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Fans kept in loop by Titans’ Caravan

Fans kept in loop by Titans’ Caravan

Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 4:28 pm
By: By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer

FAYETTEVILLE (AP) — Kerry Collins sat inside a gazebo on the town square here near the Alabama border at lunchtime Thursday signing autographs, posing for photos and holding a couple babies.

The Titans quarterback isn’t campaigning for office.

The 14-year veteran was taking part in the team’s 12th annual spring caravan blanketing Tennessee, northern Alabama and southern Kentucky thanking — and wooing — fans for their continued support.

As a matter of a fact, the Titans Caravan rolls into Martin at Festival Park on Monday afternoon with Pro Bowl tight end Alge Crumpler in tow along with broadcaster Mike Keith and mascot T-Rac.

“It’s the first time I’ve been on a team that does something like this,” Collins said on the team’s bus between stops.

“I want to say it’s unique to the Titans. I’m sure maybe there are other teams that do it. It’s the first I’ve been on. It’s a great way to connect with people outside of Nashville. We get great support all over Tennessee, northern Alabama, the whole region. It’s a great way to show our thanks.”

Owner Bud Adams started this outreach program in 1998 when he was trying to win fans after relocating his Houston Oilers to Tennessee in 1997.

It’s grown to two weeks of visiting schools, grocery stores, restaurants and radio stations where team representatives hand out free bumper stickers and posters.

Coach Jeff Fisher helps with scheduling through his offseason program to make sure each stop has one player on hand.

There’s no catch, no charge. Some lines might get cut off to make the next stop in a schedule packed from morning until night.

And no one does this in the NFL quite like the Titans, who have sold out every game since moving into LP Field in 1999 and is coming off the league’s best record at 13-3 in 2008.

“It’s a thank you to our fans for loving us and just supporting us,” said Tresa Halbrooks, the Titans’ manager of community relations. “We just have to say thank you. It all comes back around. This is just a love tour. … We thank you for loving us.”

Fans showed up an hour early for the first stop Thursday at a grocery store in a town best known for producing GM’s Saturns.

Kevin Martin, 54, had never been at a caravan stop before, but the Arkansas native who used to root for the Dallas Cowboys couldn’t wait to get an autograph from Collins.

“It shows they’re interested in supporting the fans too,” Martin said.

The day’s second stop came at Thomas Intermediate School in Shelbyville with 575 children in fourth and fifth grade.

The stop included a reminder to children to study hard and exercise, and Collins was greeted with earsplitting screams.

Assistant principal Pam Galbreath said the Titans offer up role models and called it important community outreach.

“We have some students that don’t go off of this street, much less get to Murfreesboro or to Nashville. TV is about their only way out. For someone to come here is just wonderful,” Galbreath said.

The annual caravan also brings out the starters. Steve McNair and Eddie George made several appearances while on the team, and this year’s tour, which started Monday and concludes with a private event at the Army post Fort Campbell on April 23, features top starters like Collins.

Crumpler is a part of a list that includes Michael Griffin and Kyle Vandeon Bosch of Titans’ players slated to travel on this season’s caravan throughout the state of Tennessee and parts of Kentucky and Alabama.

They travel on a bus used in the 2008 campaign by President Barack Obama, and a sample of the rock star treatment came at the Lincoln County line where a sheriff’s car was waiting to lead the bus to the town square.

Trucker Jefferson Whitfield was waiting in Fayetteville with his wife and two sons.

A season ticket holder who had to rearrange some financing and push around a few bills to afford his 2009 tickets, Whitfield will be at another stop today in his hometown of Pulaski as well.

He called the annual caravan good business sense for the Titans to shake hands with their customers, especially during this recession.

The fans get to — for free — mingle with NFL players and personnel during a time when football takes a backseat to baseball throught the southern region of the United States.

“A lot of people, even though we’re going through an economic crisis, really don’t pay attention to that. They just want to see their favorite player or whoever’s coming to their city,” Whitfield said.

Or as one mother waiting in line at one stop said: “Some good free fun.”