It’s probably going to hurt like hell.
I don’t know what else to tell you. I won’t try to convince you otherwise. If you’re a Tennessee Titans fan, you already know. And as much as you can brace yourself to not let it bother you to have to watch ex-Titans receiver A.J. Brown in Sunday’s Super Bowl – likely playing well, perhaps winning it – how could it not?
It’s OK to feel that way. That’s not being a hater. It’s called being a fan.
It’s also about being justified in suspecting all along how this would play out. Brown’s 1,496 receiving yards for the Philadelphia Eagles this season weren’t a shock in Nashville. Everyone knew how good the receiver was when the Titans traded him last April. Felt like a mistake then by general manager Jon Robinson. Has certainly proved to be a mistake since.
Of course, you didn’t know back then that these Eagles would win their first eight games, embarrass Brown’s old team in Philly in December, take the NFC’s No. 1 seed and cruise to the Super Bowl while the Titans could barely complete a pass some weeks. Oh, and Robinson would be fired.
All this wasn’t just the Brown trade. But it felt that way. All season, it has been impossible to not connect the two teams’ 2022 fortunes to draft night.
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Even if you understood the Titans’ side – I’ll spare the full rehash, but basically, Brown and his agent were playing hardball over a new contract, and Robinson wasn’t there for the extended drama that was being threatened – it was difficult to view this as a move destined to do anything but backfire, at least in the short term.
I wrote after Week 1 that Brown’s ghost was destined to haunt the Titans all season. Reality proved even worse than I’d anticipated, not because Brown predictably starred for Philly but because the Titans’ offense struggled so horribly without him.
In Week 8, I arrived early at the press box at NRG Stadium in Houston. I was a dozen seats or so from where Robinson was sitting. The arena was basically empty, but highlights were being shown on the big screens – descriptions echoing clearly off the seats – from an ongoing Eagles game in which Brown had 156 receiving yards and three TDs. Wasn’t the only time that happened. Robinson couldn’t avoid it if he tried, y’all.
His Titans became a cautionary tale throughout the league, terrifying any GM who’d consider not paying a rising superstar receiver in the future. Seldom has any offseason trade been so immediately one-sided, making a contender out of one side while wrecking another.
But I digress …
Yeah, Brown is going to play Sunday, and his Eagles might win.
If they do, Titans fans will have no choice but to grudgingly accept it. Hey, good for him.
Take a cue from the Titans themselves, actually. Brown’s old teammates never took this personally.
NFL players don’t root for other teams as much as they root for other players. Brown acted to get the expensive contract his talents deserved. Titans players congratulated him for that. If a Super Bowl ring comes with it, they surely will congratulate him even more.
And Mike Vrabel, too, I’ll bet. The Titans coach recently texted Brown to wish him good luck, according to team writer Jim Wyatt, who wrote a story from Super Bowl week in Phoenix that quoted Brown in conciliatory tones. He said he has no hard feelings for anyone with the Titans, including the fans. “I still have love for Tennessee,” he said.
The fact that the Titans’ own website posted an article exclusively about Brown was noteworthy. It said two things: The Titans haven’t forgotten about Brown, and they’re not mad at him.
Evidently, Brown feels the same way. I’d believe both sides. As Wyatt led his story, “What’s done is done.”
This saga will remain a painful chapter in Titans history, but it is a part of Titans history.
Give yourself one last Sunday to wallow in the misery of the 2022 season.
And then finally move on.
Reach Tennessean sports columnist Gentry Estes at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.