Mason, a fourth-round draft pick by the Tennessee Oilers in 1997, played his first eight NFL seasons in Tennessee, becoming the franchise’s fifth-leading all-time receiver with 453 receptions for 6,114 yards (13.5 avg) and 37 touchdowns.
He was part of a core group of legendary Titans players, including the likes of McNair, Eddie George, Frank Wycheck, Bruce Matthews, Jevon Kearse, Blaine Bishop, Samari Rolle and Kevin Dyson that led Tennessee to a Super Bowl appearance and the NFL’s best combined record from 1999-2003.
But severe salary cap issues forced the Titans to part ways with Mason following the ’04 campaign. He went on to sign with arch-rival Baltimore, where he became the Ravens’ all-time leading receiver with 471 receptions for 5,777 yards and 29 touchdowns from 2005-10.
Mason’s longevity began to wind down in 2011. The Ravens released him prior to the season, and he later spent time on the New York Jets and Houston Texans’ rosters. Mason’s decreased playing time and production in 2011 were factors in him announcing his NFL retirement last week following a 15-year career as one of the most underrated receivers in recent history.
“I’m done,” Mason told Scout.com last week. “I won’t be playing football. I only knew one way to play football, going all-out and having fun out there…That’s one thing, I leave it healthy and able to run and walk and not take a half-hour or 45 minutes to get out of bed. I can jump right out of the bed and go. I don’t have lingering pains as of now. Me leaving now, even though it didn’t happen the way I wanted it to happen, I had a good run. It was fun while it lasted.”
Mason’s 15-year offensive totals include 943 receptions for 12,061 yards and 66 touchdowns. He also returned 156 kickoffs for 3,496 yards (22.4 avg) and one TD, and 182 punts for 1,590 yards (8.7 avg) and 2 TDs. Not bad for a player who initially made his living as a kick returner before blossoming into a Pro Bowl wide receiver several years later.
Mason was not always the best receiver on the field, but no one gave more effort than the feisty, 5-foot-10, 190-pounder. He would go head to head with any defensive back, often times relying on his strong will more than his natural talent.
“I tried my best because I knew I wasn’t the biggest guy out there,” Mason said during a recent interview with Kevin Ingram, Mark Howard and Frank Wycheck on Nashville’s 104.5 The Zone. “I had good speed and I was quick, but there were a lot of guys bigger and faster than me. One thing they were not going to do was out-compete me and try to manhandle me out there. I wanted to be more physical to them than they were to me.”
Mason’s strong route running often compensated for his lack of size.
“I think the highest praise that I got came when I was here and I was told that if the route says 15 yards, Mason’s going to run it 15 yards. If the route says 12, Mason’s going to run it 12. He’s not going to go shorter and he’s not going to go longer,” he said. “That was a huge compliment to me.”
The early Titans years were special times, and the bond he built with several teammates, including McNair, Wycheck and George – and the receiving core of Isaac Byrd, Joey Kent, Chris Sanders and Kevin Dyson — forged memories he’ll never forget.
“We had a special chemistry and we were winning consistently,” Mason said. “I’ve always told people that group of receivers I played with was probably the most fun group I was ever with. We all had so much fun in that locker room because we were all growing up in this sport together.”
Mason, only the 13th player in NFL history with at least 900 receptions, said he leaves the game with no regrets.
“I didn’t want to leave anything on the football field,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that I gave everything I had out there each Sunday so that after a game I was physically, emotionally and mentally tired, and each time I was. I made sure that in the offseason I worked extremely hard so when I got to the season the games were easy for me. “
Mason certainly impacted the Titans’ record book. Here’s a look at some of his accomplishments in Tennessee:
- Led the Titans in receiving four consecutive seasons from 2001-04, including a career-high 96 receptions (3rd in club history) for 1,303 yards and 8 TDs in 2003 when he made the Pro Bowl for the first time as a receiver.
- Set the NFL record for combined yardage in a season (2,690 yards), breaking the previous record held by Lionel James (2,535), en route to his first Pro Bowl in 2000.
- Ranks 5th in club history in receptions (453)
- Recorded 12 receptions in a game three times (tied for 4th in team history)
- Ranks 5th in club history with most seasons of 50 catches or more (5 from 2000-04)
- Ranks 1st in club history with four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons (2001-04)
- Registered 13 career 100-yard receiving games (ranks 5th in club history)
- Big games included 9 receptions for 186 yards and 2 TDs vs. Cincinnati (1-6-02) and 6 receptions for 177 yards and 3 TDs vs. Houston (10-12-03)
- Returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown in Tennessee’s 33-14 victory at Jacksonville in the AFC Championship Game that led to the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance
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