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Tennessee 15-to-1 to return to Super Bowl

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Oddsmakers think the Tennessee Titans have a better chance of making it to Super Bowl XXXV than the Dolphins.

In odds released over the weekend by Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the Titans are listed at 15-to-1 to return to the Super Bowl next season. The Dolphins are tied with New England and Kansas City at 30-1.

The St. Louis Rams are the favorite at 5-2, followed by Jacksonville (9-2), Minnesota (10-1) and Indianapolis (12-1).

Fourteen teams are given better odds of reaching Super Bowl XXXV than the Dolphins, including the New York Jets (15-1) and Buffalo (15-1).

Thigpen sits it out
Tennessee wide receiver Yancey Thigpen’s aspirations of playing in Super Bowl XXXIV were dashed before Sunday’s kickoff at the Georgia Dome when he was declared inactive.

Thigpen suffered a hairline fracture in his right foot in the Jan. 23 AFC Championship Game against Jacksonville and didn’t practice all week, but was fitted with a special shoe in hopes he could contribute in the game. Thigpen, who tried to run three hours before kickoff, was replaced by Isaac Byrd.

Other game-day inactives for Tennessee were running back Spencer George and defensive end Mike Frederick.

’Canes wanted McNair as CB
Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair said last week the University of Miami was one of the universities that recruited him heavily — as a cornerback.

When he didn’t receive a scholarship offer as a quarterback from a Division I college, McNair went to Division I-AA Alcorn State and passed for 14,496 yards and 119 touchdowns.

“Since I was a little kid I wanted to play quarterback,” McNair said. “I was determined not to let anyone change that.”

Payton touched Fisher
Titans coach Jeff Fisher is happy the late Walter Payton was honored at halftime of Super Bowl XXXIV. Payton — the Hall of Fame running back who died in early November of complications stemming from liver cancer — was a teammate of Fisher’s with the Chicago Bears from 1981-85.

“I have a [Super Bowl] ring from the ’85 season, but the thing I cherish most from my years with the Bears is not necessarily that ring,” Fisher said. “It is the fact I was able to be Walter’s teammate and friend.

“I was touched as the sports world was touched over the loss of Walter. I had a hard time that week and really was distracted because of that. Everybody that knew Walter went back and started remembering how Walter had touched their lives. Certainly, he touched mine.”

Free agents a concern
Playing so deep in the season doesn’t give Tennessee much time to negotiate with its potential free agents before the signing period begins Feb. 11.

The Titans have four key players set to become unrestricted free agents: Right tackle Jon Runyan, linebacker Joe Bowden, free safety Marcus Robertson and his backup, Dorsett. Of those four, Runyan (6-7, 320 pounds) is expected to draw the most interest.

The Titans were unsuccessful in attempts to extend Runyan’s contract before the start of this season. Runyan, though, sounds like he wants to stay in Tennessee unless blown away by an offer from elsewhere.

“I’d love to be here,” Runyan said. “The coaching staff is great. I don’t really want to change anything up. If you go somewhere else, it’s going to be a totally different atmosphere. It would benefit me to stay here.”

Kearse held in check
Not only was Tennessee’s Jevon Kearse held without a sack in the first half, but the rookie defensive end committed a 15-yard facemask penalty late in the second quarter while collaring Rams quarterback Kurt Warner. When Tennessee played St. Louis in October, Rams right tackle Fred Miller committed six false starts and one holding penalty while trying to stop Kearse. Miller wasn’t whistled for a penalty in the first half Sunday. ... Kicker Al Del Greco missed a field goal for the first since Tennessee’s first playoff game, sending a 47-yard attempt in the first quarter wide left. Del Greco had made seven of eight attempts in three postseason games.

Red-zone trips up St. Louis
The first half was a red-zone nightmare for the St. Louis Rams, who got inside the Tennessee 20 five times and came away with six points on a three field goals by Jeff Wilkins (27, 29 and 28 yards).

But Wilkins also missed one, and the Rams blew another opportunity when holder Mike Horan bobbled the snap on a 34-yard attempt that squelched the opening drive.

There had been concerns about Wilkins all week because of the tendinitis in his plant (left) leg and, though his kickoffs were good enough, his accuracy was not. He missed from 34 yards in the second quarter, wide right.

Quarterback Kurt Warner, who was 0 for 11 throwing into the six- and seven-man Tennessee secondary, also was at fault.

On the first drive, Warner had first down at the 18 and threw two incompletions and the drive ended on the sloppy hold.

On the second drive, the Rams’ precision passing game clicked for two long gains in succession, but again they couldn’t click in close when Tennessee brought six or seven defensive backs into the game.

First, receiver Torry Holt answered any questions about the injuries he took out of the Tampa Bay game a week ago. He ran a square-in on cornerback Denard Walker for 32 yards. Then, Warner stepped up in the pocket to escape the pressure and shot a short ball to running back Marshall Faulk, who was not covered well by strong safety Blaine Bishop. Faulk gained 17 yards.

But on third down in the red zone, Warner threw slightly behind Az-Zahir Hakim and they had to settle for a field goal.

