Both sides are trying to downplay it somewhat when the Tennessee Titans visit the St. Louis Rams.
But there is no way to ignore the specter that hangs over the Sunday's game as the Titans for the first time play against Jeff Fisher, who served as their head coach for 17 seasons before departing after the 2010 campaign.
There are plenty of other subplots in this quirky family reunion that features plenty of former Titans players and coaches now in St. Louis with Fisher, and several of Fisher's former employees now on Mike Munchak's staff in Tennessee.
Munchak himself coached for Fisher as the team's offensive line coach before taking over as the Titans head coach once Fisher departed.
“That’s something, again, when the game starts, there won’t be a whole lot of that thought. It’s something you probably talk a little more about in the offseason, bragging rights, which we assume we’re going to have,” Munchak said. “We know what kind of team he has, and I think he knows what team we have. Again, a lot of these players weren’t here with Coach Fisher because there’s such turnover in this league year-to-year. But, again, they played Monday night (vs. Seattle) like I’d expect them to play, the Rams did. They ran the ball for 200 yards, their defense played great with seven sacks. That’s the kind of defense we expect to see, so it’ll be a great challenge going to their place in a game they need to win and we need to win.”
Both Munchak and Fisher agreed that the game might have more intrigue if it were being played at LP Field in Nashville, rather than in St. Louis.
“I think it would be different if we were coming there, but we’ve got a short week and we’ve got to get everybody ready to play,” Fisher said. “(Rams media relations director) Artis (Twyman) was good to let me know that I think there’s 16 guys left on the roster that were there when I was there. They’ve done a great job with the roster. They’re playing well, and this is just about our team and the matchups and trying to find a way to win.”
Munchak agreed with that statement, saying, “I think if the game was here, it would have been a lot different—really strange for him also. But, it’ll be different. When you have good friends on both sides, it changes the game a little bit that way. Those are things you’d (talk about) maybe after. This week is all about we need to get ready to win a football game, and so do they. All of that’s kind of a side show at the game. It’s going to be a great challenge for both sides.”
Fisher is the center of the plot of Sunday's game, but there are plenty of other sidelights, such as former Titans Cortland Finnegan and Jared Cook, who signed with the Rams in free agency. There is also Titans senior defensive assist Gregg Williams, a long-time Fisher associate and friend who was let go by the Rams after his suspension last year for involvement in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.
Titans players who played for Fisher still like and respect him, and know that this game is a big deal on many levels. But still, this isn't the same Titans team that Fisher last piloted three years ago.
“The biggest thing is a lot of new faces. It starts with the coaching staff and the roster. With that, a culture change comes into effect, especially this last year. It's been a little bit different from my first year, but I think we're moving in the right direction,” defensive end Derrick Morgan said.
Added safety Michael Griffin, “It's gonna be a little different seeing him on the other side of the field, coaching for a different team. We all knew this was bound to happen eventually.”
Munchak acknowledges that going against his former boss, who still owns property in Nashville and makes visits on occasion, should be enjoyable on Sunday.
“Jeff still has a lot of interests and family here in town, in Nashville, so he makes trips here also. We talk quite a bit about the season, talk about different ways of doing things. Obviously, I’ve been around him a long, long time, so it’s good to get caught up. This game will be a fun one,” Munchak said.
And Finnegan, who rejoined Fisher after he left Tennessee following the 2011 season, knows it will be fun as well.
“Both sides would like to win this game for a lot of different reasons. I think it happens to be the next game, but it also happens to be against a former team,” Finnegan said. “I know it means something to him just because it happens to be the next game, but it’s also against the former team he coached for so many years. I’m not sure about the emotions side, but we’ll see. I look forward to the game.