NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Diane Harting is a single mom working two jobs.
She needed a break from the stress.
So this past weekend, to celebrate her birthday, she traveled 326 miles from Dayton, Ohio, to Nashville to watch her favorite NFL team, the Titans. She capped it off Monday night with an evening she won't soon forget.
Harting was one of 250 ladies to take part in the fourth annual "Football 101 For Ladies," the signature event for the Tennessee Titans Women's Association.
She had a blast.
The Titans hosted the fourth annual Football 101 for Ladies, presented by Lee Company, to benefit the Tennessee Breast Cancer Coalition. (Photos: Kayla Schoen)
"This was my break to recharge, and do something for myself, for my birthday,'' said Harting, whose parents watched her son. "I most enjoyed meeting Marcus (Mariota), but I loved everything about it. I loved every minute of it, really."
Yes, it was ladies night at Saint Thomas Sports Park on Monday, and for 4 ½ hours the women saw — and did — it all.
Titans senior assistant Dick LeBeau gave an hour-long presentation to two groups, and Mike Keith, the voice of the Titans, led a "Behind the Mic with Mike" workshop. The event raises money for the Tennessee Breast Cancer Coalition. A year ago, the event raised more than $40,000 for the organization.
Alice Whisenhunt, wife of coach Ken Whisenhunt, and Gayle Webster, wife of General Manager Ruston Webster, helped with the event. The women who took part met players, listened to speakers, took part in a silent auction, and at the end of the night participated in a scrimmage. Their coaches in the game: members of the team's rookie class.
"I wouldn't miss it for the world. This is fabulous,'' said Linda Borum, a grandmother, and a season ticket holder in Section 132. Borum has attended the event all four years.
"Learning the background of the sportscasters, the football players, the coaches, to me, that is interesting. And if I am going to be a Titans fans, I need to give it my attention."
Tina Tuggle, Director of Community Relations for the Titans, said the association wants to add something different each year. The event was sold out this season, with a wait list. Alesia Schulz, Human Resources Coordinator for the Titans, also helped spearhead the event, which is a collective effort from the Tennessee Titans Women's Association.
"From ownership down,'' Tuggle said, "this has been a signature ladies event they have absolutely supported. The feedback has been great."
LeBeau, in his 57th season in the NFL as a player or a coach, put on a show.
In an auditorium usually reserved for players, he offered his own football story to the audience, and told one story after the next about his days as a Hall of Fame player, and legendary coach.
Women broke out their cameras as LeBeau talked about his career, and the changes in the game over the years. He talked about fooling opposing offenses with what he called "eye candy" on defense.
When Titans broadcast coordinator Amie Wells asked LeBeau how fans can tell when the defense is doing its job well, LeBeau kept it simple.
"Generally speaking,'' LeBeau said with a grin, "just look at the scoreboard."
The audience broke out in laughter.
When participants asked questions, LeBeau delivered.
After reciting lyrics to a song he credited to Kris Kristofferson, LeBeau said he decided to join the Titans "because I really like coach Whisenhunt"
"I don't fear anybody,'' he replied when asked about tough matchups on Sundays.
Best advice he's ever been given? "Save your money, baby,'' he said with a smile.
Again, more cheers.
"I was in awe of that man,'' Borum said.
Keith kept his audience engaged as well. With a smile, Keith said his dad still lets him know he doesn't give the score enough during games.
Keith opened up a session when women tried their hand at play-by-play, and as color commentator.
When he asked for questions in one of his sessions, the first two were about his radio partner, former Titans tight end Frank Wycheck.
"I'm proud of Frank,'' Keith said. "His insight is amazing."
Titans veterans later signed autographs inside the team's practice facility, where Mariota was the biggest draw. Taylor Lewan, Michael Griffin, Jurrell Casey, Avery Williamson, Ryan Succop, Brett Kern, Karl Klug, Phillip Supernaw and Beau Brinkley were among those on hand for photos as well.
The event ended with some fireworks – first with a live auction, and then with football.
In the auction, a night of bowling with cornerback Perrish Cox and friends went for $1,700.
All the Titans rookies served as coaches, and receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and offensive lineman Quinton Spain really got their teams fired up. David Cobb, Tre McBride, Cody Riggs and Curtis Riley had their squads hyped, too.
One female wore a knee brace over her blue jeans while playing two-hand touch. Several were outfitted in Mariota No.8 uniforms.
Many more hit the turf before the night was over.
"They want to play tackle,'' Griffin said with a smile. "They take this seriously.
"I love this event, I really do,'' said Griffin, who has participated all four years. "One thing all the women say is they are cheering us on. I like them better than the men. The men just tell you straight up what they think about you and the team when things aren't going great, and the women are like 'I know you are trying hard and we are cheering you on.' The women have a little more heart."
As Harting headed out the door around 10 p.m., souvenirs in her hand and her Mariota jersey signed on the back, she smiled. She had a five-hour drive ahead of her, but it was worth the trip.
"I needed this,'' she said. "This was a great birthday present to myself."