IT WAS JAN. 23, 2000, and the Tennessee Titans upset the Jacksonville Jaguars at home in the AFC Championship Game. It was the third time they beat the Jaguars that season, handing Jacksonville its only losses of the season.
In a pre-Super Bowl XXXIV news conference, then-Titans coach Jeff Fisher was asked about playing home games in four stadiums in four years as the team transitioned from Houston to Nashville.
“Well, some would say we’ve had five home stadiums in four years if you include Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville,” Fisher said.
Fisher’s comment angered many Jaguars’ fans, who trace the beginnings of the feud between the two franchises to the 1999 season.
Tennessee has dominated the all-time series 33-22, with a 15-12 record in Jacksonville, and has won 11 of the past 15 meetings. But the Jaguars could turn the tide this weekend.
They have a chance to sweep the Titans for the first time since 2005 at TIAA Bank Field on Saturday night (8:15 pm ET, ABC/ESPN/ESPN+).
If they do, the Jaguars will win the AFC South for just the second time in franchise history (the only other time coming in 2017), secure a playoff spot and knock their biggest rival out of playoff contention.
The buildup for this game has been 23 years in the making.
“I think this is one of the biggest games since 2017 here, is what some people say,” Jaguars right guard Brandon Scherff said. “Not a lot of people have been a part of it, so it’s going to be exciting to see their reaction, and we’re excited to play.”
THE PITTSBURGH STEELERS were the Jaguars’ top rival in the franchise’s early days, because the Jaguars were placed in the old AFC Central in 1995. Former coach/GM Tom Coughlin’s goal was to build the Jaguars to beat the Steelers, who had won the division in two of the three previous seasons.
But things changed in 1999.
The Jaguars went 14-2 in the regular season to earn the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and both losses came to the Titans.
Tennessee went on to beat Buffalo in the wild-card round with the Music City Miracle and then the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round to reach the AFC title game.
The Jaguars routed Miami in a divisional playoff game to set up a third matchup against the Titans, at Alltel Stadium. The Jaguars turned the ball over six times, and the Titans scored 26 unanswered points to beat them for the third time that season and advance to Super Bowl XXXIV.
The pre-Super Bowl news conference came five days later.
When asked by ESPN this week, Fisher said his dig was out of frustration. There was only one week between the conference title games and the Super Bowl, so both the Jaguars and the Titans sent advance teams to Atlanta, and Fisher didn’t like hearing from his crew that the Jaguars decals were already on the rental car fleet.
Fisher was also tired of answering questions about playing home games in different places.
“If I was asked once I was asked two dozen times that week,” Fisher told ESPN. “The final question at the press conference, and I don’t know who asked it, but he said, ‘Yeah, Steve, what’s it like to play in four different home venues in four years?’ And I said, ‘My name’s Jeff. And I said, ‘Actually it’s five if you would include Alltel Stadium.’
“… I didn’t think it would blow up like it did.”
That was 23 years ago, and it still stings for Jaguars fans.
“I can’t think of anybody that everybody hates more than Jeff Fisher,” said Jaguars fan and season-ticket holder Johnny McDonald.
Fisher’s words may have been the spark that ignited the rivalry, but it has gone beyond hating Fisher.
Especially after the way the past 20 years have gone.
“With the Titans, it’s a hatred for the organization,” said John Caputo, president of Jaguars fan club Bold City Brigade. “It’s a hatred for the Jeff Fishers of the world. And then that’s just sort of been perpetuated by the last 10 years or so of them completely owning us until last month.
“…And there’s really been no, nothing we can say or do to combat those feelings for damn near 20 years. I mean they’ve owned us. … And we’ve never come close to striking the types of blows to them that we remember them striking on us.”
He is right; there have been some bad moments.
Like when Titans running back Derrick Henry — who was born and raised in Yulee, Florida, a small town 25 miles north of Jacksonville — shook off three Jaguars defenders on the way to a 99-yard touchdown run on a nationally televised Thursday night game in 2018.
That wasn’t the only time the Titans have embarrassed the Jaguars on national TV. They also did it on a Thursday night in 2016, taking a 27-0 first-half lead en route to a 36-22 victory.
Even in their best season since 1999, the Jaguars could not beat the Titans. They lost both games to Tennessee in the 2017 regular season, but they still won the AFC South and advanced to the AFC title game.
Jacksonville finally snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Titans in Nashville last month with a 36-22 victory in a game that inspired the playoff run.
ACCORDING TO SEVERAL Jaguars players, coach Doug Pederson had the team’s video crew compile highlights of the Jaguars-Titans rivalry to show the team the night before last month’s game in Nashville.
The players appreciated the history lesson because the bulk of the roster had no idea of the anguish Tennessee has delivered to Jacksonville since they’ve been on the team for only a year or two.
It’s the suffering that makes rivalries, receiver Zay Jones said.
“When I was a rookie [with the] Bills, we didn’t care for the Patriots,” said Jones, who is in his first season with the Jaguars. “And then I got traded to the Raiders and then I was supposed to just start hating the Chiefs automatically. But I didn’t have any ties to it. I wasn’t immersed in that subculture, so to speak. It took me losing to them enough to be like, ‘OK, enough is enough.”
Pederson said there won’t be a video this week — he won’t even acknowledge that he showed the previous one — because this game is bigger than the rivalry.
It’s for a division title and a playoff spot — something that seemed far-fetched just two months ago — but it could also be a sign that the balance of power in the AFC South has shifted.
“I’ve looked into the history of it [the rivalry] and everything, but you know, quite honestly, you don’t need to really show a lot of videos to get motivated for this one,” Pederson said.
“… Call it what it is: a playoff football game. You win, you keep going.”
You lose, you go home. Just like 1999.