How does a native Pittsburgher go over the edge and not follow the black and gold? Quick aside: I love how every professional sports team in Pittsburgh has the same color scheme. Buy one shirt and you’re set.
I grew up in Pittsburgh during the greatest football decade the city had ever known. It’s really hard to compare with any other decade since they completely sucked until the 1970s. Before the Steelers went 11-3 in 1972 their best record ever was 9-5 in 1962. The team started as the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1933. So, as you can see, four championships in eight seasons was pretty much ridiculous.
I’ve always been a bit of a pain-in-the-butt contrarian so when I was the age of reason (when my dad first had me watch football) the Steelers were on top of the world. That seemed too easy to me, so I picked another team. I chose the Miami Dolphins. Why? I liked their colors. That hurts to write. The Fins were pretty good in the late 70s so I picked them when they played the Steelers in the divisional playoffs in 1979. The Steelers killed them. Still I stuck with the teal and orange through the playoff runs of the 80s and early 90s. It helped that a tall, gangly kid who lived down the street from my family before I was born took over the team in 1983. Dan Marino was my first favorite player, and it stayed that way until he retired after the 1999 season.
Once Marino left, so did I. I loved Jimmy Johnson when he coached the Miami Hurricanes. Heck, I cheered for them starting with their 1983 Orange Bowl upset over Nebraska. Johnson’s ego was about ten sizes larger when he took over after Don Shula was pushed out. Johnson was unable to draft enough talent, especially at running back, to help get Marino over the hump. Once they picked up criminal Cecil Collins the writing was on the wall. I had no one to root for. The 62-7 pasting to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 1999 playoffs was the last straw.
Coincidentally that was the same time that the Tennessee Titans started to make some noise. My parents moved to Nashville in 1993. Nashville stole the Houston Oilers a couple of years later. The transitional years from 1996 through 1998 were tough. In 1996 they were a lame-duck squad. In 1997 the franchise made the terrible decision to play all home games in Memphis. Memphis really didn’t want to host a team that wasn’t going to be ultimately theirs. Besides, the name Tennessee Oilers made about as much sense as the L.A. Lakers or the Utah Jazz. The team played home games at Vanderbilt in 1998. There wasn’t going to be much of a winning tradition there. When the team finally moved into (then) Aldelphia Coliseum, my parents bought season tickets. It was a good time to suddenly go 13-3.
While looking at their seats while the stadium was still under construction, my mom didn’t like the view from the upper deck. They moved seats to the South end zone, although the Titans made them buy an extra seat. The first season, when the Steelers came to town, approximately 15 relatives came to town for the game. Everyone wore black and gold except for my parents, who officially announced their change in loyalty. I was still in the loyal-until-death camp. I was lucky enough to bail on the Dolphins before Dave Wannestedt took over.
The official turning point was January 8, 2000. It was the day of my cousin’s wedding (oddly enough, in Houston). I was hung over and depressed after being dumped one week earlier. When I finally felt human enough to walk to my parents room it was late in the fourth quarter. The Titans were ahead but Rob Johnson (!) led the Buffalo Bills to an apparent game-winning field goal. The Titans played the game so conservatively that they could have punted on first down. The season was going to end, but the team finally had a home and there was hope for the future.
One crazy screaming improbable special teams play later, later called the Music City Miracle, changed everything. The play was shown about twenty times while the official reviewed the lateral to see whether it was forward or legal. To this day I’m not sure. That play allowed the Titans to escape with a 22-16 win. They beat the Colts and Jags to get to the Super Bowl. If Jeff Fisher hadn’t trotted out his Buffalo Bills offensive plan in the first half against the Rams they might have won the Super Bowl. I decided after that game to officially change my allegiance for the following season.
Now I own a ridiculous amount of Titans merchandise. I even have an old McFarlane figure of Eddie George that ironically keeps falling down. I am a fan of the Titans like I was never a fan of the Dolphins. If me writing about them in April is any indication, I might need professional help. My wife sure thinks so. She also has a McNair jersey hanging in the closet.
When I recently bought a throwback Dan Marino jersey, it was from the University of Pittsburgh. What Dolphins?