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VOL. 133 | NO. 5 | Friday, January 5, 2018

McCormick

Terry McCormick

Why Aren’t Starved Fans All In for the Titans?

Terry McCormick, Nashville Sports Correspondent

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There is some irony in the Tennessee Titans’ going to the “Show-Me State” for a first-round playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Perhaps there the 9-6 Titans, a team its own fans have yet to completely embrace, can finally make an impression in their first playoff game in nine years.

So, why haven’t fans embraced this Titans team, which was 8-4 before a three-game December losing streak?

Compared to the tsunami of love the Predators’ enjoyed last spring during their run to the Stanley Cup Final, the buzz around the Titans is tepid as they begin their postseason journey, as it has been for most of the season.

Granted, Sunday’s clinching win over the Jacksonville Jaguars was the coldest game ever at Nissan Stadium, but 30 to 40 percent of the stadium seats were empty in a game between two playoff teams. Goodness knows what it would have looked like if the Titans and Jaguars had both come in with their 3-12 records of the recent past.

Talk radio is sometimes a good place to start when seeking opinions on local sports, and many on the local airwaves agree that the lack of excitement is multi-pronged, has been happening over time and might even be out of the team’s control.

One of the first criticisms is that the team is dull, running what has been derisively dubbed as “Fisherball 2.0” by fans who hoped they had seen the last of Jeff Fisher’s field goals and run-based offense when he was fired in 2010.

The team’s scheme is predictable, fans moan, especially on offense. Fans see sharp young quarterbacks like Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and DeShaun Watson put points on the board with ease and wonder why the Titans can’t do the same with Marcus Mariota.

“I don’t really know if the Titans are built for that, but it’s a legitimate question, and many fans feel the style is boring,” says 104.5 The Zone’s Mark Howard, who co-hosts the daily “The Wake Up Zone” and the Titans postgame show.

“They’ve had some good fourth-quarter comebacks, but even that has been inconsistent,” he adds. “They certainly don’t come out and blow you away.

“The Titans in a lot of ways have really been fortunate this year. They’ve won the right games, and they seem to find ways to win the right games, yet you come away thinking they should be better. They were almost better last year than this year, but they just didn’t get the same kind of bounces a year ago.”

Darren McFarland, co-host of 102.5 The Game’s “3D,” agrees the Titans style doesn’t win points with the fan base.

“This team isn’t that much fun to watch. It’s a boring brand of football,” McFarland says. “They’re playing January football for the first time in nine years, and that’s great. But it doesn’t mean it’s exciting.

“Look at some of the games they’ve played this year, losing in Miami, barely beating the Browns without scoring a touchdown, and getting run out of the building in Houston.

“Even Sunday’s game, when they clinched, I certainly wouldn’t classify it as exciting. It’s not a game that any of us will talk about for years to come, other than they beat the Jaguars to clinch.”

McFarland’s other point regarding the tepid reception the Titans are getting has to do with the team’s lack of marketing itself, especially in lean times on the field, leading to fan apathy.

“One thing that has made the Predators so successful is their ability to connect with their fan base and the community of Nashville,” McFarland says. “And the Titans just don’t seem to understand that. It’s better than it was two or three years ago, but it’s not anywhere near to the level that it takes to win over the community and fans.

“When the Titans first came here and the stadium first opened, they had a good product that everybody wanted. All they had to do was turn the lights on and people couldn’t get enough of it.

“But over the years, the on-field product eroded to the point that it was bad, and they did nothing on their end to fix it. When that happens, you have to go out and sell it. Go out and work, and they didn’t do that for a long time.”

The Predators, meanwhile, knew they would have to work from Day 1 marketing an unconventional sport in a Southern market.

“It’s totally different the way the Predators and Titans treated their season-ticket holders,” Howard says. “The Titans are better now, getting Amy (Adams Strunk) out in front of the season ticket-holders, but only recently have the Titans tried to build that bridge and take a cue from the Predators.

“Preds fans love their team unconditionally, but Titans fans don’t feel the same way. Stuff like what happened (Sunday) when all the gates weren’t opened and the shuttles weren’t running the way they were supposed to, those things don’t happen to the Predators.

“And when it happens with the Titans, people get angry.

“The Titans have done a little better job of servicing their fans the last two or three years, but you can’t take your season ticket-holders for granted.”

Other reasons why Titans fans aren’t enamored with their playoff-bound team are more NFL problems, including the advent of technology making it more tempting for fans to watch from their living room (or their smartphones) rather than an upper deck seat in Nissan Stadium.

Also, the secondary ticket market allows visiting fans access to tickets they could never have gotten in years past. That problem is exacerbated in cities that are big tourism draws, like Nashville.

There also is the backlash of anthem protests that still linger in some fans’ minds, and the overall feeling that NFL football is more oversaturated than it was just a decade or so ago.

Still, as the playoffs approach, Howard says the fan base might come around and actually get excited if the Titans can somehow make a postseason run.

“I did sense a lot more excitement from some fans after Sunday in the postgame show,” Howard says. “I don’t think a lot of fans understand what a big deal this truly is, that there are good players who go through their entire careers and don’t make the playoffs.

“Take Joe Thomas (Browns All-Pro lineman). I’m sure he’d take a 9-7 record and being in as a wild-card.

“I really hope the fan base doesn’t take this for granted, because it’s not that easy to make the NFL Playoffs.

“You look around at Seattle and Baltimore and realize there are some pretty good teams sitting at home. So, it’s pretty good to be one of the 12 still standing.”

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

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