The story behind the image.
It was the end of the July. I was invited along with my parents and grandfather to dinner at my sister's new house. She had just finished moving in with her boyfriend, her two dogs, and his three kids. The dinner itself was just a "we can have you guys over now" sort of thing. I sat there at their dining room table, messing with the Windows smartphone that my parents had bought me for college. That's when my grandfather, out of the blue, asked me if I wanted to go with him to Nashville to one of the Titans' practices.
We brought up the dates and times, right there at dinner. It was decided that the only day we could go was Thursday, August 7th. Doctor appointments for myself or my granddad had occupied the days before then.
The next week leading up to our trip to Nashville was going to filled with worrying, for that reason. My grandfather and I are both not in good medical shape. I have only one lung after my battle with cancer, and a whole lot of stamina and strength issues. My grandfather has a pacemaker, knee problems, and is in constant pain. And the two of us were going to spend the day together about an hour from home, in a big city, watching the Titans' camp.
The family worried away, but when my grandfather's car arrived at our door, I was awake and ready to go, my bag packed with Titans merchandise and souvenirs to get autographed. We arrived at BTP, walked with a couple of fold-up chairs to the line outside the small gate leading to the training field area, and that's where the awesomeness of this story truly begins.
I sat down in my fold-up chair, as did he. That's when a woman walked up asking if this was "the end of the line". I said yes, and we exchanged a joke about sitting in line with fold-up chairs. She went back and beckoned over her husband. He came over in a blazing orange jacket, with a cane engraved with tons of numbers and letters. I asked him about the cane, and he told me it had the scores of every game that Marcus Mariota had ever played in. "You're one heck of a fan then", I said. He was more than a fan. He introduced himself as Marcus Mariota's great uncle.
As the photo above shows, I shouldn't have been skeptical, but I had to be. Still, I played along. I talked with him in line, joked about the price of Mariota jerseys, and talked about where we were from. Apparently he had moved from San Diego and used to be a Chargers fan, but started to burn all of his Chargers stuff after Marcus Mariota was drafted by the Titans. That's when the rest of Mariota's cousins came over. They were an entire group, ages ranging from adults to a little girl. They had come down from Kentucky to see this. This great uncle story was getting more credible.
That's when I realized part of the discussion we had earlier might have substance. I mentioned to him that I was a cancer survivor, and he said he wife was a cancer survivor too. Then, he assured me that he'd speak to Mariota about an autograph.
Just before the gates opened, a security guard at BTP came over to speak to them. He handed them armbands, and the great uncle whispered to me "We're gonna get split up now. We get to sit in the VIP section, apparently." Before we went our separate ways, I asked him for his name. "Frank Butts". I wrote it down.
The next few hours were spent with my grandfather on the bleachers, or with the tons of fans riddled along the fence. I snapped a few pictures of Mariota, Mettenberger, and others. I barely missed a Kurt Warner autographing. That's when I decided to wear two Titans hats, so I could get both signed quickly.
I went back to my Titans "sign me!" bag of goodies, and realized what had been scooped up. The Titans poster that I wrote my "Titans, I'm beating cancer, you guys beat everyone else" message on? It was in there, and I didn't even realize it. This was the poster that Jason McCourty retweeted with a message to me to keep it up. You can bet I grabbed that thing. I went to the souvenir shop there, around the corner of the bleachers, buying a sharpie and "the biggest football you have". I wrote over " 'm beating " on the back of the poster with "BEAT", with the giant football winged under my left arm. I knew, now, that I had prime autograph material.
Unfortunately, as I waddled around the fence, camp was ending. That's when I saw the blazing orange jacket, in the VIP section. I waved my second hat. I waved my hands. I tried calling "Frank B!". Nothing worked. That's when I walked over to the security guard, guarding the entry to the VIP section and the field, and asked him if I could go back and speak to Frank Butts. The guard asked for my relation, I had none. The guard then asked for my name, and I gave it in full. The guard's eyes filled with realization, and he said, "Oh yeah, you're the one he told me about."
The guard got on the radio for one of his other guys, but stopped as he looked down the path to the VIP section. "Here he comes right now." I walked past a tall white guy and his shorter cute girlfriend/wife who were hanging out at the gate, and saw Frank and a black woman talking away. That's when Frank looked forward and saw me.
He came up to guard, and reasserted. "This man is a cancer survivor, and that's very important to me. I want him to get an autograph from Marcus." The security guard obliged. As Frank walked off, talking to the lady, the security guard laid down the law with me. "I can't let you on to the field, but you can come over here and stand in the VIP area." I repeatedly said "I understand", humbled to death by what was going on. The day wasn't done with me yet.
