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VOL. 42 | NO. 41 | Friday, October 12, 2018

Ravens-Titans game stirs memories of a great rivalry gone cold

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Tennessee Titans’ receiver Derrick Mason celebrates with kicker Gary Anderson following Anderson’s game-winning field goal against the Baltimore Ravens during their 2003 AFC wildcard playoff game in Baltimore. Tennessee won 20-17 after Anderson’s 46-yarder barely cleared the crossbar with 29 seconds remaining. Mason went on to play for the Ravens after being released by the Titans.

-- Ap Photo/Rusty Kennedy, File

Anytime the Baltimore Ravens appear on the Tennessee Titans’ schedule, the rivalry that once was comes back to mind.

Bitter as it often was for the Titans, who lost not once, but twice, to Baltimore as the No. 1 playoff seed, the Ravens made for the perfect adversary in the early days of the franchise’s tenure in Tennessee.

Think of it as Batman vs. the Joker. Yankees vs Red Sox. Republicans vs. Democrats. You get the idea. There wasn’t a lot of love lost between the two franchises.

And for good reason. It was the Ravens who dealt the Titans their first home loss in what was then Adelphia Coliseum.

And it was Ray Lewis and Baltimore who came to town during the 2000 playoffs and stole a divisional game from the top-seeded Titans with two takeaways, eventually winning a Super Bowl title that Titans fans and players believed was theirs for the taking.

Eight years later, the Ravens again dashed the hopes of a top-seeded Titans team, rekindling the feud for a brief period of time.

The Titans had their moments, as well. A rivalry isn’t really a rivalry if it’s all one-sided. Tennessee traveled to Baltimore and won on Gary Anderson’s late field goal in the 2003 postseason. Eddie George, bum shoulder and all, exacted his revenge on Lewis by running him over on the way to the win.

Thanks to time and realignment, the rivalry isn’t what it once was. The teams don’t meet twice a year. In fact, this is only their fourth meeting since that fateful 2008 playoff game.

But truthfully, the Titans haven’t had a rival before or since as intense as the battles with Baltimore were.

Perhaps no one in Nashville is more uniquely qualified to talk about just how intense that rivalry burned than wide receiver Derrick Mason, who saw it from both sides. Mason spent his first eight seasons in Tennessee before landing with the rival Ravens in 2005 and spending six productive seasons there.

“We knew anytime we played Baltimore in Nashville or in Baltimore that it was going to be a hard-fought game,” he recalls. “The teams fought hard, but they respected each other, and it was amped up even more by the remarks made by the coaches.”

Coaches Jeff Fisher and Brian Billick certainly weren’t above diving into the fray, Mason points out. But it was the on-field results that made the rivalry really what it was.

“I think that team we had that lost to Baltimore (24-10) in 2000, that Titans team was the best team we had ever fielded, honestly, event to the current day. I don’t think the Titans have ever had a better team than that one,” Mason says.

“And to lose that game was just disappointing. If you looked at stats and didn’t look at score, you would have said the Tennessee Titans won the game. It was unfortunate, but we just came up on the short end of real hard-fought game.”

The game came unraveled for the Titans with two second-half turnovers, including one in which Lewis snatched a Steve McNair pass out of George’s grasp and returned it for the go-ahead touchdown.

Three years later, the Titans would exact a measure of revenge, and Mason was there to enjoy it. In fact, there is the iconic photo of him hugging kicker Gary Anderson after the 44-year-old kicker sailed a 46-yard field goal just over the crossbar to give Tennessee a wild-card playoff win.

“Anderson was about 60 years old,” Mason joked. “For him to kick a 40-something-yard field goal as time wound down meant the world to us. That kick symbolized that we were finally able to get over that hurdle of beating Baltimore in the playoffs.”

For Mason, cornerback Samari Rolle in 2005 and for McNair in 2006, the Titans’ salary cap troubles allowed them to eventually experience the rivalry from a purple perspective, as all three wound up in Ravens’ uniforms.

“They ended up releasing me, and I signed with Baltimore. About a day later, Samari signed there, too,” Mason says. “A year later Mac ended up there. They respected us as players and knew what we brought to the table.”

For Mason, two wins over the Titans as a Raven were especially important to him.

The first was a homecoming game in 2006 when he caught the winning touchdown pass from McNair, who overcame two interceptions by the Titans’ Lamont Thompson to rally Baltimore to a 27-26 win.

Mason recalled not just the rivalry, but the personal satisfaction he derived from that victory.

“It was sort of poetic justice, I guess,” he says. “I understand why they had to do what they did the year prior when they released a lot of people.

“We ended up coming back to Nashville and beating that team. There was a little extra pep in our step that day, for sure.”

Two years later, McNair had retired, but Mason and Rolle were on the winning end of a Ravens’ shocker in Nashville, besting the 13-3 Titans 13-10.

“That’s the game I couldn’t wait for,” Mason says. “I still had a chip on my shoulder from being released and I still had a drive that they didn’t want me. So I did everything possible to make sure Baltimore would win that game,” he recalls.

“Truthfully, that was probably the second-biggest playoff win of my career, with beating Jacksonville to go to the Super Bowl obviously being first.”

The Ravens won that game with a rookie quarterback in Joe Flacco and a rookie head coach in John Harbaugh, both of whom are still with the Ravens as some of the last links to the old rivalry.

So, having been on both sides of the debate, who will Mason pull for on Sunday?

“I’m not for either one. Honestly, I’m not,” Mason says. “I hope Joe does well, and I hope Marcus (Mariota) does well. Harbaugh is one of my favorite coaches, even though we butted heads at times. And I like what Mike Vrabel is doing with the Titans.

“Whoever wins, I will cheer for them.”

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

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