It's easy to forget sometimes that the Tennessee Titans haven't always been the Tennessee Titans. Once they were the Houston Oilers, though then as now they were coached by Jeff Fisher, who was in town Monday to speak to the Red Cross's Hometown Heroes luncheon at the Chattanooga Convention Center.
"We were holding a one-week camp at Maryville College just outside Knoxville in the summer of 1995," said Fisher, who had taken over the team the previous November. "We practiced that whole week against the Washington Redskins, who had Heath Shuler at quarterback and Norv Turner as their coach.
"The first thing I remember about that week is trying to make a deal for tight end Frank Wycheck, who Norv didn't think could play."
The second memory was a little more painful. Management called at 10 one night to inform Fisher that the team was considering moving from Houston to Tennessee.
"I had to call a meeting right then and tell my team. The looks on their faces were like we'd just lost a game in overtime," he said.
For two years after that, the Oilers were the least loved team in the NFL. Because the fans who had rooted for a largely mediocre team for more than 30 years in Houston were unwilling to be blackmailed by owner Bud Adams' threat to move the franchise if he didn't get a sparkling new stadium to replace the Astrodome, the Oilers played the 1995 and 1996 seasons in front of sparse, bitter crowds.
"After two years of playing in front of no fans, I called another team meeting to tell them we were moving to Nashville," Fisher told the luncheon. "This time the looks on their faces were like we'd just won a game in overtime."
Fisher shared a lot of interesting stories and observations Monday.
He said he believes former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow "is going to be a really good player. He's a winner. He just wins football games, just like (Titans QB) Vince Young just wins football games."
He praised Chattanooga native Tony Brown, who has become a fixture on the Titans' defensive line the past three years and reportedly spent Monday showing a few key free agents around the team's facilities in Nashville.
"Tony gets along with everybody and is a great teammate," Fisher said. "I don't think we need to sell our program, but I want those guys who are going to come in and potentially want to become Titans to know what kind of guys we have, and Tony represents us really well."
Fisher, of course, has represented the Oilers and Titans well enough to be heading into his 16th full season as head coach, which makes him the NFL leader among active coaches in tenure with one team. His 141 victories are third among active head coaches, trailing only New England's Bill Belichick's 148 and new Washington coach Mike Shanahan's 146.
Even after last year's disappointing 8-8 record -- the Titans did win eight of their last 10 after an 0-6 start -- a football autographed by Fisher brought $1,000 at the Red Cross lunch.
But any discussion of the 52-year-old coach must include the "Music City Miracle," the razzle-dazzle play that saved the Titans from a first-round playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills in 1999.
"Many of you may remember that Buffalo kicked a field goal to take the lead with 16 seconds to play," Fisher said. "Our owner went to the restroom then because he was sure it was over. So did my dad.
"But I turned to our assistants and said, 'Home Run Throwback," which was a play we practiced every week for just this situation."
The play calls for one player to field the kick, take a few steps forward, then throw a backward pass across the field, hoping to catch the opponent off guard.
The Titans player supposed to grab the pass and run for a touchdown was wideout Derrick Mason.
"Only he had a concussion," Fisher said.
Mason's backup on the play was defensive back Anthony Dorsett -- "only he had cramps."
And the third option?
"Kevin Dyson, who when we told him to be ready for 'Home Run Throwback," looked at me and said, 'Coach, I've never really paid attention to that play,'" the coach recalled.
Yet somehow it all worked. Wycheck fielded the kick, suckered the Bills in and threw a perfect lateral across the field to Dyson, who took it the distance for a winning touchdown.
Apparently at some point between that summer in Maryville and Nashville, Wycheck learned to play a little football after all.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...