Aug. 27, 1999: Titans 17, Falcons 3 | Click here to download the gamebook.
This flashback goes to the debut of the Tennessee Titans and LP Field (it was then known as Adelphia Coliseum).
After an odyssey that included the franchise’s final year as the Houston Oilers in 1996 and two nomadic seasons as the Tennessee Oilers, the newly named Titans christened their newly erected stadium and energetic, growing fan base with gigantic first plays on offense and defense.
Country star Faith Hill performed the national anthem on a clear Friday night with a 7:25 p.m. kickoff and temperature of 81 degrees. Tennessee won the coin toss and elected to receive to open the contest that was broadcast by ESPN.
Anthony Dorsett returned Morten Anderson’s kick 19 yards to the Tennessee 17-yard line, and quarterback Neil O’Donnell followed with a 48-yard completion to Yancey Thigpen on the first play from scrimmage. O’Donnell added short passes to Lorenzo Neal, Jackie Harris and Kevin Dyson before Eddie George scored a 2-yard touchdown that Al Del Greco followed with an extra point with 11:01 left in the first quarter.
Craig Hentrich’s kickoff resulted in a touchback, giving the Falcons the ball at their own 20. Atlanta opted to hand off to Jamal Anderson (who had made the Pro Bowl and been named All-Pro the previous season) on its first play, and Tennessee was ready.
Linebacker Eddie Robinson and safety Blaine Bishop combined for the hit that caused Anderson to fumble after a three-yard gain. Titans safety Marcus Robertson recovered the ball at the 23. The ensuing possession stalled, but Del Greco added a 21-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead less than seven minutes into the game.
Bishop added another key play early in the second quarter when he intercepted a pass thrown by Danny Kanell in the end zone, and Robertson recovered another fumble (forced by Henry Ford) to end Atlanta’s next possession.
The Falcons added a field goal midway through the second quarter and were marching to open the third when Donald Mitchell intercepted a pass by Tony Graziani at the Tennessee 29. Mitchell’s 30-yard return matched his jersey number and gave the Titans a short field.
Mike Archie rushed for 4 yards, and O’Donnell found Thigpen for a gain of 36, quickly moving the ball to the 1-yard line. Archie and O’Donnell were stuffed for no gain, but Archie scored the short TD on third down with 8:32 left in the third quarter.
The only time thereafter that the Falcons had the ball in Titans territory was a span of less than two minutes in the fourth quarter after an interception that put Atlanta at the Tennessee 22. That possession, however, netted a loss of 13 yards thanks to a sack by rookie Jevon Kearse and pair of penalties on the Falcons.
The game signified the passing of a torch and set the trajectory for Tennessee’s dominant defensive season that included winning the AFC Championship and the resulting trip to Super Bowl XXXIV (in Atlanta where Faith Hill again performed the national anthem). The Titans finished the 1999 regular season 8-0 at home, 13-3 overall and at plus-18 in turnover margin, and it all began with a preseason contest against the Falcons.
Titans Owner K.S. “Bud” Adams, Jr. discussed the significance of the moment after the game, saying: “It’s exuberating to see a victory. It would be a terrible letdown to have come all this way in four years, all the work we went through to get to opening night and lose this game. It would be devastating. The win is the best thing that could happen. We have great support here, and I think we’re going to have great support from here on out. The fans are going to be with us, but we’ve got to do a good job.”