Kansas City, Mo. — One wore No. 10, the other No. 11. One played offense, the other defense. They had lockers right next to each other as Texas Longhorns, playing together, growing together, becoming close friends as college stars.
Now Vince Young and Derrick Johnson are about to collide - literally - in one of those friendly but forceful reunions known only to players in the National Football League. As quarterback for Tennessee, Young will be out to run and pass the Titans to a victory today that could keep them in the chase for an AFC wild-card playoff spot.
As a starting outside linebacker for Kansas City, it'll be Johnson's job to stop his old buddy in their first on-the-field meeting since they came into the league as first-round draft picks.
"I'm just looking forward to being on the same field and going against him," said Young. "I know the kind of guy he is, the type of talent he is. I know if he does get a hit on me, he won't mean any harm. I know he'll help me up."
Oh, he will, will he?
"If it's a really good hit, I can't help him up," said a smiling Johnson. "I've got to go celebrate."
As his admiring teammate at Texas, Johnson used to be amazed at Young's ability to dash and dart and slip out of tackles while creating positive yardage out of seemingly hopeless situations.
"I always wanted to put a lick on him," Johnson said.
The Titans (7-6) are coming off a demoralizing 23-17 overtime loss to San Diego that put them in arrears of Cleveland and Jacksonville in the wild-card race.
But even a wild card is far beyond the reach of the struggling Chiefs (4-9). They are experiencing one of their worst seasons in decades and will be trying in their final home game to halt a six-game losing streak.
The Chiefs will be down to their third- and fourth-team running backs, and coach Herm Edwards admitted he would not be surprised to see empty seats at normally packed Arrowhead Stadium.
"This is the last one our fans will get to watch this year. I think (a win is) important," he said. "They'll show up and will watch a team that has a chance to go to the playoffs. For us, this is our last home game and you'd like to win. This is a last time to do that."
The Titans won three out of four in October and appeared to be barreling toward the postseason. But defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth went out with a strained right hamstring and the Titans lost three in a row. Haynesworth is back, but to get into the postseason, the Titans will probably need to win their last three.
"It's definitely not going to be easy," said linebacker Keith Bulluck. "We had set the stage to kind of coast in, but we obviously jammed that up. So we have to do whatever we can, whatever's in our power to make the situation work so we do accomplish the goal that we had when we were riding higher."
Simply scoring in the fourth quarter would represent a victory of sorts for the Chiefs. Now 31st in the NFL in both scoring and total offense and 32nd in rushing, the Chiefs have been shut out in the fourth period in five straight games.
In an embarrassingly lopsided 41-7 loss to Denver last week, the Chiefs and their injury-depleted offensive line averaged less than 1 yard per carry. Their only effective weapon on offense was tight end Tony Gonzalez, who had seven catches for 76 yards and one TD, representing almost 60 percent of the feeble Chiefs' total offense.