The tall white guy and his better half, who watched all of that? "You have a flight to catch, don't you, babe?" the tall man said, and she agreed, taking off towards the exit. That's when the man looked towards the guard and said "He can come on the field with me." Then he turned towards me, saying, "Just say you're with me." Onto the practice field he walked, and there I awkwardly followed him. We talked a bit, and I asked for his name. "Beau Brinkley", he said, and that's when I got excited. "You're our longsnapper! Man, Madden gives you no love." He was both surprised that his name had been recognized, and amused by my Madden comment. He laughed and replied about how the longsnappers in the NFL get no respect, but it's actually a really difficult job. That's when I brought up MCM, directly by name, and asked if the players ever read that blog. He didn't laugh at that, and just said very seriously, "Yeah. The guys on there are ruthless." I agreed. "They don't know what they're really talking about half the time." he added, then going on a bit of a rant about how fans act like they know things that they'd only know by being in the locker room with 'us'. I nodded again.
That's when Justin Hunter came up, and asked Brinkley for a rematch on a game, promising not to 'blow him out again'. Brinkley awkwardly laughed and replied 'Maybe later'. Hunter moved on to talking to an assistant coach or someone like that, and I asked Brinkley "Is that Justin?" It was. I got an autograph on my football, a handshake, and I got to see Justin Hunter's jolly, jokester personality take a break once he learned I was a cancer survivor. He looked me straight in the face and appreciated what I went through. Then he took off, going inside with the rest of the players.
It was after this we found Marcus, stuck in media interviews. I learned from Beau Brinkley that Marcus really doesn't enjoy interviews of any kind, as he's actually really shy. Dealing with the media is Marcus' least favorite thing to do.
From there until Marcus was freed from the shackles of being a well-known athlete, Brinkley and I started talking like casual people. We talked about interests, joked with each other, and all sorts of other stuff. None of it interesting beyond that moment, really, but there was a visit by an old man in shorts that told him that if he does everything right, he should have a job for the next 40 years, on account of being the longsnapper. "I hope so" was all Beau could say. It was only after the man walked away that I learned that was Dick LeBeau, and I was kicking myself for not recognizing his face.
As we waited for Mariota's final interviews on the practice field to end, a photographer walked over to get some shots. "How's it going? You get some good snaps?" Brinkley asked him. The photographer laughed and replied, all in one go, "Yeah, it's been a good day, got some good pictures, and ow my finger hurts." I would've rec'd it. The photographer turned to me and asked, "Looking to get an autograph?". I said, "Yeah, on this." I showed him the poster with the message of how I beat cancer, and he peered at it to read. Once he had read it, he congratulated me and called it awesome.
Finally, Mariota's interviews were over. "Yo, Marcus, can I steal you for a second?" Beau shouted. Marcus was reluctant, but Brinkley insisted "Just a second." That's when Mariota walked over. Oh, god, I was fanboying. I had knots in my stomach. My brain was going everywhere and nowhere. That's when Brinkley summed up to Marcus my entire reason for being there, with the speed of an auctioneer. In the span of what had to be three or four seconds, Marcus responded to Brinkley with "Uh-huh, uh-huh, oh." Then he turned to me and stuck out his hand, congratulating me. I shook his hand, saying thanks. As that was going on, Brinkley looked down at my sign and football, both winged under my left arm, and told Mariota about getting them autographed. And, as the handshake went on, I heard it. The sound of a high-volume shutter, going off thousands of times in that one moment. It was recorded in time, as a picture. The picture at the top of this post, in fact.
Mariota read the poster, and signed it with my sharpie. As I was thrilled with him signing the poster, my mind had blanked about the fact I was still winging the football under my arm. That was, until Mariota palmed the end of the ball with one hand, pulled it out from underneath my shoulder, signed it, and handed it back to me. We exchanged another handshake, and this time he pulled me a bit closer and rested his other hand on my back, giving a more heart-felt congratulations. Then, he walked off to go see his family, and Brinkley escorted me back off the field.
As I left and the crowd of people began to separate Brinkley and I, I turned around. "I'm making you 99 overall in every Madden I play!" I shouted, and I saw two outstretched arms and two thumbs up tower over the crowd. I met back up with my grandfather, who was getting signatures from the players that were supposed to lend their autographs that day. Practice was officially over, and that was the end of my experience.
I took my hat off in the car on the way back, as my head was getting hot, and realized I still had a hat on. Then I got frustrated at myself, realizing I had kept my two hats on the whole time. But, hey, I was just rolling along with a great experience.
Today, I have the football with Hunter and Mariota's signatures in a case, and the poster with Mariota's signature placed next to it. I sat on this story until now, because I didn't want anyone using this story in an attempt to get a free visit with Mariota. I like to believe there's no-one out there that would possibly do that, but I wanted to be sure.
So that's how I met Marcus Mariota. Thanks to the charity of his great uncle Frank Butts, our longsnapper Beau Brinkley, and the unnamed security guard who stood at the gates on August 7th. I have to thank God too, because this was truly a miracle.
Watch out, MCM'ers. They do read what we write. At least, enough to know we're ruthless and speculate way too much about the team.
And now you know the rest of the story.