AFC South: 2011 Flash Points AFC

Examining the most crucial event in the history of every team in the division.

Peyton Manning melded a team and a town, resurrected the once-proud horseshoe and will finish up as a contender for the greatest of all time on the quarterback list.

There is no minimizing his impact.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Ezra O. Shaw /Allsport The Colts selected Peyton Manning, center, with the first overall pick in the 1998 draft.
And there is no debating your votes for the Colts’ selection of Manning with the first overall pick in the 1998 draft as the franchise’s Flash Point that changed its fortunes.

Said DaveatIU: “Without drafting Peyton Manning... they would be the Los Angeles Colts right now. 'Nuff said.”

The Blog Network offered four choices per team, plus the option to vote “other.” And out of 160 total options, the drafting of Manning got a higher percentage of votes on his team’s ballot than anyone or anything else.

As of Thursday afternoon, Manning had a whopping 87 percent of the Colts’ vote. He didn’t win by a little. He outpointed the next three biggest Flash Points in your eyes by 18 percent: Joe Namath’s guarantee for the Jets, the Broncos trade for John Elway and the Packers’ hiring of Vince Lombardi were all at 69 percent.

In general, AFC South voters went modern. With the Jaguars and Texans, there is no other choice. With the Colts and Titans, you chose not to hearken back to Baltimore and Houston, respectively.

I understand many of you don’t regard Baltimore/Indianapolis and Houston/Nashville as single histories. But we don’t get to decide. The Irsay and Adams families did.

As edutil21 wrote: “The question is asking about the colts FRANCHISE, not the cities of Indianapolis or Baltimore, and with that in mind it is perfectly plausible to include anything that occurred during the Franchise's time in Baltimore.”

And so, as big a moment as drafting Manning was in setting his franchise’s course, I think my vote has to go to The Greatest Game Ever Played, the 23-17 overtime win over the Giants in the NFL Championship Game at Yankee Stadium in 1958.

Without that game, are we certain the league turns into an entity where Manning has the chance to make the impact he has?

j_sleik83 was disgusted with the balloting: “And the idiots voting reign supreme. It's the 58 title game. In NFL history it's number 1, much less Colts history. And btw, Johnny Unitas is still the greatest QB in Colts history.”

Added CPCaesar: “Do Colts fans have zero sense of history?! I can understand a strong showing for Peyton, but to have him blowing out the game that made the NFL into a televised sport is ridiculous! This team has a legacy that includes Don Shula and Johnny Unitas, but it seems as if their impact on the game is lost on a modern fan base…”

There was also a pretty good other mentioned by a few, including krankor: “The actual Colts Flash Point didn't even involve the team. It was in 1955 when the Pittsburgh Steelers brilliantly decided that it would be a shrewd move to cut Johnny Unitas.”

TITANS: Epic playoff collapse set stage for relocation


With the Titans, modern also ruled. I understand why 52 percent of voters clicked the button for The Music City Miracle.

For Nashville sports fans to get a play like that in the team’s first year as the Titans, in the city’s first playoff game, was absolutely remarkable. It put the team’s claws into everyone with any sort of interest that day for the long haul. Quite frankly, it spoiled them, too.

[+] EnlargeTennessee's Kevin Dyson
AP Photo/Wade PayneTitans receiver Kevin Dyson (87) looks back as he returns a kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown following a lateral. The play is known as the Music City Miracle.
“It is really not even close.....No offense intended to the Oiler faithful, but the Music City Miracle is the best answer, and here is why,” wrote greenlawler. “That one play made solidified the regional fan base. Up until that point there were passionate fans in Middle Tennessee and a few other pockets scattered around the state. But that play and subsequent playoff run sparked a tidal wave of fan support that laid a foundation for the franchise. There are large populations of Titans fans in Alabama, [Mississippi], Kentucky, and Arkansas due to that run.”

With apologies to greenlawler and the majority of voters, I’ve got to go a different direction again.

The Oilers/Titans are, historically, average at best. Since the AFL-NFL merger, the team has had 18 winning seasons, 17 losing seasons and six .500 seasons. It’s 14-19 all-time in the playoffs even counting the AFL days when it won a couple of titles. Since the Music City Miracle season, the team is 2-5 in the playoffs. What was transformed?

Put the MCM aside, and the biggest historical moments for the franchise are generally not wins: A yard short of overtime in its one Super Bowl appearance; back-to-back AFC Championship Game losses in Pittsburgh to end the 1978 and 1979 seasons; and the firing of Bum Phillips after an 11-5 year in 1980.

And the mother of bad playoff moments, that epic playoff collapse in Buffalo on Jan. 3, 1993, when the Oilers blew a 35-3 lead to lose 41-38 in overtime.

