Titans Again Columnist

The Dallas Cowboys will make football history of a kind Monday night when they become the first NFL team to play regular-season games on both Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day the same year.

In a Nashville stadium, simultaneously, the Tennessee Titans will also be searching for a piece of history.

If, as expected, they beat Dallas to finish first in the American Conference with an NFL-best won-lost record, 13-3, the Titans will be on the high road to the Super Bowl and recognition as the only champion in nearly a decade to win without a high-powered pass offense.

Titan passer Steve McNair unloads once in a while, but Coach Jeff Fisher much prefers to run Eddie George, and Fisher's goal is to win a Super Bowl that way, ending what NFL conservatives call the passball monopoly.

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Passing Teams Win Super Bowls

During the great days of the Cowboys, they won back-to-back Super Bowls with Troy Aikman's powerful passes in 1993-94, and, since then, no team has dominated pro football any other way.

Passing teams have won eight consecutive Super Bowls, first with Aikman and Steve Young of San Francisco, then with Brett Favre of Green Bay, John Elway of Denver, and Kurt Warner of St. Louis.

By contrast, Tennessee, which now leads the league both in number of wins and in number of quality players enrolled, is an old-fashioned defensive team with an old-time ball-control offense, having shown it again Sunday by shutting down Cleveland, 24-0, with 79 yards passing by McNair and 176 yards running by George.

So falling snow covered Cleveland that day.

So what.

It's in the record that Hall of Fame passers from Bart Starr to Brett Favre have won big games on off tracks that bad or worse.

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This Is the Wind-Chill Season

A California viewer who went out in the sunshine Sunday, carrying a portable TV set to the patio, couldn't locate the wind-chill number there but did note that the temperature had reached 77.

Thus it was a little strange seeing all that snow in Ohio, where the wind chill in Cleveland was minus 10, and where the temperature got up to 9 in Cincinnati, a place with a wind-chill reading of minus 20.

As it happened, two Southern teams had been invited to play in the Ohio snow, Tennessee at Cleveland, and, at the same hour, Jacksonville at Cincinnati, where the Jaguars found the freeze and the footing impossible, losing, 17-14, to a team they could have shut out at Jacksonville.

At Cleveland against the same sort of team--the Bengals and Browns are both 2-8 in their division--the Titans romped, three touchdowns to none, with Eddie George.

Since football was invented a century or so ago, the best of the ballcarriers have nearly always run effectively on any kind of track; and this time, on a field that the Ohio freeze had converted to green concrete, George demonstrated that he is an artist in that tradition.

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It Was More Fun in Cincinnati

Meanwhile, many spectators preferred the winter scene in Cincinnati, where the players struggled just to stand up on a mushy field that the Bengals' impoverished ownership had neglected, inexcusably if predictably.

The December mudfests in the NFL's younger years may not have been much fun to the principals; but the bundled-up crowds loved those days.

And similarly, the crowd loved the Cincinnati renewal, particularly when the home team won.

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Negative-Minded Have an Edge

Sports philosophers have argued for years over whether a positive stimulus is more help to a good team than a negative motive.

Do football players who are in position to win a big game for a division title fare better on one of the NFL's famous given days than an opposing team that can knock them out or down with the stronger emotional effort?

A persuasive answer came Sunday when the 6-8 Kansas City Chiefs, with nothing to play for, rose up emotionally to win by a 20-7 score against the 10-4 Denver Broncos, who had everything to play for--the AFC West championship, a home-field site in the playoffs, a week off to rest their wounded and, perhaps, another Super Bowl championship.

The Broncos very much knew what was at stake, and clearly they were playing hard, just not as hard as the Chiefs played.

As the Chiefs said afterward, they hate the Oakland Raiders more than they hate the Broncos; but they couldn't do anything about the Raiders that afternoon whereas the Broncos were right there in front of them and capable of an embarrassing fall.

