NASHVILLE, TN, March 25, 2009 - There were three places you could find Cecil "Ray" Lyell.
The doctor's office, the local hamburger joint and at Tennessee Titans games. One was a necessity, another was a luxury and the last one was a love.
It started years ago when the Titans first moved to town. Ray and wife Joyce bought tickets from a friend to see what the fuss was about surrounding the new NFL team and instantly, the Lyells were hooked. That same year, the Titans reached the Super Bowl and as his stepson Jeff Nichols described it, "Ray caught that Titan fever."
|*Ray, a west Tenn. native, "caught the Titan fever" shortly after the team moved to Tennessee. Courtesy: Jeff Nichols*|
After that memorable 1999 season, Ray, a west Tenn. native, wanted to support the Titans more so the couple bought season tickets. "The games were so much fun to him but he wanted to do more, he decided to start making the games an event by tailgating," said Joyce.
And so it began.
The parking lots opened at 8am for noon games and in order to get the prime tailgating position in Lot A, Ray would get to the stadium between 5:30 and 6am so he would be guaranteed that spot. He became known as the loveable, likeable guy that drove the "Mobile Cam" which was a small, two to three person rider Ray put together for the game-day tailgating festivities. On the Mobile Cam (which had a camcorder strapped to the front that would record the fun of the day's events) he would go from tailgating station to station giving rides to children smiling, laughing and spreading Titan cheer along the way. Ray would also fix mounds and mounds of food and ask others to join him in singing and dancing as his music blared.
And all along, Ray was sick. He had been fighting a long battle with emphysema and esophageal cancer that was progressively getting worse. Still, Ray smiled and still Ray was the favorite tailgater amongst his friends in Lot A.
During the 2001 season, Ray and his Mobile Cam became a finalist for the Jack Daniels Tailgater of the Year Award. Though he did not win, he was so happy by the recognition that he became inspired to make the Mobile Cam even better. If you thought it was good before, it was going to be even better in 2002. This passion consumed him. He worked on the mobile cam, everyday, "day and night" his wife would say, leading up to the 2002 season. "He was determined to win that Jack Daniels Award. Not for him, but for the Titans fans that tailgate each week. He wanted to show everyone how proud they were of the Tennessee Titans."
Ray and the Mobile Cam won. He was the 2002 Jack Daniels Tailgate Champion. The three-wheel one-of-a-kind bicycle contraption equipped with a canopy, custom seats, camcorder, radio and television was in a class of it's own. Painted Titans red and blue, the new and improved Mobile Cam was a sight to see. On the back he had the inscription, "Have all the fun you can before the end of the fourth quarter," of which everyone enjoyed.
|*Ray proudly displays his Jack Daniels Champion Tailgate Award. Pictured with Ray is Lynn Tolley, Jack Daniels tailgating competition judge. Courtesy: Jeff Nichols*|
The top prize for being the tailgating champion was an all-expense paid trip to the site of the Super Bowl if the Titans made it. After a 2-4 start heading into the bye week, things looked bleak for the Titans to make it the playoffs let alone the Super Bowl. "I didn't think it could happen, but Ray did. He always stayed positive and kept rooting them on," said Nichols who dressed up as Jack Daniels to help Ray win the tailgating award. The Titans went 9-1 in their final 10 games and beat the Pittsburg Steelers in the divisional round to make it to the AFC Championship against the Oakland Raiders, a game they lost. Still, Ray rooted on his Titans and would often say "we got next year."
As the years passed, Ray's health got a little worse. He started to just tailgate and not go into the games. And even when the team wasn't doing so well, he was still there cheering and urging others to do the same. For Ray, it was always about the camaraderie and friendship he shared with fellow Titans fans.
A couple of years ago, Ray was limited to watching the games at home after getting sick at one of the contests. After that game, he had to stay in the hospital for close to a week to recuperate and get back to full strength. Never did he complain, "that's just how dedicated he was," recalled Joyce.
Described by many as talented, imaginative and creative, it was those traits that made him so likeable and made the Mobile Cam such a favorite with the tailgaters. That same creativity was evident during his many years in the music business when he played the Grand Ole Opry with his brothers during their time as the "Waylors" with Waylon Jennings. Jennings often referred to group as his hand-picked dream team.
In early February of this year, Ray passed away due to complications with his condition. Nichols, a longtime friend of Voice of the Titans Mike Keith, called up his old friend and asked if there was a way he could honor Ray but at the same time his favorite team. Keith made some suggestions before the idea of having friends donate memorial contributions in Ray's name to the Titans Foundation popped into Jeff's head.
|*Ray hanging out in Lot A with granddaughter Morgan (center) and a friend during a Titans contest. Courtesy: Jeff Nichols*|
"I wanted to do something that would make Ray smile, and there's no doubt in my mind Ray is smiling now," Nichols said after hearing about the contributions in Ray's honor from people across the country.
Ray is gone now but not his memory. Not the gray-bearded man always seen smiling, not the man that wasn't content on providing a hot dog or hamburger for his tailgaters but an elaborate lunch spread with the opponent as the theme. Not the man that made those Sundays in Lot A a time to remember. How fitting that Joyce chose the words for his epitaph that he himself put on the back of that rolling bundle of life he called the Mobile Cam.
"Have all the fun you can before the end of the fourth quarter."