That’s the Flash Point to me.

What if that team or the 12-4 team a year later (that was scarred by that disaster), went to a Super Bowl? What if it won a Super Bowl?

Surely Bud Adams would have maintained a better standing in the city, which would have been more willing to build a new stadium. Take away that loss, and there still could be a team in Houston wearing powder blue and an oil derrick. (And a guy like me, who got his big break in sports writing because Nashville got an NFL franchise, might be an admissions director at some private high school.)

So I align with mag5011ad: “If they don't blow that 32 point lead, I think they represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, not the Bills. With that excitement in the city, they get the support to build a new stadium, which keeps the team in Houston. Most defining moment. . .”

[+] EnlargeMark Brunell
Rick Runion/AFP/Getty ImagesMark Brunell and the Jaguars had a franchise-best 14-2 record in 1999 and hosted the AFC Championship Game.
So does dsachde: “As a fan who's followed this team from Houston, this poll makes me kind of sick. That said, I agree with mag5011ad. After that playoff game, the city started to turn on the Oilers and then Bud decided to dismantle the entire team a year later. That was the end of this team in Houston. The actual move to Nashville was just the punctuation. “

JAGUARS: Quick Final Four appearance boosted city

A trip to the AFC Championship Game in the Jaguars' second season of play had quite an impact on the market in 1996. It got 52 percent of your votes as the Jaguars' Flash Point, and I am in agreement.

But your comments were mostly about the 1999 season, when the Jaguars hosted the AFC Championship Game. They lost to the Titans for the third time that year, in a season which they lost to no one else.

Said markpark64: “I would say the 1999 AFC Championship Game. It was the last home playoff game and ended a run of four straight playoff appearances. The Jags' history can really be divided into pre-1999 (2 AFC Championship Game appearances in 4 years) and post-1999 (only 3 playoff games and 1 playoff win in over 10 years). The team has not been the same since the 1999 loss.”

You also wanted to spin forward, which isn’t the game we’re playing but was understandable.

Said SeattleJaguar: “It may be too soon to say, but I think the promotion of Gene Smith to GM will be looked at as the most significant turning point for this franchise. The fan base is starting to become more mature and a unique football culture is beginning to establish itself. We are seeing a young, die-hard, fan base emerge from the 'Jaguars babies' of the 90s. If you go to any games, its remarkable how young the fans are and they will stay loyal to the Jags, unlike the old farts that abandoned the team after the 90s. Go Jags!”

TEXANS: Controversial draft choice proved correct


Texans fans voted, narrowly, for the drafting of Mario Williams in 2006 over the awarding of the franchise in 1999.

[+] EnlargeHouston's Mario Williams
AP Photo/Matt YorkMario Williams has recorded 48 sacks for the Texans since they drafted him No. 1 overall in the 2006 draft.
Williams has been slowed by some injuries the last couple of seasons. I believe he’s underrated as a pass-rushing force, though I am skeptical about his move to weak outside linebacker in the new 3-4 scheme.

The Texans got crushed for the selection, but history shows they knew exactly what they were doing. He’s a superior player to Reggie Bush or Vince Young.

The decision to draft Williams did not transform the team, but there is nothing that’s boosted a nine-season-old team in such a dramatic fashion.

Said vonstev1668 “Though I voted for the win against the Cowboys [in the franchise’s first game], the truth is the Texans haven't had their defining moment yet.”

Said EMajorwitz: “Trick question, hasn't happened yet. [Dom] Capers and [Charley] Casserly essentially ruined this team with their horrible drafting and free-agent signings. Other than Andre Johnson, I don't like a single first-round pick. Nearly a decade into the franchise's history and we still haven't made the playoffs while recent expansion teams like Carolina and Jacksonville have been deep into the playoffs."
What key event significantly changed the fortunes of the Titans -- for better or worse? Give us your take and we’ll give you our definitive moment on May 20.

Do you lean happy or sad, positive or negative?

The Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans have extreme moments on both sides of the ledger. So as we look to select only one as decisive, do we turn to the good or the bad?

The Luv Ya Blue Oilers were a wonder, and in 1978 and 1979 they may well have been the second-best team in the NFL. Unfortunately for them, they resided in the same division as the best team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. When they fell short of a third consecutive trip to the AFC Championship Game in 1980, owner Bud Adams regrettably fired coach Bum Phillips.

But if you’re looking for a tough turning point -- one that might now even outscore the other Houston option -- there's the famous playoff collapse in Buffalo in January 1993, when the Oilers blew a 35-3 lead. Rare is a significant collapse in an NFL game, or a playoff game in any sport, where the Bills’ comeback on the Oilers isn’t referenced.

