January 3, 2000
Déjà Vu All Over Again
By Ric Sweeney

The Oilers have changed their name. They’ve changed their address. Hell, they even changed their identity, moving from the antiquated (and limited) offerings of the run-n-shoot to the more universally accepted, latter day version of smash mouth football — and yet, no matter what facelift they perform, they’ll never be able to outrun their past.

More specifically, they’ll never be able to outrun January 3, 1993, the day that will truly live in infamy down H-town’s way. You might be more familiar with the events that took place that day, as opposed to the actual date itself, though, most likely, the entire experience has been permanently blotted from your memory. And rightly so.

You see, January 3, 1993 was the day the Oilers built a 32-point, second half playoff lead over the Buffalo Bills… is there really a need to go on? Isn’t every excruciating last second of Houston’s ultimate collapse etched permanently on the inside flap of our frontal lobe? As Buffalo recovered another onside kick, as Buffalo completed another Hail Mary pass… it became Houston’s version of the JFK assassination – where were you the day the Oilers squandered the largest lead in playoff history? It is a day that we will never, ever be able to live down, a gigantic scarlet “A” pinned to our collective hearts. The final nail in the coffin of our hate-hate relationship with anything and everything Oiler.

January 3, 1993.

And here we are, seven years later, having moved on and gone about our business — our grief period, perhaps even the counseling we had to endure, all but a distant memory. Or so it was prior to Sunday, the day the 1999 NFL playoff seedings and match-ups were finally determined. And guess which team the former Oilers, cum Titans, have drawn in round one this Saturday…?

The Bills and Titans will play in a meaningful game against one another for the first time since… (cough, cough) January 3, 1993. And while the Titans are forging their own history, making new fans and new believers while steamrolling to an impressive 13-3 record, this is still the same franchise that once built a 35-3 lead on the Bills early in the third quarter… etc, etc, etc — I know you know the rest. And so does the NFL, CBS Sports, CNN and ESPN, who all have to try and sell this game to the masses. And they’re well aware that such a storied past can only add intrigue and drama to the match-up (where none would normally exist), never mind that the two teams that hook up on Saturday bear zero resemblance to the two who made history that fateful day, January 3, 1993.

So, as the networks roll out their Did You Know‘s and Playoff Memories, all related to Buffalo’s regal comeback, we will have to once again undergo the indignity of reliving that inglorious moment, when Steve Christie’s game-winning field goal sucked the life out of all of us, and ended the most tumultuous, gut-wrenching day we’re likely to ever witness, from a football standpoint. Why couldn’t the Y2K bug crash the NFL’s playoff schedule?

How in the world will we ever live through what’s in store for us this week? Well, here’s my plan: just as Indiana Jones advised Marion to avert her eyes as the demons trapped for centuries inside the Ark wreaked havoc on those greedy souls brave enough (dumb enough?) to dare look beneath its lid, I suggest you find something else to do this week — avert your eyes, as it were. Do anything and everything you can to avoid the inevitable – because it’s coming, people. The evil souls in network programming are going to unleash that Pandora’s Box, each and every chance they get — and isn’t the image of that weird German dude melting at the Ark’s precipice reason enough to do something other than watch (again) the NFL’s version of the Hindenberg?

I’ve spent seven years convincing myself that January 3, 1993 didn’t really happen – that it was just one of those dreams — you know the kind, the ones that are so intense that upon waking, you’d swear that it was real. Thus, I don’t plan to spend my week being reminded how awful that day was – living through it once is more than enough. In fact, I’ve actually lived through it twice. Not a week after the actual implosion, I was on a plane, headed to Utah for what was supposed to be a relaxing week amid the snowcapped Wausatch Mountains. Instead, in-flight entertainment on the way out of town included a segment from HBO’s Inside the NFL, recapping Buffalo’s raping of our fandom. You can’t imagine how many times I wished we had flown ValuJet that trip and were headed to the Florida everglades instead.

And I must caution, in an eerie déjà vu, that Buffalo will be starting their second-string quarterback on Saturday, just as they did seven years ago today… talk about a franchise operating under a big, black, ominous cloud — the Titans are still the same operation that has about as much luck as the Kennedy’s, no matter what they call themselves, or wherever it is they call home. So in the event Rob Johnson morphs into Frank Reich and… well, you know – it might be wise to avoid all things sport next week too.

Hey, you never know — stranger things have happened, and we need look no further than January 3, 1993 for proof.

Ric Sweeney still maintains the 1991 loss to John Elway and the Denver Broncos was ten times worse than the Bills’ comeback, but realizes he’s probably in the minority.