Again, early in the second quarter, the Rams rolled 53 yards before running four unsuccessful plays — a fumbled snap recovered by Warner; a dropped shovel pass behind the line; a blocked pass; and the field goal missed right.

The fourth trip into the red zone came midway through the second quarter at the 11 after three straight incompletions under heavy pressure.

On the final drive, Warner was smacked on second down from the 10 by defensive end Kenny Holmes, who shed tackle Orlando Pace for the near-sack. On third down, he had Ricky Proehl open on a corner pattern in the end zone and overthrew him with Donald Mitchell in coverage.

In the game
Free safety Keith Lyle, who failed to start previous playoff games because of nerve damage in his neck and shoulder, reclaimed his starting job, and Devin Bush, who had been manning the post, came off the bench as a nickel back.

Out of the game
There were no surprise deactivations for the Rams. They added safety Ron Carpenter, guard Cameron Spikes and Chris Thomas to the required four-man list announced Friday and made quarterback Joe Germaine the No. 3 quarterback.

Brrrrrrrrrrr
Outside the Georgia Dome it was about 32 degrees at game time, down from about 37 during the “warmest’’ part of the overcast day. It was the worst week of weather for a Super Bowl game since Minnesota in January of 1992.

In other cities which have hosted the Super Bowl, it was 41 and cloudy in New Orleans, 58 and partly cloudy in San Diego and 76 and mostly sunny in South Florida.

Super Bowl XXXV will be played in Tampa, where the temperature on Sunday was 72 and mostly sunny.

Second time is the charm
The Rams won the big game only their second Super Bowl in franchise history, having lost Super Bowl XIV in January 1980 to the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-19.

It was also the second Super Bowl appearance for coach Dick Vermeil, who had taken the Philadelphia Eagles to Super Bowl XV, where he lost to the Oakland Raiders 27-10

Warner’s 35 passes attempted in the first half broke a Super Bowl record previously held by New England’s (29 in Super Bowl XXXI).

Win justifies move
Owner Georgia Frontiere made a difficult decision in 1995 — moving the Los Angeles Rams to St. Louis.

On Sunday, she said it was all worth it when the Rams beat the Tennessee Titans 23-16 in the Super Bowl at the Georgia Dome.

"I am so thrilled. I'm thrilled for St. Louis. I'm thrilled for the Rams,'' she said in accepting the Lombardi Trophy from NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

"It proves that we did the right thing by going to St. Louis,'' she said of the move to her hometown five years ago.

"This trophy belongs to our coach, our team and our fans in St. Louis.''

Frontiere has been chairman and owner of the Rams for 21 years, taking over leadership of the club in 1979.

Sweet moment
After 10 years in the NFL, defensive tackle Ray Agnew now knows what winning the Super Bowl feels like.

"It feels great. There is no better feeling. It is sweet. I wish there were a way to package this moment so I could keep re-living it over and over,'' said the 6-foot-3, 285-pounder, who was in his second season with the Rams after playing five years with New England and three with the New York Giants.

"It is the sweetest day of my life,'' said Agnew, who was asked if winning the Super Bowl late in his career made it better.

"It think it is great no matter when it happens. I guess I was starting to think that it was getting late in my career and that it may not happen for,'' said the former North Carolina State standout.

Super player
Nine sportswriters and a former NFL administrator, all of whom have attended all 33 previous Super Bowls, were polled to select the best players at each position in the NFL's championship game.

The offensive selections were quarterback Joe Montana, running backs Franco Harris and Emmitt Smith, tight end Jay Novacek, wide receivers Jerry Rice and Lynn Swann, tackles Forrest Gregg and Joe Jacoby, guards Gene Upshaw and Bob Kuechenberg, and center Mike Webster.

The defense was ends L.C. Greenwood and Harvey Martin, tackles Randy White and Joe Greene, middle linebacker Jack Lambert, outside linebackers Ted Hendricks and Chuck Howley, cornerbacks Herb Adderley and Mel Blount, and safeties Ronnie Lott and Jake Scott.

The punter was Ray Guy, and the kicker was Jan Stenerud. The kick returner was Desmond Howard and the coach was Chuck Noll.

The selection committee was Don Weiss of the NFL, Larry Felser of the Buffalo News, John Steadman of the Baltimore Sun, Jerry Green of the Detroit News, Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger, Dave Klein of e-Giants, Will McDonough of the Boston Globe, Norm Miller of the New York Daily News and Post, Bob Oates of the Los Angeles Times and Edwin Pope of the Miami Herald.

Odds and ends
The Titans were the 10th team to fail to score in the first half of the Super Bowl. All 10 wound up losing.

The Titans had been 5-0 against teams that had won 13 games during the regular season beating Jacksonville three times, Indianapolis and St. Louis. Tennessee beat the Rams 24-21 on Oct. 31 at home.

Titans punter Mike Horan is the oldest player ever to take part in a Super Bowl. He will be 41 on Tuesday.

George tops
Tennessee's Eddie George passed Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell as the franchise's career rushing leader in the postseason. George rushed for 97 yards Sunday, giving him 451 in four games compared to Campbell's 420 yards in eight games. Campbell did it when the franchise was in Houston.

Information from The Associated Press supplemented to this report.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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