Packers-Titans Preview


THE GAME: Having reached back for the "big play" to pull out a second straight preseason victory in their first 2002 appearance in renovated Lambeau Field, at the belated expense of the Cleveland Browns, the Green Bay Packers (2-1) will have little time to bask in the memory.

They will take a deep breath instead, then stay right at home to close out their preseason exertions against the Tennessee Titans (2-1) in the 53rd annual Midwest Shrine Game Friday evening (August 30) just three days hence.

Kickoff is set for 7:07, CDT (Wisconsin time).

The outcome of the Green and Gold's ABC "Monday Night Football" matchup with the Browns was happily appropriate to the historic occasion, one which saw the Packers come from behind to dispatch the Ohioans, 27-20, and set an all-time team attendance record in newly-expanded "Lambeau."

A gathering of 62,668 loyalists, who came to enjoy the stadium's spectacular and spacious blend of new ambience with the rich tradition of the bowl, easily surpassed the Packers' existing record of 60,766, set on September 1, 1997.

In arrears 14-0 early in the evening, the Packers resorted to some rare heroics to reverse their fortunes, Darren Sharper's 35-yard touchdown run following a blocked field goal, courtesy of teammate Cletidus Hunt, and a 42-yard scoring runback of an interception by second-year free agent Todd Franz looming large in the final accounting.

Friday night's guests, the Titans, opened their preseason with successive victories over the St. Louis Rams (28-26) and Oakland (24-14) before falling to the Minnesota Vikings, 14-10, last week.

The Packers will be in pursuit of a fourth straight victory in the Shrine series, launched in 1950 and thus one of the oldest charity contests in the nation. To date, it has raised more than $2,600,000 for the Midwest Shrine's burn centers and hospitals for crippled children.

Friday night's contest will be the Packers' final tune-up for their 2002 regular season inaugural - against the Atlanta Falcons - in Lambeau Field Sunday, September 8.

THE TV-RADIO COVERAGE: Friday night's contest will be televised over the state-wide Packers television network: WBAY-TV (Channel 2) of Green Bay, the originating station; WISN-TV (Channel 12), Milwaukee; WISC-TV (Channel 3), Madison; WSAW-TV-TV (Channel 7), Wausau; and WKBT-TV (Channel 8), La Crosse.

The telecast also will be aired "live" 'in Michigan's Upper Peninsula via Charter Communications in Escanaba and Marquette.

Chris Roth, WBAY-TV sports director, will call the play-by-play and Fox Sports Network analyst and former Packers defensive lineman Bill Maas will provide the analysis. Andy Kendeigh of Milwaukee's WISN-TV will report from the field.

Additionally, the game will be broadcast over the 72-station Packer Radio Network, with Milwaukee's WTMJ the originating station, and available on the internet at Wayne Larrivee will handle the play-by-play and Larry McCarren will offer the commentary and analysis.

THE SERIES: For the record, the Titans will be making their first Lambeau Field appearance in their relatively new Tennessee identity. The last time the franchise was represented in Titletown, in 1998, it had moved to Tennessee only a year earlier and was still known as the Oilers, the team's moniker when located in Houston. The Oilers formally became the Titans in 1999.

The Packers had the better of it in that '98 regular season contest, emerging with a 30-22 victory. The rivalry had been launched in 1972, a year that saw the Packers register a 23-10 victory over the Oilers in the Houston Astrodome en route to the NFC Central Division championship.

At the moment, the regular season series stands all even, 4-4, the Titans having squared the record in last year's matchup, when the Packers made their first regular-season visit to Nashville and came away empty-handed, falling 26-20.

Friday night's contest will find the principals meeting in preseason play for only the third time. The then-Oilers posted a 20-3 win in their first non-league meeting at Houston in 1972 and the Packers evened the score in a 1973 preseason encounter at Milwaukee County Stadium, 33-14.

THE HEAD COACHES: In the short span of two years, purposeful Mike Sherman has ensconced himself among the most successful head coaches in Packers annals. Owner of a 21-11 regular season record as Green Bay's field leader, he has matched Vince Lombardi's won-lost mark for his first 32 games as Green Bay's head coach and general manager and, en route, become only the fourth head coach in team history to forge a winning career record, joining team founder E.L. "Curly" Lambeau, Lombardi and Holmgren.

A head coach for the first time at any level, Sherman debuted in 2000 by leading the Green and Gold to a 9-7 record, finished off with a sweep of the Packers' four NFC Central Division rivals, a singular accomplishment.

