Six years after the team played their last game as the Houston Oilers, the Tennessee Titans rode a talented roster all the way to the 2002 AFC Championship game.

OK, so the game actually took place in January 2003, but it was a capper to the 2002 season.

And, sure, the Titans had actually enjoyed plenty of success in their new climes, reaching the Super Bowl after the 1999 season and heading back to the playoffs in 2000.

After a falloff to 7-9 in 2001, though, the jury was out on whether Jeff Fisher‘s team could once again gain elite status in the NFL.

An 11-5 division title (AFC Central) had them on their way, and they managed to get past the Steelers in the Divisional round.

It wasn’t quite their year, though — the Titans fell short in the 2002 AFC Championship game, losing 41-24 to the Oakland Raiders.

But this was a team to be reckoned with, and one to be remembered … in cardboard!

Here, then, are ten football cards that helped define the Tennessee Titans’ run to the 2002 AFC Championship game.

2002 Upper Deck MVP Steve McNair (#241)

2002 Upper Deck MVP Steve McNair

In 2002, quarterback Steve McNair was pretty much at the peak of his career, though he won league MVP honors the next season (2003, because math).

So as the Titans prepared to face the Raiders in January of 2003, they were bolstered by the confidence born of McNair’s 3387-yard, 22-touchdown performance in the regular season.

Oh, and a close victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional round.

Alas, against Oakland, McNair could muster only 196 yards and one touchdown. And, though he didn’t toss an interception, he did absorb two sacks for a total loss of 20 yards.

Of course, he sorta made up for that with his two rushing TDs, but there was no “W” to show for all that effort.

Even so, his 2002 Upper Deck MVP card features a great high-stepping shot of the late Titans legend, right in his prime.

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2002 Donruss Classics Eddie George (#98)

2002 Donruss Classics Eddie George

George and McNair were like Abbott and Costello, playing off each other to perfection, even if they lacked the earlier duo’s comic timing.

For his part during the 2002 regular season, George put up 1165 yards on 343 carries, a bruising pace of 3.4 yards per touch that eventually took its toll on his body.

After a “down” year with 939 yards in 2001, the bounce-back was George’s sixth 1000-yard season, and he’d add another in 2003 before a final part-time campaign with the Dallas Cowboys in 2004.

In the AFC title game, George never really got on track, and his 67 yards weren’t enough to open up the passing game for McNair.

Still and all, George finished his career with 10,000-plus yards on the ground and more than 2000 on catches, and he’s always in Hall of Fame discussions.

This 2002 Donruss Classics card features the classic running back in a classic design.

Classic.

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2001 Leaf Rookies & Stars Drew Bennett Rookie Card (#191)

2001 Leaf Rookies & Stars Drew Bennett Rookie Card

Once upon a time, Bennett was about as unlikely to show up on a list like this as he was to be elected Man on the Moon.

Undrafted out of UCLA in 2001, the wide receiver signed a free agent deal with the Titans and managed to make his way into 14 games (one start) with the Tennessee that fall.

It was pretty much more of the same in 2002 — part-time duty that yielded 33 catches, 478 yards, and a couple of touchdowns.

Not all that inspiring, but, hey, he was in the NFL! He was also McNair’s second-most productive receiver, behind Derrick Mason.

In the AFC Championship game, though, McNair distributed his modest passing output fairly evenly, resulting in six targets for Bennett.

Only three of them stuck, but those were good for a team-leading 58 yards and the only non-McNair touchdown.

Bennett’s rookie card is a reminder that you don’t always need hype to make the big time.

Or to become the man in the moon.

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1999 Fleer Focus Jevon Kearse Rookie Card (#107)

1999 Fleer Focus Jevon Kearse Rookie Card

After fairly well living up to his nickname of “The Freak” his first three years in the NFL, Kearse missed most of the 2002 season after suffering a broken foot in the first game of the season.

He was back in time for the AFC Championship game and, though he didn’t contribute much, his presence made the Titans’ offense seem whole again, at least on paper.

