NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Six groupings of Tennessee Titans made special deliveries of season tickets, 12th Titan jerseys and over-sized tickets to fans at businesses, offices and residences in Nashville and Brentwood Wednesday.
Akeem Ayers, Jordan Babineaux, Dave Ball, Jurrell Casey, Marc Mariani, Sen'Derrick Marks, Colin McCarthy, Jason McCourty, Gerald McRath, Kamerion Wimbley and Will Witherspoon loaded up in vehicles and surprised Titans fans to thank them for their continued support. Patrick Bailey, Brett Kern and Karl Klug also got in on the action by thanking fans who picked up their season tickets at LP Field.
This is the second straight year that Titans players have delivered tickets to fans as a welcome back to football season. All of the recipients purchased the tickets. Some won contests, and others were nominated by friends, family members or co-workers to receive the special visits. Many of the fans have been season ticket holders since the 1999 inaugural season of the Titans.
C.J. Spraggins is one such fan who has devoted her heart to her husband Tom for 34 years and the Titans from their beginning.
Spraggins' emotional commitment to both remained strong through the years but her heart physically weakened for more than a decade. It reached a point where medication was not helping as much, and making it to Titans football games became tougher — almost physically impossible last year.
Reluctantly, she told her husband Tom that she wouldn't feel like going to games in 2012. The Spraggins have had season tickets since the 1998 season when the team was called the Tennessee Oilers but planned not to renew their tickets this year.
C.J. was placed on a heart transplant list in February. It can take six months, 18 months or even longer to locate a compatible heart, but C.J. was in the hospital receiving treatment when a match was located on March 30. Her physician took a picture of the old heart and described it as purple, spongy, enlarged and unable to sustain life much longer, her family said.
After receiving the transplant, C.J. underwent physical therapy and the Spraggins renewed their tickets. C.J., who has gone by her initials long before the arrival of Titans running back Chris Johnson, said she feels good enough "to run to the stadium" if she has to this season.
Mariani and McRath delivered the tickets, a pair of jerseys and two over-sized tickets to the Spraggins. Mariani and McRath signed autographs, posed for pictures and chatted with their family about football. The Spraggins' grandson Christopher LaBrec, 13, of Spring Hill demonstrated his ability to recall specific Titans scores.
Mariani asked Spraggins about the Broncos game, and Christopher answered, "17-14 with Witherspoon making the clinching interception," and the Panthers game, with Christopher answering, "30-3 and you made a long kickoff return at the start of the game," prompting impressed laughter from the room. Mariani and McRath were also impressed by C.J.
"I told C.J. that's my motivation for camp," McRath said. "You always think that your situation may be tough until you meet someone else. There's always someone that's going through more than what you can ever imagine. Listening to her story and seeing the look on her face — the look of don't feel sorry for me, I'm doing better, miracles happen, and her feeling blessed. I told C.J. no matter what, that she's my motivation for this year."
Mariani and McRath also made a stop at the Nashville Fire Department Headquarters to present tickets to Assistant Chief Floyd Murrell, who has been with the Fire Department for 37 years and a season ticket holder since 1999, and in Brentwood at attorney Tony Arena's law office.
"I feel so lucky, so blessed to be able to do what I do," Mariani said. "The support we get from this community is what really matters. To be able to go out and see people face-to-face, and meet our biggest supporters, put a smile on people's faces is very humbling and something I love to do.
"You kind of see how much it means to people, and it motivates you and puts fuel in your tank to give it all you've got and get better," Mariani continued. "At the same time, it gives you a good feeling inside that you're doing something for others and helping out in such a great community. I'm happy to be part of it."
Mariani and McRath both said delivering the tickets and meeting the passionate fans has them even more excited for the opening of training camp when all Titans players report Friday. The first practice that is open to fans is scheduled for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday.
"Doing things like this — delivering tickets — actually fires you up because you know that the fans are waiting for a great season and they're behind you 100 percent of the way," McRath said. "They're wishing you on in camp, knowing it's going to be hot, knowing it's going to be rough times, but to know that you've got the whole city of Nashville and the state of Tennessee behind your back, it makes it worthwhile."
Added Mariani: "That's the beauty of having a so-called small market is we've got more passion than anybody else. Titans fans are some of the best, and I've been so lucky for the last couple of years to have been part of it. When you see people like that and when you see people driving across the state and when you see people dropping everything on Sundays to watch you play, it's just so fun, it's so motivating, so inspirational. It's hard to imagine having more fun doing anything else in my life at this point."
Elsewhere, Titans players surprised other firefighters, including two at the station on West End who had just returned from a call, and police officers, postal worker Wanda Simpson and Wendy Tucker in Mayor Karl Dean's office. Tucker's husband secretly nominated her because of her enthusiasm for the Titans.
Ball and Wimbley shocked Mike Bateman, an employee at the Inglewood Kroger, who was paged to the front of the store to receive his tickets.
McRath said players enjoy "field trips" like Wednesday's when they are able to thank fans in person.
"Believe it or not, most of these fans that are season ticket holders have been since I was in middle school," McRath said. "Their loyalty to the team and their loyalty to the Titans organization mean a lot to the players because it makes us feel like we're a part of something great, something that was before us, something that will continue to go on after us.
"You just feel great while you're here," he continued. "You feel a sense that this is amazing because not everybody can be a Titan, so you're one of the few people that are actually able to wear the Titans jersey. To have the Titans symbol on your helmet, it's a sense of pride. You feel like you belong to something great. It's always great to go out and see the look on the fans' faces and they don't know that they mean just as much to us as we mean to them."