NASHVILLE – In Section 146 at Nissan Stadium, from August to December, Titans fan Rusty Griffin has simply been known as "Santa."
Griffin earned it with his looks, from his round face to his white fluffy beard. And he earned it with his boisterous laugh, and big smile. From the time he first showed up at a Titans game in his red Santa suit, Griffin fit the bill – and he loved every minute of it.
He read the 'Titans Night Before Christmas' on the video boards at the stadium, and he was featured on the team's social media accounts in his Santa suit.
"He enjoyed it so much," said Katy Griffin, Rusty's daughter. "He loved the Titans – it was Titan Up, all day every day. He bled blue. And the reason I think he enjoyed wearing the Santa suit so much is because he realized how much joy it brought to other people. He loved making other people happy."
Smyrna's Rusty Griffin passed away recently following an accident at his sister's farm in Virginia. While getting off a four-wheeler, Griffin suffered a massive stroke and when he fell, he hit his temple on the running board of a nearby truck. He went into a coma and died not long after. He was 68.
Katy Griffin's aunt held a phone up to her father's ear so she could tell him goodbye.
In the days since, Katy Griffin said she's been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love for her father, who retired as President of Regal Furniture Company in Smyrna, Tennessee.
Some of his best days were spent at Nissan Stadium, at Titans games, she said.
"It has honestly been quite amazing, just the people who've shared memories of him," Griffin said. "So many people I've never met, to hear the impact my dad made on their lives, it makes me feel so happy and proud.
"You could always tell he was genuinely happy, and he made others happy."
On Rusty Griffin's Facebook page, he's pictured at Saint Thomas Sports Park with Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk.
From the early years, Rusty Griffin had four seats in Section 146.
During a social media post with the Titans back in 2017, Rusty Griffin said he met the fans around him at the team's first preseason game in 1999, and they developed a tight bond. They tailgated together, cheered together, and dealt with heartbreak together.
His favorite player? Late Titans quarterback Steve McNair.
"Steve McNair, watching him, the man was a warrior," Griffin said.
Griffin used to rent a Santa Claus outfit to wear to parties and charity functions, and to entertain the children of many of his friends.
"One year, some of the tailgaters said: 'You ought to start wearing the Santa suit down to the Titans games," Rusty Griffin said in the 2017 video. "I wore it during a December game and it created a big stir with the people down there, the fans. In fact, it is kind of hard sometimes just to get to my seat.
"But it just became a tradition and whether it's midseason game or middle of the season, or first game of the season, in my area they call me 'Santa." I am Santa to everybody in that area, and a lot of kids that sit in the area, I watched them grow up. It's just a wonderful experience. I enjoy it."
On Tuesday, Katy Griffin smiled proudly when telling stories about her father, who played football at Smyrna High School and was a die-hard Titans fan and Vanderbilt fan.
Griffin's walls were always decorated with Titans memorabilia, aside from the oil painting he had of legendary Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant.
Rusty Griffin was a legend in his daughter's eyes.
He'll be missed at Nissan Stadium, and by everyone who met him.
"My dad, he just enjoyed life so much," Katy Griffin said. "I miss him – I'll always miss him. But on hard days, all those memories I have of him, and thinking about his big, boisterous belly laugh, it makes everything a little bit easier."
Rusty Griffin is survived by his daughters, Melanie McCollum (Josh) of Smyrna, TN; and Katy Griffin of Shelbyville, TN; grandchildren, Cora and Jude McCollum and Blaze Griffin; sister, Kathy Holliday (Dave) of Frederick County, VA; and many nieces and nephews in Virginia.
Memorial contributions may be made in Rusty's memory to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, 4538 Trousdale Drive, Nashville, TN 37204.