So John McClain asked me on the air this week if I thought Texans-Titans is or ever was a rivalry. My mind went into high gear.
Off the top of my head, I immediately started reciting memories of the series. Like the first time the Texans beat Tennessee. It was in Nashville, a superb defensive effort against the late Steve McNair in 2004. Or the time McNair hit Drew Bennett on a 4th and 10 for a late touchdown to beat Houston at NRG Stadium right before Christmas in 2003.
Let's zoom ahead. Vince Young's 39-yard overtime run in 2006 almost ripped my heart out of my chest. That is still the most painful game in franchise history. How about the late Rob Bironas hitting an NFL record eight field goals in Houston in 2007? These memories fly out of me quicker and more accurately than stories of my own children!
The tide started to turn in 2008. Houston, on a late season surge, defeated a Titans team that would eventually finish 13-3 in a low scoring slugfest at home. Then, in week two the following year, the Texans won a high scoring, chippy game in Nashville. In 2010, the Texans, in the midst of a miserable 6-10 year, shut out the Titans, highlighted by Andre Johnson's fight with Courtland Finnegan.
There are also weird facts. Like the last two winning seasons by the Titans were capped by regular season finale victories over Texans teams that were resting starters and didn't 'need' the game (2011, 2016). The easiest way to sum up the series is that the Titans dominated the early days and the Texans have dominated lately.
It seemed like a natural rivalry from the get-go. When I started here in Houston on Sports Radio 610 in 2002 I would regularly get calls from Titans fans, Oiler holdovers who still identified with the franchise even though it left town.
The majority of Houstonians wanted no part of the team anymore. After all, they left, changed their name and went to a Super Bowl shortly thereafter. That's like your wife leaving you, marrying Ben Affleck and winning the lottery.
McClain talked about how good the rivalry could get with two young gunslingers in Marcus Mariota and Deshaun Watson. But I'll be fine if the Titans continue to struggle, thank you. Those early Tennessee teams, led by McNair, were very good and it took a long time for Houston to get even.
Despite the unevenness of the total body of work, I still call this a rivalry. Remember J.J. Watt calling out Zach Mettenberger for taking a selfie? The series is decorated with interesting moments like that. And the fact that the Titans used to, in some form, live here, means it'll always have a solid rivalry foundation.
There is something extra special about this game Sunday. The Titans are coming in with some bravado, looking to go 2-0 in the division. But the Texans have found some juice on offense and are still the reigning division champs. It should be a great battle. Enjoy!