Titans miracle is thing of past, Gash concludes

Ravens' current task occupies former Bill

`I'll never dwell on it'

RAVENS vs. TITANS

Afc Divisional Playoff

January 03, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

When Sam Gash rumbles into Tennessee's Adelphia Coliseum, he will set his sights on blocking Titans linebackers and not any haunting memories.

The last time the Ravens sturdy fullback had his path to the Super Bowl wind through Nashville, it ended with tragic results. Last season, Gash suited up for the Buffalo Bills, the infamous victims of the Music City Miracle.

While Gash insists he won't reflect back to the Titans' special teams trick play on Sunday, he admits that it struck a painful chord.

"That was the most devastating loss I've ever had to deal with," Gash said. "You went from the ultimate high of winning to that play.

"Sure, I have memories down there. But it's a different year, different team. I'm excited to head back."

Gash can recall Tennessee's gadgetry in eerie detail.

On Jan. 8, 2000, the Bills led the wild-card game, 16-15, and were kicking off with 16 seconds remaining. Standing at the Titans' 40-yard line, Gash watched helplessly at what would unfold.

Tennessee's Lorenzo Neal fielded the short kickoff and immediately handed the ball off to Frank Wycheck. Running to his right toward the Bills' bench, Wycheck stopped and lateraled an overhand pass across the 25-yard line to Kevin Dyson, who raced 75 yards untouched down the left sideline for the game-winning touchdown.

The Titans won, 22-16, and eventually ended up in the Super Bowl. Regarded as one of the greatest plays in NFL playoff history, the Music City Miracle has a full page devoted to it in the Titans media guide.

"I don't think about it," Gash said. "I'll never dwell on it. It'll be a story I tell my grandkids later in life. Right now, it's another game.

"Being in the same situation, the possibilities are there for some kind of trick play. Obviously, you'd be alert to it. And I'm going to be the first one screaming up and down on the sideline, `Watch for the trick play.' "

Gash has other priorities. The two-time Pro Bowl fullback is the last shield for rookie running back Jamal Lewis as the Ravens butt heads with the Titans, the league's top-ranked defense.

Gash's influence is easy to measure. With the addition of Gash and Lewis, the Ravens went from 16th in the league in rushing last year to fifth this year. Without Gash, the Bills dropped from eighth to 13th.

Lewis considers his nine-year veteran lead blocker as a "player-coach."

"I have good confidence in him. That's the major thing," Lewis said. "You got confidence in your fullback, that's all you really need because you know he's going to take care of you."

At 6 feet, 231 pounds, Gash is one of the hardest hitters in the league. It stems from his days playing sandlot football.

During his elementary school days in Hendersonville, N.C., Gash and his friends would always get picked on by the high school guys and have to play them in a game. But Gash didn't run away; he aimed to whack the biggest one.

"You had to save face," Gash said. "It's kind of like that on the field. I'm never going to back down from anybody, no matter how big they are, what their height is. I just can't back down. I just can't."

Gash proved that Sunday, when he made the key block on Shannon Sharpe's 58-yard touchdown. With 6-foot-4, 245-pound middle linebacker Bill Romanowski just a couple yards behind Sharpe, Gash put Romanowski on his back.

Although his offensive teammates are too busy to witness most of his hits, that doesn't mean they can't appreciate them.

"I don't see them," Lewis said, "but I hear them."

The toughest hit could land at season's end. The Ravens are currently carrying Gash and Chuck Evans as their fullbacks, with Obafemi Ayanbadejo on injured reserve. That means one will probably have to go in the off-season.

Although only signed to a one-year contract, Gash made it clear that he wants to return to the Ravens.

"I would absolutely love to be here," Gash said. "But it's a business, and I don't know what's going to happen. The main thing I'm concerned about is the playoffs right now and us getting to the Super Bowl. That's really and truly all I care about."

To get to the Super Bowl, he must find a way to survive Tennessee this year.

Gash enjoys hits, not getting blindsided. So if he has his way, there won't be any encores to the Music City Miracle this time around.

"I don't care what happened back then, because it's not going to change," Gash said. "It's one of those things where you'll always remember it; you'll never forget it, but you learn from it."

Game data

Ravens (13-4) at Tennessee (13-3)

Where: Adelphia Coliseum, Nashville, Tenn.

When: Sunday, 12:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Titans by 6

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