Despite assuming the additional and substantial responsibilities of executive vice president and general manager in the wake of Ron Wolf's retirement, he followed that achievement by escorting the Packers to an impressive 12-4 record in 2001, a single-season victory total surpassed by only three teams in club history.

He then enhanced that success by leading his team into the postseason, where they forged a 25-15 triumph over the San Francisco 49ers in a wild card playoff before falling to the Super bowl-bound St. Louis Rams on the road, 45-17.

Sherman, the first man to take on his multi-faceted role since Lambeau last functioned in those capacities in 1949, has brought multiple credentials to his responsibilities. They include a Super Bowl following the 1997 season, during which he was a member of the Holmgren staff that led the Packers into Super Bowl XXXII against the Denver Broncos at San Diego.

It was the first of three consecutive years in the playoffs for the 47-year-old Central Connecticut State University alumnus, who returned to the postseason with the Packers in 1998 and as the offensive coordinator on Holmgren's Seattle Seahawks staff in 1999.

Now in his 25th year in his profession, the Massachusetts-born mentor launched his coaching career at Stamford, Conn., High School in 1978. He went on to coach in the college ranks for 16 years - including a year as offensive coordinator at Holy Cross and terms as offensive line coach at such highly-regarded programs as Texas A&M and UCLA.

Like Sherman the executive vice president of his organization as well as head coach, Jeff Fisher has become a consistent winner as field leader of the Titans, having become in 2000 only the fifth head coach in NFL history to lead his team to consecutive 13-win seasons.

In so doing, he joined Mike Ditka (Chicago Bears, 1985-86), George Seifert (San Francisco, 1989-90), Marv Levy (Buffalo Bills, 1990-91) and Mike Holmgren (Packers, 1996-97).

Along the way, Fisher also has become the winningest coach in the history of the franchise with 68 victories. He also is the fourth-youngest NFL head coach (43) to reach the 60-regular season win plateau since 1960 (Don Shula, John Madden and Bill Cowher).

THE LAST TIME: The Packers have less than pleasant memories of their most recent brush with the Titans, which occurred at Nashville's Adelphia Coliseum last December 16. At that time pursuing a possible division title - and, beyond that, home-field advantage for the playoffs - the Packers were rudely surprised by the Titans, who out-gained Green Bay by a substantial margin, 423 yards to 225, and, significantly, controlled the football for 37 minutes, 23 seconds to the Packers' 22 minutes, 37 seconds in forging a 26-20 victory.

Packers GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman summed up the situation succinctly, observing, "They made more plays than we did."

The unhappy outcome was particularly unpalatable to the Green and Gold because they had moved out to an early 10-2 lead and appeared in a fair way to collect their eleventh win of the season.

After surrendering a safety before the game was five minutes old, when the Titans' Jason Fisk tackled running back Ahman Green in the end zone for the two-pointer, the Packers moved out to a 3-2 lead on a 33-yard Ryan Longwell field goal.

Later in that opening period, Vonnie Holliday took temporary control of the situation, sacking Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair, forcing a fumble and recovering the football at the Titans' 21-yard line.

From there, quarterback Brett Favre - working out of the shotgun, had the Packers in the end zone in four plays, hitting wideout Donald Driver with a 7-yard bullseye in the heart of the end zone. Longwell's conversion sent the Packers up, 10-2.

The Titans retaliated following the kickoff, moving 60 yards in 10 plays to score on a 4-yard McNair pass to running back Mike Green in the left corner of the end zone. Tennessee's bid to pull even with a 2-point conversion failed when McNair's pass was incomplete.

Not for long, however. In the waning minutes of the first half, Titans Pro Bowl defensive end Jevon Kearse sacked Favre and teammate Daryl Porter recovered the accompanying fumble at the Green Bay 35-yard line. On the succeeding play, McNair lofted a strike to wide receiver Derrick Mann in the end zone sending Tennessee ahead to stay, as it turned out Joe Nedney's conversion gave the Titans a 15-10 lead.

The Packers, gaining possession for the last time in the first half with only 53 seconds remaining, promptly capitalized on the opportunity.

With fourth down to the Tennessee 36-yard line and only 2 seconds left before the intermission, Sherman called upon Longwell, who delivered a 54-yard field goal - tying the club record - and sending the Packers into the locker room trailing by only 2 points, 15-13.