Kearse would spend one more season in Tennessee before taking a four-year sabbatical with the Philadelphia Eagles.

He finished up with two more years in a Titans uniform, in 2008 and 2009.

Kearse’s 1999 Fleer Focus rookie card should make you happy you’re not a quarterback.

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2002 Pacific Adrenaline Derrick Mason (#275)

2002 Pacific Adrenaline Derrick Mason

Like I said up there, Mason was McNair’s favorite target all through the regular season — he caught 79 passes for 1012 yards and five touchdowns.

That “favorite target” bit didn’t much change in the AFC Championship game, as Mason tied with Robert Holcombe and Frank Wycheck for the team lead in targets with seven.

Mason hauled in five of them for a meager 41 yards and no touchdowns.

Those anemic results didn’t really affect Mason in the long run, though, as he finished his 15-year career in 2011 with more than 12,000 yards on 943 receptions. He also found the end zone 66 times.

On his 2002 Pacific Adrenaline football card, Mason is mostly just a streak as he carries the rock past us.

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2003 Score Scorecard Kevin Carter (#131)

2003 Score Scorecard Kevin Carter

Kevin Carter led the NFL with 17 sacks as a monster DE for the St. Louis Rams in 1999, then followed that up with 10.5 in 2000.

The Rams traded him to the Titans that off-season in exchange for Tennessee’s first pick in the 2001 NFL Draft.

In Nashville, Carter continued to be a force, leading the Titans with 34 QB pressures.

Even though he recorded just two sacks that first year in Nashville, he jumped up to a team-leading 10 in 2002. Suffice it to say the Titans would have never made it to the brink of the Super Bowl without him.

Even though he had a pretty quiet game against the Raiders, Carter did force a Tim Brown fumble … and he looks pretty scary rushing toward Peyton Manning on this 2003 card.

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2002 Bowman Chrome Carlos Hall Rookie Card (#184)

2002 Bowman Chrome Carlos Hall

During the regular season, defensive end Carlos Hall started 13 games as a rookie and put up a strong eight sacks, along with eight other tackles for a loss.

In the AFC Championship game, Hall combined with Keith Bulluck to take down Charlie Garner for a one-yard loss … it was the only TFL the Titans’ D recorded.

Hall lasted just four seasons in the NFL, but he looks pretty happy about his lot in life on this 2002 Bowman rookie card.

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2003 Fleer Tradition Lance Schulters (#30)

2003 Fleer Tradition Lance Schulters

Free safety Lance Schulters started all 16 games for the 2002 Titans, and he led the team with six interceptions … also had 11 passes defended.

Schulters was up to more of the same, sans the interceptions, in the AFC title game.

In that tilt, Schulters had the team’s only pass defended and also recorded six solo tackles.

There’s a lot going on with Schulters’ 2003 Fleer tradition card, but it sure makes you hungry for some NFL action!

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2000 Upper Deck Keith Bulluck Rookie Card (#303)

2000 Upper Deck Keith Bulluck Rookie Card

In 2002, third-year linebacker Keith Bulluck started all 16 games, forced three fumbles, recovered two others for 61 yards of gain, sacked one quarterback, and even scored a touchdown.

Oh, and picked off a pass.

Oh, and led the team in tackles.

Oh, and posted an Approximate Value of 15, if you’re into that sort of thing.

In the championship game, Bulluck picked up four solo tackles and assisted on another.

Bulluck is in practice mode here on his Upper Deck rookie card.

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2003 Upper Deck Joe Nedney (#51)

2003 Upper Deck Joe Nedney

Yeah, Nedney was a kicker, but he makes the list here because he led the Titans in scoring during the regular season — 111 points on 25 field goals and 36 extra points.

Same sorta deal in the title game, as Nedney put up a field goal and two extra points. Nothing earth-shattering, but kickers are kind of at the mercy of the opportunities presented to them.

Nedney was about halfway through his 15-year career that included stops with seven teams when this game went down, and his 2003 UD card aptly captures his role with the Titans … kicker.

Maybe not MVP, though.

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