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Remember the Titans: Thoughts of Lost Members From Super Bowl XXXIV Team A Reminder of How Much Has Changed


LAS VEGAS – Do the Titans have a miracle left in them in what has been a magical season to this point?

If they do, they need it now.

Christie kicks it high and short. Gonna by fielded by Lorenzo Neal at the 25; he dishes it back to Wycheck.

Fervent Titans fans know every word of Mike Keith's call of the Music City Miracle back on January 8, 2000, during what was the start of a memorable playoff run for the Tennessee Titans.

The improbable win over the Bills springboarded to the Titans into Super Bowl XXXIV, arguably the biggest day in franchise history.

Nearly twenty-five years later, the heartbreak of finishing one-yard short of forcing overtime against the St. Louis Rams still remains for many Titans, and their fans.

But there's something else that's even more painful to think about: A growing number of the heroes from that memorable season are no longer with us, including Frank Wycheck, whose cross-field lateral to Kevin Dyson set the play – and the postseason run – in motion.

Leading up to this weekend's Super Bowl, members of that 1999 team say the absence of their teammates, and friends, is a sobering thought, and it provides another reminder to live every day to the fullest.

"It's surreal to think about it, really," said Neal, a fullback on that squad. "I remember watching Kung Fu Panda with my kids, and there's a line in it that says: 'Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. But today is a gift, so live in it.' And that is so fitting, because when you think about Frank, when you think about Steve (McNair), when you think of any of our teammates from that team, or life in general, you just never know.

"All the fallen guys from that team, and you look at how young they were, and they are no longer with us. It's sad. You look at it and you are thankful that you are OK, but you are sad because things are different now, for all of us. We've been plagued and riddled, young men. I think about things so differently now. I think the older you get, the more you appreciate life. You just have to appreciate every moment you have."

Neal, now 53, is at Super Bowl LVIII as an analyst for 95.7 The Game and CSN TV in the Bay Area. Neal is also a motivational speaker, and he recently gave a speech about the importance of team building. He used the Music City Miracle as an example of a team that came together when seemingly no hope was in sight.

Twenty-four years ago, the Titans storybook season ended with Kevin Dyson getting tackled at the one-yard line on the final play of the game.

It's not the ending Neal thinks about these days, however.

"Now, when I watch replays, and highlights of that game, I think about all the guys that are no longer with us," Neal said. "You see them (on replays) and it's like, Oh my God, some of my guys, they're really not here any more, and it's heartbreaking."

In December, Wycheck became the latest member of that 1999 team to pass away.

He joined a group of men who left a lasting impression on the franchise before their untimely deaths.

-Steve McNair, beloved quarterback of the Titans, lost his life back in 2009 at the age of 36. McNair was the heart and soul of the team, his courage and determination on full display on the final drive of Super Bowl XXXIV.

-Defensive lineman Josh Evans passed away in 2021 at the age of 48 due to cancer. Evans had a big personality, and an easy smile. He overcame so much to be successful at the highest level, and he seemed to enjoy every moment.

-Running back Rodney Thomas died in 2014 at the age of 41, of a heart attack. Thomas was a productive third-down back who provided leadership both on and off the field, and a great work ethic.

Wycheck was just 52 when he was found dead. Per a statement from the family, it appeared Wycheck fell inside his Chattanooga home and hit his head. He was found unresponsive.

Wycheck is remembered for his stellar play on the field, but also for his friendly nature, always approachable. The sight of Wycheck on a knee, watching the confetti fall from the sky at the Georgia Dome at game's end in Super Bowl XXXIV, left a last impression on everyone.

"Just trying to take all that in," Wycheck once said of the moment, "to use that as motivation to work hard and try and get back."

Former Titans tackle Brad Hopkins, who's now 53, said the Titans had the time of their lives back then.

He said he oftentimes thinks of his playing days, and teammates, while acknowledging how time has flown by since, and how much has changed.

"When you think about the younger iteration of yourself, and all of the things you thought were going to happen with your life, 25 years later, life and the way you see it is completely different," Hopkins said.