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Chiefs' Passer Plans It That Way

You could tell how much Kansas City quarterback Elvis Grbac hoped to embarrass Denver when, on an early scramble, instead of sliding to a halt in front of three Broncos, he jumped at them with the verve of a linebacker and earned a first down.

That leap could have ended Grbac's game, maybe his career.

Happily for the Grbac family, however, he lived to put an end to the Broncos' Super Bowl shot if not their playoff spot.

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Grbac Gets Kansas City Close

Grbac's improvement as a quarterback this year has been accompanied by, maybe caused by, Kansas City's season-long inability to run the ball.

Despite Coach Gunther Cunningham's conservative football attitude, he has let Grbac throw because he hadn't another option.

And as a result, owner Lamar Hunt could find himself with his third Super Bowl team in 2001 provided only that his front office finds him a championship-caliber ballcarrier to alternate with his passer.

The pro clubs that win championships these days are alike in three respects--they have a competent passer, a competent running back, and a passing philosophy.

Next year, the Chiefs can have all that.

This year, Tennessee is the only contender that doesn't.

Although Titan management doesn't subscribe to a passing philosophy, it survives because, as a team, the Titans own the league's best players, who, at least theoretically, can win any way they choose.

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No Runner for Run-Minded Coach

It will be different for the Titans after they're parted from some of their better veterans during the offseason free-agent scramble.

Subsequently, in Super Bowl terms, Tennessee will be like Kansas City and all the others--needing a pass-first team that can also run.

One of the ironic things about 2000 is that if the Chiefs couldn't bring in both a runner and a passer, Coach Cunningham, who so wants to run it, has an offense that, most of the time, could pass only.

The repair job will be up to owner Hunt's president and general manager, Carl Peterson.

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Wait Till Next Season

As for Denver's future in the AFC West with Kansas City, Oakland and Seattle, the 2001 question is whether the long Denver injury streak will extend into a third consecutive season.

The Broncos couldn't score so much as one offensive touchdown in Kansas City--or earn even a field goal--because of the injuries that have taken away quarterback Brian Griese and both Denver running backs, Terrell Davis and Orlandis Gary.

Other injuries have depleted the Denver defense.

Third-string running back Mike Anderson, a rookie, was among the Broncos playing hurt before he left the game after grossing 62 yards, much of it on one first-quarter play when he raced deep into the Kansas City red zone but lost the ball when it was punched away in what was a play of inexperience.

This, in experience, is about Anderson's junior year in college.

After the fumble, his confidence as well as his body hurt, whereupon he never again ran with assertiveness.

So 20001 is rife with uncertainties in the AFC West.

It will be the strongest NFL division if Kansas City hires a runner, if Denver ends its run of incredible injuries, if Seattle continues to improve under Coach Mike Holmgren, and if Oakland remains in its 2000 groove.

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Raiders Out and Then In

Twenty-four hours before Kansas City restored Oakland to the land of the living, the 11-3 Raiders were upset in Seattle, 27-24, on one of the unluckiest days an NFL title contender ever had.

All this happened:

• In the next to last game of their run for the championship, the Raiders, plainly in control of the Western Division, were assaulted by a violent storm.

• Long before the rain and wind let up that night, injuries had taken away quarterback Rich Gannon and both Raider running backs, Napoleon Kaufman and Tyrone Wheatley, although Gannon, carried off, returned in the second half.

• He returned to finish with an unaccustomed three interceptions on a day when the Seattle quarterback, Jon Kitna, threw the winning pass.

• Thus Gannon descended in the wind and rain from a likely NFL MVP winner to a likely also-ran.

• The Raiders only lost after losing an officials' call that had been made but once before in a quarter century of NFL football.

On that play, the Raiders, who thought they had recovered a fumble on the one-yard line, slid into the end zone for what was correctly ruled a safety, obliging them to kick off into the wind, setting up the points Seattle needed to win.

Raider owner Al Davis, who didn't deserve that, didn't sleep until the Chiefs righted the injustice a day later.

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