Perhaps for Houston, even that was topped by the Oilers’ departure, but of course in Nashville that qualified as a happy occasion.

And while the appearance in Super Bowl XXXIV was the franchise’s football high point, it became possible thanks largely to the Music City Miracle, an improbable, last-second trick kickoff return that beat Buffalo in the 1999 playoffs.

You’re invited to do better than I’ve done here.

If you vote Other, give us your suggestion in the comments area below.
What key event significantly changed the fortunes of the Jaguars -- for better or worse? Give us your take and we’ll give you our definitive moment on May 20.

Did America consider Jacksonville a football town? A major league town?

The NFL didn’t leave much of a choice when it selected the North Florida city for an expansion franchise. And while the birth of the Jaguars may not neatly fit the concept of changing their fortunes, they wouldn’t have had any fortunes to be changed without the improbable selection. Combine it with the short history of the organization and it had to be here.

Only two years after its first on the field, the team advanced to the AFC Championship Game while its expansion partners, the Carolina Panthers, made a similar charge in the NFC. It was an exceptionally quick run to great heights that galvanized a market and ensured future expansion teams couldn’t get as good as quickly.

Two other moments that we thought qualified as contenders were less happy ones.

Supremely gifted left tackles are supposed to be long-term fixtures for franchises. But the Jaguars got unlucky with theirs. Drafted with the team’s first-ever pick in 1995, Tony Boselli may have been the best of his generation. But a shoulder injury in 2001 meant the team left him exposed to the Houston Texans in 2002 and he was chosen in the expansion draft, as Houston took a chance and Jacksonville cleared cap room.

While the team’s first coach, Tom Coughlin, may have had too much power, removing him completely after the 2002 season may have been a mistake. Coughlin rebounded to coach the New York Giants to a Super Bowl win, while the Jaguars have not returned to the AFC title game, in which they twice played under Coughlin.

You’re invited to do better than I’ve done here.

If you vote Other, give us your suggestion in the comments area below.
What key event significantly changed the fortunes of the Colts -- for better or worse? Give us your take and we’ll give you our definitive moment on May 20.

The Colts, of course, had a long and storied history as Baltimoreans. It’s often easy for the purposes of this blog to trim them into just the 1984-and-after Indianapolis Colts. It helps their scope fit more neatly with the reinvented Titans and expansion Jaguars and Texans.

But for something like this it’s too neat. So we weighed things to Indianapolis, but put perhaps the franchise’s biggest moment -- which came well before the move -- on our list and invite you to suggest others if you feel they are worthy.

"The Greatest Game Ever Played" -- the Colts' 23-17 overtime win over the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship Game -- changed the fortunes of the NFL. Did it do as much for the team that won it?

The team's move from Baltimore in the dark of night is certainly a flash point worth considering, as is the draft selection of John Elway the year before. He so didn’t want to play for the mismanaged Baltimore Colts that he forced the team to trade him.

The most modern entry often seems, in great hindsight, to have been a no-brainer. But the Colts and team president Bill Polian were torn between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf in 1998. Who knows what would have happened if they went the other way?

You’re invited to do better than I’ve done here.

If you vote Other, give us your suggestion in the comments area below.
What key event significantly changed the fortunes of the Texans -- for better or worse? Give us your take and we’ll give you our definitive moment on May 20.

It wasn't easy to come up with a list of four for a franchise that has played only 10 seasons. There are no Immaculate Receptions (or even playoff appearances), there are no iconic players (though Andre Johnson is heading there). I did the best I could.

The awarding of a franchise is a big moment, and it didn’t just change the fortunes, it created the fortunes. But it’s hardly a football moment, and stacked up against the moments we will see from other teams, it will probably rate as a weakling.

A win in the first game was a crazy development. But as glorious as beating the Cowboys was in the official opening of Reliant Stadium after all that build-up, did it really have any sort of long-term effect on the franchise?

The record sacks of David Carr certainly gave the team a reputation it took a long time to get out from under. It’s the sort of mark that leaves a mark. Carr was a highly-regarded prospect who never fully recovered, and how many quarterbacks would have? When the No. 1 overall pick is left to be helped off the ground so often and doesn’t wind up a big hit, it sets a team back a good bit.

We don’t know the complete story of Mario Williams’ career. The defensive end is about to start working as a linebacker in a 3-4 system in which he has never played before. But the Texans went out on their own limb and made the right call in selecting him rather than Reggie Bush or Vince Young, getting a we-told-you-so opportunity when the vast majority of the football world was certain they were wrong.

You’re invited to do better than I’ve done here.

If you vote Other, give us your suggestion in the comments area below.

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