Dyson, Titans look for improvement

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   He's the key player in the two most famous moments in Tennessee Titans' football history. Kevin Dyson was the receiver who raced down the field beating Buffalo with the "Music City Miracle" play in the AFC playoffs and he was the one stopped one yard short of the goal line by St. Louis linebacker Mike Jones in the Titans' bid to win Super Bowl XXXIV.
   While Dyson remembers those moments, especially the 22-16 Music City win, he is the first to remind you that is in the past.
   "I'm happy to be a part of it," said Dyson in Johnson City Tuesday, along with announcers Mike Keith and Larry Stone as part of a statewide fan caravan. "But, it's been three years ago. It's a good memory, but I usually don't think about it until I'm asked about it. I'm more into now looking at help my team win a championship and things like that."
   About the play that determined the Super Bowl, Dyson said: "The whole next year we (Mike Jones and I) talked about it and everything else. He was just doing his job, like I was trying to do mine. He's humble about it. He's never once said anything like he was the game-saver. He was just doing his job."
   Dyson's story did not end after the Titans' 1999 AFC Championship season, though knee injuries threatened to end his career after only a couple of years. He showed true determination in this past NFL season, coming back to post career highs with 825 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
   Included in those numbers were back-to-back 100-yard receiving games against Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
   He compliments quarterback Steve McNair with being a big part of his success.
   "I've always said that he was a good player," said the 6-1, 199-pound wideout. "He's been put down some by the media and people like that, but he's unbelievable. Without him, we would not have won seven games last year. He stands in there when the blitz is coming. Most quarterbacks don't last five years in the league, but he does unbeliveable things back there."
   That teamwork has allowed Dyson to post some impressive numbers. He's played in 47 NFL games, 43 of them as a starter. Over his five years in the league, he has 135 receptions for 1,850 yards, an average of 13.7 yards per catch. Among those grabs are 14 for touchdowns.
   As a team, 2001 was not up to Tennessee standards with a record of 7-9 coming after the AFC Championship season and an AFC Central Division title the following year.
   "Last year was a disappointment," Dyson admitted. "I had a decent year as a player, but we want bigger and better things this year. We had an up and down season. We lost some close games and didn't put teams away when we had big leads. We lost six of the nine games by less than a touchdown. We've got our work cut out for us."
   The Titans move out of the AFC Central in 2002 with the NFL's new alignment, but Dyson says being in the newly-created AFC South along with the Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans won't be a whole lot different.
   The Houston rivalry will have added flavor as you will recall it was the Houston Oilers, who became the Tennessee Oilers and later the Tennessee Titans after moving to Nashville.
   "It's the NFL and the competition is awesome," remarked No. 87. "I think everyone is intrigued with us and Houston. Then, of course you will have Peyton Manning coming down and playing in Tennessee a few times. He's a fan favorite around here. It's going to be fun.
   "I think we're going to miss the Baltimore game and the Pittsburgh game. Those were big games for the Titans fans. But, it's going to be fun, a fresh start for everybody, fresh faces and fresh teams. We're ready to play."
   In last year's contest at Baltimore, Kevin and his brother Andre became only the fourth set of siblings to be drafted and play in a NFL game for the same team since 1970. One week later against Tampa Bay, the brothers made history as Kevin had a touchdown reception and Andre grabbed an interception in the same game.
   Playing in a football-crazy state like Tennessee has been a different experience for Dyson, whose hometown is Logan, Utah, and where he played collegiately for the University of Utah. There, he was a three time All-Western Athletic Conference player and holds the school record with 192 receptions.
   "It's kind of exciting," said Tennessee's first round draft choice in 1998 about playing in the Volunteer State. "I've been in all these towns in between the big towns like Knoxville and Chattanooga and Nashville. When you come to those towns, those people you get the most support from.
   "Something I had to get used to was the town where I come from, football was just part of the fall. Here, it is a way of life all year long. As soon as the season is over, folks are ready for you to get back again."
   For those Titans fans counting down, the season isn't that far away. The preseason kicks off on Saturday, Aug. 10 when Tennessee plays host to the St. Louis Rams.
   The regular season is less than a month later as Dyson and the rest of the Titans open up with a home game in Aldephia Coliseum against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Sept. 8.