Jan. 14, 2008
As Michael Roos found out in 2004, anything can happen in the playoffs.
The former Eastern Washington University All-American will make his 96th-straight start as an offensive tackle when his Tennessee Titans make their first appearance in the NFL Playoffs since 2003 when they play at San Diego this Sunday (Jan. 6).
Roos played for EWU from 2001-04 and has since started the Michael Roos Foundation that benefits the Eastern Football program and area youth. Roos serves as host of the foundation's annual Dinner, Sports Auction and Poker Tournament which takes place this coming March 1 at the Northern Quest Casino between Spokane and Cheney, Wash.
The playoff scenarios from 2004 at EWU and this year at Tennessee are very similar as he completes his third year as a starting offensive tackle for the Titans after three-straight years as a starter for the Eagles.
"It was a similar feeling," said Roos after the Titans clinched the playoff berth with a 16-10 victory over defending Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis on Sunday (Dec. 30). "You just try to play your best game every week and see what happens."
Roos started 22-straight games at tackle as a sophomore and junior at Eastern in 2002 and 2003 as the Eagles finished 6-5 both seasons. The breakthrough year came his senior season when the Eagles finished 9-4, including four-straight victories to end the regular season.
A season-ending 51-44 overtime victory at Montana State earned the Eagles its first NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoff berth in seven seasons. Eastern then knocked off top-seeded and No. 1 ranked Southern Illinois 35-31 in the first round of the playoffs.
This year, Tennessee finished 10-6 after an 8-8 record a year ago and a 4-12 mark in Roos' rookie season. Now, the Titans play a San Diego team that knocked them off 23-17 in overtime on Dec. 9, putting Tennessee into a must-win situation for the past three weeks.
"Anything can happen, just like we found out against Southern Illinois in '04," said the 6-foot-7, 315-pound Roos. "Usually something crazy does happen in the playoffs."
San Diego Loss Started Playoffs for Titans . . .
The loss to San Diego, a game in which the Titans led 17-3 in the fourth quarter, was actually the start of Tennessee's march to the playoffs. All three remaining games were must-win games, but at least Tennessee controlled their own destiny for a playoff berth against the Colts.
"We thought we had the game won and kind of let it slip away," Roos said of the San Diego setback. "Had we won that game, the Indianapolis game wouldn't have been as important because we would have already clinched a spot."
"Before that game we were pretty much in playoff mode already," he added of the win over the Colts. "If we lost any of the last three games we would have been out."
Roos said his experience at EWU in 2004 helped him last week against Indianapolis. Despite losing starting quarterback Vince Young to a quadriceps injury, Kerry Collins came off the bench to lead the Titans to three second-half field goals and the six-point win.
"It's a little bit different in the NFL, but it helps having gone through that mindset before," he said. "You can't take anything for granted -- you have to play your best. We had to leave it all on the field in hopes of getting another game. You can't save yourself."
Tennessee sat in a similar position last season, needing to win its season finale against the New England Patriots. But the Titans also had to hope three other AFC teams would lose. Everything fell into place except for the Titans taking care of their own business against New England.
"It was good to be able to play a game with a `win and you're in' situation," Roos added. "Last year we also needed help and didn't get in. It was a lot less stressful to have the pressure just on us."
As Tennessee enters the playoffs, Roos understands what a great opportunity it is. And a rare opportunity at that -- something that was used as motivation in a pre-game speech by former Seattle Seahawk and 14-year NFL veteran Kevin Mawae.
Mawae is Tennessee's starting center who at one time in his career had a streak of 177-straight starts. The perennial pro bowler didn't play against the Colts as he had to miss his second-straight game with an injury. Mawae's overriding message was not to take the opportunity for granted.
"It is a special feeling," Roos explained. "Keven Mawae gave a speech the night before and had guys stand up who had been in the playoffs. A few guys have played, but there weren't very many. Unless you play for the Patriots and Colts you don't do it often."
"It's been awhile since Tennessee has been in the playoffs," he added. "The city is excited and it is a good feeling of accomplishment. It will be a lot of fun to go through another playoff run."
And the Titans look forward to taking on the underdog role -- just like his Eagles in 2004.
