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Purple Reign 1: Chapter 11 “Nevermore (To Lose) – The Miracle Begins”

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“Next time we play the Tennessee Titans, we’ll kick their ass.”

Sam Adams, Oct. 23, 2000, Coors Light Monday Night Live show from The Barn as heard on WNST-AM

BULLETIN BOARD MATERIAL RARELY WORKS in the NFL these days. With the trash talking and the Internet and the constant scrutiny and evaluation of players, motivating players usually is as easy as flipping the coin and rolling the ball out for kickoff. These guys play for money and this is a pay for play league. If you’re not motivated, you won’t be in the NFL long.

Even so, the Ravens and coach Brian Billick got a little gift from the journalism gods in the Friday batch of mail in Owings Mills. The latest edition of Sports Illustrated arrived just before practice that morning and Vice President of Public Relations Kevin Byrne threw the issue in his briefcase as a special weapon for Billick on game day.

The magazine’s proclamation on the cover said all that Billick and the boys would need to see:


“The Tennessee Titans, The NFL’s Best Team”

Byrne presented the magazine to Billick the morning of the game, just before warm-ups.

Billick, always pleased with extra ammunition, gladly took the magazine, but instead of using it before the game, he elected to keep it for a postgame speech. Besides, many of the players had already seen the magazine.

“Good work,” he told Byrne. “I’ll use it after we kick their ass.”

It was a bold, yet mainly private pronouncement from Billick.

The Ravens were 6-4 and headed into one of the more impressive hornets’ nests in league history – Adelphia Coliseum on the banks of the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville. The Titans, who moved to Tennessee two years prior to the opening of their stadium, had never been beaten in their new home facility in 13 games. The closest anyone came was the previous January against Buffalo in the AFC Wild Card Game. Now known as the “Music City Miracle,” a play called “Home Run Throwback” featured Frank Wycheck’s widely disputed lateral to Kevin Dyson that resulted in a kickoff return for a touchdown to win the game. Their good fortune became one of the more legendary plays in playoff history and led them to the Super Bowl in Atlanta three weeks later.

I was at that game, my jaw dropped wide open when the crowd went from frenzied to silent to bonkers, all in the course of about eight minutes of real time.


I was also in Nashville the previous year, when I walked around Vanderbilt Stadium as the fledgling Tennessee Oilers were a borderline playoff threat in early December hosting the Ravens, and there were about 15,000 people at the game. That day, the locals, dressed in University of Tennessee bright orange, were trying desperately to give their tickets away at the gate.

I quickly found out that Nashville is the ultimate bandwagon sports town. In 1998, they didn’t even know the NFL was in town – hell, even the Ravens’ first visit to Adelphia in early 1999 wasn’t nearly a sellout – but the instant the team won a few playoff games, they were painting the town in Titans’ colors and leaping onto the bumper of the victory train.

It was even worse in 1997, when Oilers’ owner Bud Adams first moved the franchise to the wrong side of the state of Tennessee – Memphis – to play at the historic Liberty Bowl. The Ravens played the second game of the Oilers’ abbreviated stay in Memphis and less than 10,000 turned out to see the Ravens paste the Oilers, 36-10, that day. The pictures I have of the empty stadium are still surreal, shaming even the strike/replacement games from the 1980s that the NFL now tries to hide.

So, on Nov. 12, 2000, here come the upstart Ravens to face the defending AFC Champion Tennessee Titans, who are 8-1, riding an eight-game winning streak and the nation’s sports darlings of the moment. They are clearly the Super Bowl favorite.

“Emotionally and symbolically it was our last substantial hurdle,” Billick would later say of a potential victory in Tennessee.

The game would be the usual physical, Ravens-Titans matchup. Titans’ running back Eddie George, who had missed the game in Baltimore three weeks earlier, would return. The Ravens would start their fifth different quarterback in six games against the Titans. This time it would be Trent Dilfer.

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