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Underappreciated Titans have been here before

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 19, 2003

OAKLAND, Calif. -- It doesn't matter to the Titans that they are big underdogs today, that all the attention in is on the Raiders, that they seem to be mere bit players.

They're used to being underappreciated and overlooked.

"The game is already won for the Raiders if you listen to what people are saying, listen to the TV, if you read the papers," Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair said. "It's already won by the Raiders, but we know what we are capable of doing. We just have to go on and prove it."

Further motivation? The Titans, who made just one national TV appearance, didn't have any players selected for the Pro Bowl, which means they could be the first team to get to the Super Bowl without one. (Though if they lose today, their entire coaching staff will be in Hawaii.)

"I think we opened a lot of people's eyes -- that we have no Pro Bowlers and yet we're playing for a shot to go to the Super Bowl. It's something to think about," linebacker Keith Bulluck said.

"No one gives us a shot in the world, and then you make miracles happen. That's how you make history."

Another factor: They've done this before. The Titans were seven-point underdogs when they went into Jacksonville three seasons ago and won the AFC championship.

REMATCH: There was talk all last week about potential residual effects and ramifications from Oakland's 52-25 blowout win over the Titans in September. The reality is that the game was decided early on by two long punt returns and that both teams have changed, and improved, significantly.

"Revenge is nothing," McNair said. "Going to the Super Bowl is motivation enough."

Lost in the revenge angle is the Titans won the three previous meetings.

FOUR ON THE FLOOR: Both teams went through four-game losing streaks during the season, something from which no previous team recovered to reach the Super Bowl. The Raiders and Titans said the key was not panicking.

"I think the Titans and us are very similar in that we went through that four-game losing period where you get tested and your character gets tested and your demeanor and your team as a whole gets tested," Oakland coach Bill Callahan said. "And to have veteran leadership and solid quality character guys on your team to help pull yourself through and help pull your team through those times is really, really important."

HELLO, HELLO: Playing a championship game at home can lead to distractions with friends and relatives wanting to come to the game, as well as making inquiries about Super Bowl tickets. Oakland's Rod Woodson has an easy way of dealing with it: "If you don't pick up the phone, it's not a distraction."

INJURY UPDATE: Oakland tight end Roland Williams hasn't recovered enough from toe and knee injuries to play. He was placed on injured reserve, which means he can't return if the Raiders get to the Super Bowl. Running back Madre Hill was promoted from the practice squad to take his place on the roster.

MISCELLANY: Titans guard Zach Piller, a former Gator, will start but may be limited by a lingering left calf injury. ... Tennessee's Joe Nedney kicked briefly for the Raiders but was let go to make room for Sebastian Janikowski. ... Road teams have won the past three AFC Championship Games and four of the past five. Overall, road teams are 10-14 in championship games since the NFL went to the 12-team format in 1990.

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