The Titans, controlling the football for 22 of 31 plays, added to their lead in the third quarter with a 24-yard Nedney field goal, then opened the fourth quarter by driving to what proved to be the winning touchdown, "unknown" running back Skip Hicks capping a 142-yard rushing effort with a decisive, 22-yard scoring run off left guard.

Favre subsequently rallied the Packers, presiding over a typical 9-play, 81-yard drive finished off by a 16-yard bullet to Bill Schroeder in the end zone. But that, however, was to be the Packers' final scoring gesture.

A major factor in the losing cause, the statistics graphically documented, was the Packers' lack of success in running the football. Favre emerged as the team's leading rusher with 20 yards in 5 scrambles, underscoring the magnitude of the problem Ahman Green, who only a week earlier had rushed for 125 yards against the Bears, had to be content with 9 yards in 9 attempts - his lowest production of the season.


NFL ties: The Packers obtained defensive tackle Rod Walker during 2001 training camp from Tennessee for a 2002 seventh-round draft pick (defensive end Carlos Hall)...Green Bay defensive coordinator Ed Donatell and Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger coached together in Denver from 1995-99...Packers offensive line coach Larry Beightol (1995) and special teams coach Frank Novak (1994) worked with Jeff Fisher in Houston...Receivers coach Ray Sherman (1988-89) also coached for the Oilers, and scout Alonzo Highsmith (1987-89) and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin (1988) played for the old Houston club...Ray Sherman, Fisher and Titans special teams coach Alan Lowry were together in San Francisco from 1992-93...Packers scout Lee Gissendaner was Houston's sixth-round draft choice in 1994...Titans linebacker coach Gunther Cunningham and Beightol were on the Chargers staff in 1989...Tennessee punter Craig Hentrich played for the Packers from 1993-97...Equipment manager Gordon "Red" Batty (1981-93) and assistant equipment manager Tom Bakken (1991-93) worked for the Oilers, before joining the Packers...Ralph Ockenfels, the Titans' director of marketing, and Dwight Spradlin, media relations assistant, worked previously at Lambeau Field.

College teammates: Aaron Graham and Dan Alexander (Titans) and Steve Warren, Ahman Green, Tyrone Williams, Jared Tomich and Erwin Swiney (Green Bay) at Nebraska...Drew Bennett (Titans) and Tod McBride and Marques Anderson (Green Bay) at UCLA...Rocky Boiman (Titans) and Tony Fisher (Green Bay) at Notre Dame...Eddie George (Titans) and Terry Glenn (Green Bay) at Ohio State.

Other connections: Heimerdinger and Packers assistant head coach/defensive backs coach Bob Slowik were at the University of Florida in 1980...GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman was the position coach of Titans tackle Jason Mathews at Texas A&M...Cunningham and Packers O-coordinator Tom Rossley each coached at the University of Arkansas in 1972...Titans assistant head coach George Henshaw, receivers coach Steve Walters and Packers running backs coach Sylvester Croom were all at the University of Alabama in the mid 1980s...Tennessee defensive assistant Chuck Cecil played for the Packers from 1988-92...Green Bay tackle Chad Clifton, tight end David Martin and director of pro personnel Reggie McKenzie, all played collegiately for the Volunteers...Cornerback Mike McKenzie played at the University of Memphis...Clifton and defensive lineman Cletidus Hunt are Tennessee natives...Tennessee has three former Dairy State college stars: Tony Beckham (UW-Stout), Mike Echols (Wisconsin) and Bobby Myers (Wisconsin).

THE ROSTER: The Packers waived 15 players, including five veterans, in order to reach the first mandated roster cutdown of the preseason to the 65-player limit.

The veterans released included running back Ki-Jana Carter, a 7-year professional, and 11-year punter/placekicker Louie Aguiar, along with defensive end Aaron Fields, wide receiver Andy McCullough and linebacker Anthony Sessions, all second-year pros.

The ten rookies and first-year players waived included linebackers Algie Atkinson and Kenny Harney, quarterback Marcus Brady, wide receivers Javon Green and Brian Haugabrook, safety Gana Joseph, cornerback Seneca McMillan, defensive tackle Ken Kocher, guard Chris Watton and tight end/fullback Bill Seymour.

The transactions leave the Packers with 73 players on the current roster, including 8 players granted exemptions because they were allocated to the NFL Europe League for the recent '02 season.

All NFL clubs must reduce their rosters to the regular-season limit of 53 players by 3 p.m. next Sunday, September 1. Clubs may then establish a 5-player practice squad after 3 p.m., Monday, September 2.

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