs, they were favored to lose. They won 19-16.

The Titans beat the Jaguars twice during the regular season, and when they played the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game they were favored to lose by seven points. They won 33-14.

The Titans beat the Rams 24-21 on Oct. 31. Guess what?

They're favored to lose Sunday. By seven points.

"I think we relish that role, actually, being the underdog," Titans safety Blaine Bishop said. "It seems like everyone's always picking against us. That's like another way of not respecting us."

Considering what the Titans accomplished this season, it's easy to see why they wonder at the seven-point line, and harp on the respect theme with mind-numbing frequency. The Titans played five teams with winning records, going 6-1 against those teams, beating Jacksonville three times, Indianapolis once, Buffalo once and St. Louis once. They lost to the Dolphins, who finished 9-7.

The Rams played three teams with winning records, losing to the Titans in the regular season, beating the Vikings and then the Buccaneers in the playoffs.

"We've always been put in this situation," Titans offensive tackle Brad Hopkins said. "We've been battle tested. We've proven ourselves over and over again. We have to continue to prove ourselves. I think that's a position we find comfortable.

"We've obviously done what it takes to get ourselves here. We've worked hard and beaten high-caliber teams."

Titans players said Tuesday that even if the public sees it differently, they gained confidence from the season just past, particularly winning the AFC. The NFC, which the Rams won, went 22-38 against AFC teams this season and the Rams and the Buccaneers were the only NFC teams with winning records against AFC teams.

The Titans' victories in the playoffs were against Buffalo (11-5), Indianapolis (13-3) and Jacksonville (14-2), and although the Titans bristled at being seven-point underdogs in Jacksonville last week, beating the Jaguars three times as underdogs makes this week's role familiar.

"We're kind of becoming used to it," defensive end Jevon Kearse said. "We're always the underdogs, especially against the Jacksonville Jaguars. We're supposed to be the underdogs again."

So used to the role have the Titans become that they're even prepared for the unthinkable -- winning the Super Bowl, and entering next season as underdogs yet again.

"I don't know if that will happen," Bishop said with a laugh, "but you know what? It wouldn't surprise me. Would it surprise you? You think to yourself, `Maybe, finally, if we win, we'll get some respect,' and maybe we will. I hope so, but if not, so be it."