"Mid-50s and earlier is not the time you want to start burying friends, but that's the reality. Whether it is illness, or just life itself, when you look back and reflect, you can never imagine losing teammates or people who have been important in your life, and certainly not this soon. It's surreal to think about.

"Back then, when we were all teammates, a lot of us in our 20s, we thought we were invincible. Sickness and bullets aren't going to affect us; we play in the NFL for God's sake," Hopkins continued. "But that's not true. And that's why I tell all these young kids playing today, cherish it, man. Cherish it all. Because life is going to change for you, nothing stays the same."

Titans running back Eddie George said his memories of those teammates, and that time in his life, lift him through the harsh reality.

Other important members of that historical 1999 season are also no longer with us:

-Owner K.S. "Bud" Adams passed away in 2013.

-General Manager Floyd Reese, who built that Titans team, died in 2021.

-Rich Snead, Director of Player Personnel with the team, also died in 2021.

-Long-time Titans executive Bob Hyde died last year.

"We want to be able to get together without having to come together for the death of somebody – that's the tough part," George said. "You think back to that team, and so many members of that team are gone. I know (late OC) Mike Heimerdinger wasn't with us for that Super Bowl team, but that's another person who is no longer with us, gone too soon, and it's hard to think about.

"It tells you how short life is, and how you have to cherish each moment, in the moment, regardless of whether you are winning or losing. There's nothing more sacred than the locker room in sports, and that's where you build life-long relationships. I know I appreciated all those guys, the people they were, the spirit that they had, the impact they made on the people around them. I know they all added value to my life, and hopefully (I added) value to theirs."

Dyson, who played in Super XXXVIII as a member of the Carolina Panthers, said he saw many of his former Titans teammates recently when they gathered to remember Wycheck at a memorial in Nashville after his death back in December.

Dyson said it made him think about how precious time is.

"I am 48, Frank was (52), Rodney was in his 40s, Josh was (48), too," Dyson said. "Of course, Floyd was a little older, but he's gone too soon. I know we're not as young as we were back then, when we were teammates, when we were together, but we're still relatively young."

In addition to players from the Super Bowl team, the Titans have seen a number of other former players die too soon:

-Kicker Rob Bironas (2005-2013) died September 20, 2014, in a car accident at age 36.

-Offensive lineman Todd Williams (2003-05) died January 6, 2014, at age 35. He was found in mother's residence after complaining of abdominal pains in months before his death.

-Linebacker Frank Chamberlin (2000-02) died November 17, 2013, with brain cancer at age 35.

-Defensive lineman Jesse Mahelona (2006-07) died September 5, 2009, at age 26 in an automobile accident.

-Running back Damien Nash (2005) died February 24, 2007, with sudden cardiac death at age 24 after playing in celebrity basketball game.

-Receiver O.J. Murdock (2011) died July 30, 2012, at age 25 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

-Guard Mitch Petrus (2012) died on July 18, 2019, at the age of 32 from a heat-related illness.

-Offensive lineman Mario Branch (2003-04) died April 8, 2011, at age 31 of congestive heart failure.

-Receiver Devon Wylie (2013) passed away November 23, 2023, at the age of 35.

Dyson said when he talked with his teammates at Wycheck's memorial, he made sure the topic steered away from football.

Dyson said he told teammates to get their numbers checked, whether it's blood pressure, cholesterol, or high sugars, because of diabetes. Check with a doctor for a sleep apnea check, Dyson told them.

Life's too short, he said.

"I did some research, and discovered the average life expectancy of a professional football player is 56 years old," Dyson said. "That's pretty astounding when you think about it, and it's a scary thought. And, when you think about it, there are a lot of silent killers out there when it comes to your health.

"I was saying this a lot the week Frank died: I know everyone says, "I'll reach out tomorrow, I'll reach out tomorrow. Oh, I'll reach out tomorrow." Well, before you know it, you're out of tomorrows. And that's why it's important to be reflective and celebrate some of the guys who are no longer with us, too many guys from that (Super Bowl) team. I think it's important to remember the moments that they had, remember the moments that we shared, because before you know it, we're all going to be out of tomorrows."

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