The entire Tennessee Titans locker room is certainly excited to be one of the last four teams standing and to be playing Sunday in Kansas City with a trip to Super Bowl LIV on the line.
But for the two longest-tenured Titans, the opportunity to play in their first AFC title game is truly rewarding.
All-Pro punter Brett Kern, who came to the Titans halfway through the 2009 season on waivers from Denver, is in his 11th year in Tennessee and is one of only two players in team history to have played for all five Titans head coaches.
Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, himself a four-time Pro Bowl selection, has also seen many a valley as a Titan and is now relishing the chance to be on football’s mountaintop.
“This is my biggest game so far,” Casey said. “Nine years in and I get to go play in one of the biggest games that I could ever imagine. I remember last year, I didn’t get to play in the game against the Colts, but the Lord has blessed me with playing in one of the biggest games any NFL player wished they could be a part of. To be able to play in the AFC Championship is from God and a dream come true.”
Kern as well feels blessed to finally have the opportunity to play for a Super Bowl berth, after being a part of clubs that won very few games just a few seasons back.
“I just think it’s a huge blessing to try to soak it all in. Since I’ve been here, I’m on my fifth head coach. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs and obviously the lows of going 2-14 and 3-13. When you’re in that low, it’s kind of hard to envision something like this,” Kern said. “Now that we’re here, we just have to keep up the momentum like we’re going. Coach (Mike Vrabel) always challenges us to get better each week and just embrace the situation, enjoy it and go out there and have fun.”
Casey, too, remembers the long-suffering that took place with the Titans for most of his career in Tennessee.
“We definitely had our moments like, ‘When is it ever going to come’ or ‘Is it ever going to come?’ You hear all the stories of people never, ever making it to this moment, but to get the opportunity, all you can ask for is to be able to keep riding it out and being faithful to what I believe in and this organization and getting the job done. Guys around this locker room have bought into this system, and we’ve put ourselves in position to go play for the big one,” Casey said.
Even some of the veterans’ younger teammates see what this opportunity could mean for the older guys as well as themselves. It is a chance that may or may not come again, and they hope to take full advantage of it on Sunday.
“I’m just living in the moment, because we’re only guaranteed to go down this road one time. I’ve never won a championship in anything, ever. So to be in this position is truly a blessing,” Byard said.
But Byard also added that seeing so many guys getting their first real taste of a deep playoff run is bonding in itself.
“It makes you want to keep playing harder for those guys,” he said.