Would you please observe a moment of silence for the Jacksonville Jaguars?
OK, didn’t think so.
Judging from the unbroken wall of noise, it was apparent on Monday night that Titans fans had been waiting since last Januaryever since the Jaguars insisted they were still superior to the Tennessee team that had just defeated it for the third time in one yearfor the opportunity to vocalize their sentiments. They began whooping and hollering well before kickoff, and for the longest time it appeared as if they would never stop.
They shook their red foam-plastic swords. They booed their rivals from Florida. Every time the Titans recorded a sack, or busted for a long gain, or even for no apparent reason, they began singing the now ubiquitous anthem: “Who let the dogs out? Who? Who? Who-who?” (In the most stunning display of the general exuberance, one middle-aged white guy was observed in the stadium’s east parking lot, break-dancing to the “dogs” tune.)
Well after it became apparent that the Titans were headed for yet another lopsided win over the Jags, the loud Tennessee partisans affirmed the old cliché it was all over but the shouting. More than just football, the game had the smackdown ambience of Monday Nite Nitro, and it wasn’t just because of the jumbotron graphics and messages from The Rock. The spotlight of national TV and the added hype that accompanies Monday Night Football made the game seem even more like a callout match in the wrestling ring. There was nowhere to hide and, for Jacksonville, not much room to run. And, of course, there was the bitter rivalry.
To observe that no love is lost between the Titans and Jaguars is like saying that Miami’s Cuban exiles wouldn’t object if Castro retired. In spite of their recent domination, the Titans and their fans behaved as if theirs was the team with something to prove. Here’s what they proved to the MNF crew and the TV audience: It gets really, really loud at the Delph, and the Jagsespecially the bunged-up bunch that took the fieldcannot beat Tennessee in a smash-mouth game. The Jaguars should have known that it wouldn’t be their night when they had to settle for an early field goal after moving inside the Titans’ 10. Everything cratered for them after that.
Even though they recognized which play the Titans would run, the Jags couldn’t prevent Steve McNair from completing a pass to Frank Wycheck for Tennessee’s first score. They fumbled away a touchdown just before halftime that would have brought them within seven points, and the game was essentially over.
In the second half, the Jaguars put up little more resistance than the Iraqi army during Desert Storm. Eddie George battered them into Jeff Fisher’s comfort zonea place where the offense says, “Here it comes again, boys, and you’ll have to like it.” During one fourth-quarter drive, the Jags’ defense simply called timeout to gain a temporary reprieve from the pounding.
When faced with third-and-long, Jacksonville’s offense, which surrendered five sacks, twice chose not to passan admission of their futility. The final insult came when two on-field water sprinklers activatedsymbolic, perhaps, of the hosing the Titans had inflicted on the Jags.
The whuppin’ was so thorough that even most of the Jaguars sounded as subdued as their team had been. Only running back Fred Taylorreprising the role of the legless, armless knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who demands that his opponent come back and fightremained cocky and defiant. “I know it sounds stupid,” he said afterward (yu-uh!), but he claimed that his was still the better team. Anybody who watched, however, would have agreed with The Rock, whose scoreboard taunt near the end of the 60-minute reaming urged the Jaguars to pick up an extra-large glass of “shut-up juice” on their way out. In the opening of ABC’s broadcast, Al Michaels described Adelphia as a place “where the crowd never goes home unhappy”a reference to the Titans’ record-setting home win streak. Someday, inevitably, Michaels’ statement will prove false, but it held for at least one more night on Monday.
Mercifully for Jacksonville, the game ended, but the rumbustious atmosphere did not. As the fans streamed down the long exit ramps, even from way out in the parking lot you could hear the occasional woofing refrain of “Who? Who? Who-who?” It was the sound of a party that was nowhere close to being over.
How it looks from the La-Z-Boy
Ravens 16, Titans 13
After their demolition of three straight opponents, there certainly is reason to believe that the Titans can travel to Baltimore and wreck the Ravens, too. But I can think of at least five more compelling reasons why they’ll lose.
1. The Ravens, whose head-smacking, antediluvian style is almost a mirror image of that of Tennessee, have played the Titans tougher than anyone in the past couple of years. Now they’re better.
2. The Ravens’ defense has shut out three opponents and limited Washington to one touchdown last Sunday. To move the ball on these guys, you have to throw it downfield. A lot. Which bring us to...
3. Tennessee’s receivers are still a little hinky, with lingering injuries to Carl Pickens and, now, Derrick Mason.
4. The Titans will be far from the loud and friendly confines of Adelphia.
5. They’ll have one less day to prepare than usual. And the track record for teams that played Monday night is not promising. For Tennessee, the good news is that the Ravens’ offense has been as unproductive as their defense has been dominant. In a low-scoring game, if the Titans can catch a break or force a turnover or two, they could sneak out with a win. More likely, however, they’ll limp home with an L, and spoiling for the rematch.
Vanderbilt 20, South Carolina 17
There’s also every reason to pick South Carolinawhich is why we’re going with the Commodores in an upset. For Vandy, the timing could not be better. The Gamecocks may still have a hangover (as Georgia did last Saturday) from an important win, and even master motivator Lou Holtz may find it difficult to keep his players from looking ahead toward Tennessee next week.
Meanwhile, Vandy’s wheezy offensive engine finally started up against Georgia, and their defense played well enough to win. It may be too late for the Commodores to salvage their season, but they might yet torpedo someone else’s before their ship goes down.
Tennessee 24, Alabama 20
We don’t know if they maintain records on such things, but the Vols have to be closing in on the mark for number of times that a defeat has induced opponents’ fans to tear down the goalposts. That won’t happen against Alabama this week, and not just because the game is in Knoxville. Despite their losing record, UT could just as easily be 5-0 with a break or two and a little more experience. They’re due for a reversal of fortune, and it could come against the suddenly hot Crimson Tide, for whom they’ve had two weeks to work themselves into a lather.
Auburn 34, Louisiana Tech 14
Arkansas 30, New Mexico 14
Georgia 28, Kentucky 22
Mississippi State 23, LSU 14
Redskins 23, Jaguars 14
Vikings 24, Bills 17
Jets 14, Dolphins 10