"Our whole team's mentality is that way," Roos said. "We like the underdog role and flying under the radar. When you aren't expected to win it takes some of the pressure off and you can play loose."
Roos Looks Forward to Foundation Event After Following Eagles in 2007 Playoffs . . .
Last year's first annual Michael Roos Foundation Dinner, Sports Auction and Poker Tournament was a rousing success, with nearly 400 people attending and $38,000 raised. Eastern's football program benefited, as well as the Spokane area Boys and Girls Club. His agent, Cameron Foster from Seattle, helped Roos host and promote the event.
"I'm looking forward to it," Roos said of the March 1 event. "I haven't had a lot of time to think about it, but I will when the season is over. But we're working out things here and there and it should be another fun event."
The Foundation is his way of giving back for the opportunities provided to him through his youth since moving from the United States from Serbia in 1992 when he was 10. The 2000 graduate from Mountain View High School in Vancouver, Wash., started his EWU career as a tight end and defensive lineman before being convinced by former EWU head coach Paul Wulff to move to the offensive line.
Despite playing just one year of high school football and having only two years under his belt in Eastern's program, he started his last 35 EWU games at left tackle from 2002-04. He eventually earned five different All-America honors and national lineman of the year honors as a senior. He played in a pair of college all-star games before becoming the highest draft choice in school history when Tennessee took him in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft.
He has followed the Eagles closely, and this year was thrilled to see the Eagles go from a 3-8 season in 2006 to another 9-4 finish. Much like the Titans, Eastern won its final four games of the season to earn a playoff berth.
"It's always fun to follow and listen to the broadcasts," he said. "I knew they were capable of getting those wins. But it was nerve-wracking."
While the Titans were in Cincinnati preparing for a game the next day, he listened to play-by-play announcer Larry Weir as Eastern opened the playoffs on Nov. 24 with an overwhelming 44-15 victory at unbeaten, second-seeded and No. 3 ranked McNeese State.
His excitement was evident via the text message he sent to the radio booth in the pressbox during the game: "It's Mike Roos . . . just wanted to wish EWU good luck the rest of the game."
With EWU enjoying three playoff berths in the last four years, his pride obviously runs deep.
"It speaks well for the coaches and the program Eastern has," he praised. "They recruits players who work hard. They have their players ready to play."
Following EWU's 2007 playoff run, Wulff accepted the head coaching position at his alma mater, Washington State University. Roos will miss him, but wishes him well.
"I think he'll do well there," he said. "He's a great coach and he'll bring in the right people to help him out."
Since leaving Eastern, Roos himself has gone on to greener pastures. But one thing has stayed the same -- his streak of consecutive starts.
In each of the last three seasons for the Titans, he has started four preseason games followed by 16-straight starts in the regular season. His first EWU playoff game was his 34th start -- his playoff game this week will be his 96th.
"It's one of those things you look back on more later on when your career is over," he said. "But it has been fun to get to start week-in and week out. I've been fortunate."
Despite being considered by many in the NFL as being worthy, he was passed over in selections for February's Pro Bowl in Hawaii. Regardless, he'll have many highlights to look back on.
"Definitely making the playoffs is now the highest of the highlights," he said. "I would also have to rank high the long winning streak we had last year with Vince Young doing what he is capable of doing. Our overtime win in Houston and our come-from-behind win against the Giants were also high, as well as beating the Colts at home last year. This year, a great memory is the 282 yards rushing we had against Jacksonville (second-best in franchise history). Now this."
Another recent memory is the trip he and his wife Katherine took to his native Estonia for the first time since he left the country. Their trip to his native land in July 2007 was part of a larger vacation that took them through England, Scotland and Germany.
"It was fun to see where I grew up and show my wife," the first-known Estonian in the NFL said. "The country has changed a little bit since I was there, but I was surprised about the lack of difference in the town (Taebla) I grew up in -- it hasn't changed. It hasn't been taken care of in the 15 years since I was there -- it has much of the same run-down look.
"But the capital city of Tallinn is quite a tourist spot," he added of his birthplace. "There are a lot of American college students in that city."
Roos isn't in college anymore, but his memories will last a lifetime. It's taken him many places, including his next stop -- San Diego for the pinnacle, thus far, of his NFL career.