Tennessee Titans opened camp this morning in Metro Center in Nashville, Tennessee. One of the things that strikes me as odd for an NFL team is….just who is the face of the Titans?
When the Houston Oilers arrived in Tennessee back in 1997-1998, they brought with them some star power. Although they were in the building stages of young Coach Jeff Fisher’s team they had some recognizable stars in the making.
They arrived with a high profile, Heisman Trophy winning running back in Eddie George. They also had a tough as nails quarterback named Steve McNair. Chants of Eddie, Eddie, Eddie were heard throughout the new stadium on the banks of the Cumberland River, and Air McNair’s exploits began becoming legendary on the field.
Add to that a tight end named Frank Wycheck, a safety named Blaine Bishop and a lineman named Bruce Matthews and the Titans had plenty of recognizable players. Even Coach Fisher became a rock star like figure bringing his good looks and mustache to middle Tennessee’s fans and media.
Banners were hung from the top of the stadium of McNair, George, and Wycheck. Their faces were everywhere. They were on local television commercials, radio spots and print ads.
Fast forward to today at the opening of Titans Camp. As the players come onto the field, fans are hard pressed to know who is who unless they happen to have their number on their practice jersey. Even with that, no one stands out. There is no star attraction whatsoever.
Chris Johnson has been the star of the Titans for the past several seasons. The pro bowl back was celebrated on the field for his electrifying runs, but never became part of Nashville. He was seldom seen off of the field, and although he was respected as a player, he never was revered as a person.
Johnson is in New York now playing with Rex Ryan and the Jets. We have ex Jet Shonn Greene as our starting tailback now. Shonn is going to be fine and his hard nose running will play big here, but he is not Sports Illustrated cover ready.
I am a marketer by trade. I help companies build their brands and image. If I had to direct a commercial for a local company that had a budget to employ a Titan as spokesperson for their company, who would I choose? Honestly, I do not know.
Jake Locker is a tremendously likable guy. He is a hustle guy. He does things right in the community. He talks with kids, signs autographs, he is humble and is approachable. But he is not a star. He can’t stay healthy enough to be a star. We love Jake’s desire to be good, and his desire to be a leader. However, it is still only desire for now. I want him to be a star as well as all of Nashville, but I just don’t know if it will happen.
Justin Hunter is a second year receiver out of The University of Tennessee. Hunter has talent to become a star. He made several acrobatic catches last year that made Sports Center highlights. He was seldom used on the field last year in Munchak’s offense for some reason, so hopefully this year Whisenhunt will get him on the field.
We have a few guys that may become that face. Jurrell Casey is a really good defensive lineman. You won’t see the local Coca Cola bottler have him turning up a bottle while throwing his jersey to a local kid a la Mean Joe Greene any time soon. Nate Washington is a gamer, but without a breath right strip on his nose no one would recognize him standing next to you.
So this team will have an identity crisis early. Heck, the NFL didn’t even send a reporter to Camp. I guess they thought the same way as I do. Who would they interview? 30 of the 32 team camps are being covered by the NFL network. Only the Kansas City Chiefs and the Titans are being snubbed by their own league.
So, this team will be be the “no name team”, not just the “no name defense” that the great 1972 Miami Dolphins’ Defense (shout out to an ex Dolphin fan Tim Pleshaw here) adopted that season. There is something interesting about this that fits this city.
Nashville , after being viewed as a small southern town where rhinestones and cowboy boots were worn by all, has now become the “it” city. It is hip, it is cool, it is friendly, it is smart, it is accepting, it is creative, and it is making it’s presence known nationally and internationally. In order to make this happen, communities, cultures, and people of Nashville have come together like never before.
It was a long process for Nashville to arrive as such as a city. It will be a process for this team to arrive as such as a team. I like the underdog role this team faces. It is what we have been as a community for years, and look what has happened. Perhaps the entire team will be the face of this “team”. Yes….I like the thought of that.