The Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans once enjoyed a fierce division rivalry back in the days when the Titans franchise played in Houston and were known as the Oilers.
It was the 1979 AFC Championship Game between the Steelers and Oilers that gave rise to the need for instant replay. The Steelers and Oilers both played out of the AFC Central Division, and while the Steelers were the team of the decade, the Oilers, with Bum Phillip leading a choir of “Luv ya Blue” chants for enthusiastic Houston fans, were consistently in the hunt against Chuck Noll and company.
The call in 1979, was a crucial would be touchdown pass from Dan Pastorini to Mike Renfro, but the officials ruled him out of bounds. Replays showed Renfro got both feet down, and the score would have vaulted the Oilers to the lead and a possible berth in Super Bowl XIV. Instead, the call went the Steelers way, and Pittsburgh was off to capture their fourth Super Bowl against the Los Angeles Rams.
The controversy around that call was one of the driving forces that had the league adopt instant replay. It also added an edge to the rivalry between the two franchises even after the Oilers relocated to Tennessee and became the Titans in 1997.
Since the NFL realignment of the divisions in 2002, these two teams are relegated to playing a regular season game once every four years and meeting in the preseason. The Steelers are now plotted in the AFC North Division and the Titans in the AFC South. Tonight, these two teams meet to complete third week preseason action.
Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger will see his first preseason action tonight, starting the game and probably playing into the second quarter. The Titans projected regular season starter at quarterback, Marcus Mariota, will also start tonight, as many of the first string players will see their most extended action of the preseason.
While the quarterbacks behind Roethlisberger are in a battle for his backup, the signal caller behind Mariota is looking to unseat the starter. Ryan Tannehill, who comes over from Miami this year, was once considered the Dolphins franchise quarterback. At least they paid him like one, although his play on the field never matched his game day checks.
With only one year playing experience at quarterback in college, Tannehill was considered a project when the Dolphins drafted him in 2012. His intelligence and commitment to the game were attributes that many considered reasons Tanehill would develop into an NFL star.
Didn’t happen in Miami, and after six years of work in Florida, the veteran quarterback now offers the Titans an enviable quarterback rotation.
Neither of these teams cracked the playoff field last season, a rare miss for Pittsburgh’s Head Coach Mike Tomlin and a first season failure for Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel. It also puts pressure on both of these coaches to win this season if they are looking to add security to their head coaching roles.
The Steelers winning formula has always been to not give in to lofty demands by their players in salary negotiations. Willing to allow premium athletes to move on rather than get into a bidding war. This policy has led to a pair of the NFL true standouts at their positions to be playing elsewhere this season.
Running back Le'veon Bell is now on the New York Jets roster, and wide receiver Antonio Brown is a member of the Oakland Raiders. The loss of that kind of offensive firepower, coupled with Roethlisberger reaching the end of his Hall of Fame career and hampered by injuries in recent campaigns, make the Steelers more vulnerable than they have been in recent years.
As for the Titans, Vrabel replaced Mike Mularkey, who had led the Titans to the playoffs and a road postseason win before losing his job after the 2017 season. The pressure is on Vrabel to get the Titans into the postseason mix this season.
While this preseason game offers no discernible edges for a wager, it is a contest between two teams that have a rich history in both the NFL and against each other.