NASHVILLE, Tenn. –** When the Titans took the field for the start of the second half on Sunday, over 100 individuals were lined up on the goal line, stretching from sideline to sideline.
It was a large group of military veterans, and Titans season ticket members. The group was recognized at halftime during the team's Salute to Service game at Nissan Stadium.
Titans coach Mike Mularkey noticed the group as he took the field. Some were in uniform, but most were in civilian clothing. Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan noticed the veterans as well.
The two then proceeded to make their way down the line, shaking hands with each one.
"I thought it was important to them, that they knew we knew they were there and I wanted to recognize them," Mularkey explained on Monday. "The second half was going to be played no matter what I did. And I thought it was important they knew I represented our team and to come over there and shake their hand. I was glad they were there, and I appreciate what they have done and their service to our country.
"I thought it was the best five minutes of my game."
Mularkey is part of a military family.
His father, Jack, was in the Army, and served in World War II. A brother, Terry, served 20-plus years in the Army. Mularkey's nephew is also in the Army. Earlier this month, Mularkey was recognized as the team's nominee for the NFL's Salute to Service Award.
Lewan said the decision to spend time the veterans rather than head to the sideline was an easy one. He said "it was an honor to shake their hands."
"You can always take a minute," Lewan said. "To be able to go and shake their hands – people were saying, 'Hey, we have a minute-and-a-half.' It is like, you know what? It doesn't matter. I'll be ready to play. I know we get the ball first, but these people deserve just a "Thank you.'
"They are really supportive of the Titans and this franchise. I think they are fans. I am a fan of them, and vice versa."
Among the other festivities on Sunday during the Salute to Service game:
• 75 Soldiers from the 101st Airborne unfurled a U.S. shaped American Flag during the national anthem and during halftime.
• Honorguards from every military branch presenting the colors at halftime on the field
• The 101st Airborne Division Band performed each branch's service song as they walked out on the field accompanied by season ticket members from each of those branches.
• In partnership with Cooper Steel, 1,000 tickets were provided to soldiers at Fort Campbell to attend the game along with co-branded Cooper Steel/Titans tshirts.
• Sergeant First Class Eric Harder, recipient of the Bronze Star with Valor and Purple Heart, was the Honorary 12th Titan.
• There was also be a flyover in pregame from airmen in Fort Campbell.
Before Sunday's game, several Titans shook hands and took pictures with soldiers on hand from Fort Campbell, including linebacker Wesley Woodyard, punter Brett Kern and running back Derrick Henry. Receiver Rishard Matthews took the field holding hands with members of the military. A number of Bengals spent time with the soldiers as well.
After the game, Mularkey presented Major General Andrew P. Poppas, Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division, with a game ball in the team's locker room.
It was part of a military-themed day.
"I don't have family in the military, but I do know how lucky I am to be in the United States," Lewan said. "And I do know the life I have been able to live … is made possible because of those people fight for us to play a game. Because of them I am able to play a game, and not have to worry about Third World problems. Those people put their lives on the line for people they don't even know. It was an honor to be able to shake their hands."
Titans honor U.S. Military on Salute to Service Day at Nissan Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)