NASHVILLE – Before Mike Vrabel coached the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium, he first coached Special Olympic athletes on the field.
It was last April at the Music City Blitz, and Special Olympians hold that day close to their hearts.
Well, Vrabel was back on the field at the stadium on Saturday morning, joined by members of his coaching staff. And as he coached the 20 athletes from two Special Olympic teams, he seemed to be having as much fun as anyone.
"When you see coach Vrabel running down chest-bumping one of our athletes after a touchdown, it is a dream come true for these athletes," said Adam Germek, CEO and President of Special Olympics Tennessee. "It is an amazing, amazing thing.
"This is what we are all out here for, to see all the smiling faces."
The Music City Blitz, a flag football tournament made up of 39 teams and roughly 400 athletes, is being held at Nissan Stadium today. The event raises money for Special Olympics Tennessee, and it's the second-largest fundraiser for the organization. The third annual event is expected to raise approximately $60,000.
On Saturday, Vrabel was coaching, cheering, hugging, and cracking jokes, from the National Anthem to the group photo at the end.
"What the Special Olympics has taught me and what I am trying to teach our team and our coaching staff is it is about team. It is about coming together, and understanding what each other's job is, and to cheer for each other, and support each other. That's what these athletes did today, and I am proud to be a part of it," Vrabel said.
"I think that when we are able to give our time and our energy and our excitement for what they do, and they return the favor by playing hard. I think you saw some of that today. I am proud to have our organization support Special Olympics. …. To have the opportunity to give back to something as special as this, and to give our time and our efforts. … It has been really exciting and I am glad they have welcomed us into the Special Olympics family."
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel and members of his coaching staff spent Saturday morning coaching Special Olympics athletes at the Music City Blitz at Nissan Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, Richard Suter)
Titans Football Outreach Coordinator Josh Corey, who is on the state board of directors for Special Olympics Tennessee, organizes the Music City Blitz.
The flag football tournament is a 12-hour event for athletes all over the Middle Tennessee area, and one team from as far away as Chattanooga. Two Special Olympics teams played an exhibition as they prepare for the state games later this year.
Corey said Vrabel has been all-in on Special Olympics from the day he arrived in town. Earlier this offseason, Vrabel's team raised $16,000 for the Polar Plunge at Nissan Stadium, part of $94,000 raised for Special Olympics Tennessee.
Vrabel was the keynote speaker for opening of state's Special Olympics Games, and he's regularly invited athletes to Saint Thomas Sports Park, and to games at Nissan Stadium.
"It really starts with Coach Vrabel," Corey said. "He has told me: Anything for Special Olympics, count me in. I can't thank him enough for his support. Coach has been tremendous -- his support has been incredible.
"As an organization, it is a great fit for us to have this partnership. It's a great fit for what our organization values, and things that are important to us."