Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Why Memphians Should Hate the Tennessee Titans, Part I

Posted By on Wed, Oct 24, 2012 at 4:30 PM

A month ago, the local Fox TV affiliate chose to show a matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rather than a game featuring the home-state Tennessee Titans versus the Detroit Lions. Most Titans games are broadcast on CBS, and this was a rare Titans game Fox was carrying nationally. In Memphis, however, its airing was declined by the affiliate, Fox 13.

My Twitter feed (under the handle @gregakers) was rife that Sunday with Memphis-area Titans fans who were mad they couldn’t watch their team.

I was a little surprised because, in my mind, Memphians by and large hated the Tennessee Titans as much as I personally do, and for the same history-based reasons. I didn’t think it very controversial when I tweeted out, “Twitter blowing up with Memphians mad they can't watch Nashville football. Where'd our self respect go?”

Here was my real surprise: The hate I got was instantaneous and widespread. I tried to play it off to responders that I was just talking NFL trash, which I was, but the Titans’ Memphis contingent wasn’t having it. People said I was a sore loser; that I should let the past go; that my dislike was sour grapes; and that I sucked and I was trash. (Many objected to me insisting on calling the team the “Nashville Titans,” some of them correcting me as if I didn’t know the team’s real name. I maintain it’s rhetorically funny trash talk.)

In light of the ardent response, I wondered for a while if I had this Tennessee Titans thing all wrong and a few hours later tweeted out my conclusion: “I've been pondering and now will reassert that the Titans of Nashville should not be enjoyed by the people of Memphis.” One Twitter friend said I was trolling, which is true but I was also expressing my heart-felt belief, however trollish.

I wanted to explain exactly why I hate the Tennessee Titans and why I feel all Memphians should hate them, too, but Twitter isn’t the best vehicle for making my case. So, it’s time to play 2012 Morning Quarterback and plumb the depths of my sports and civic hatred for the Tennessee Titans.

Based on the response I got on Twitter, I feel the need to justify the existence and acceptability of hating sports teams and their host cities. Perhaps I’m forever stuck in the fandom mindset I and my friends had in middle school, where every allegiance was not just a vote for your team but also a vote against your pals’ teams. Most people in SEC country understand this and throw around the word “hate” in a sports context without anyone taking offense. For example: I love the Arkansas Razorbacks and hate every other team in the SEC. (And please note the difference between this harmless, no-victims rhetorical hate and what has been demonstrated by the guy who poisoned the trees in Auburn, for example, which is a criminal act and stupid.)

In contrast, I’ve noticed from visits to in-laws in the Midwest that hating other peoples’ teams is reserved for the topmost rivalries; Ohio State fans hate Michigan and vice versa, but its relationship with most other Big 10 schools doesn’t rise to abhorrence levels. So, is true sports hatred for everyone but “your team” a Southern thing — some weird states’ rights holdover from the Civil War Southerners hold in their cultural reliquary?

For the record, I consider sports hatred to be healthy. I accept I shouldn’t hate other people or groups for any reason, and I don’t — but rage does exist in my emotional spectrum, and what better outlet for it that the cosmically meaningless exercise of sports fandom?

And if hate is an acceptable practice in sports fandom, so is its offspring, petulance. Adults shouldn’t get away with being big babies about anything, ever, except sports.

There are things that go into what teams you love and hate that aren’t always reasoned or reasonable. My brother loves the San Diego Padres because he played on a little league team (in Arkansas) called the Padres when he was 5 years old. That’s all it took for him to love the Padres to this day and hate everyone else. I hate the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan to this day because they were annoyingly popular when I was 13.

And if anyone can and should hold a grudge, it’s a sports fan. Do you think Cleveland has forgiven Art Modell for moving the Browns, even if it happened 16 years ago, even if the city has received a new Browns franchise, and even if Modell is now dead? My friend the Browns fanatic confirmed: His hate of Modell lives strong, as does his disdain for Baltimore and their Ravens, who once upon a midnight dreary stole away the Cleveland Browns.

Bud Adams
  • Bud Adams
Public Enemy: Bud Adams
Is it okay to hate a team because of its owner? Of course! When it comes to sports hatred, all motives are kosher.

My hatred of the Tennessee Titans (henceforth herein known as the Nashville Titans, and yes, I know that’s [sic]) owes much to my hatred of the team’s owner, K.S. "Bud" Adams Jr.

Adams is one of those sports franchise owners who’s not afraid to hold his host city hostage. Oh, sure, he was an architect of the AFL blah blah blah and owner of the founding member Houston Oilers blah blah blah.

The biggest ethical drawback to being a fan of professional sports is that amazingly wealthy individuals own teams that play in stadiums that are usually publicly financed. The arrangement is gross.

Note: This is where you might point out my hypocrisy. After all, I love the Grizzlies, who came from Vancouver, and I watch them play in the very public FedExForum. My only defense: I don’t blame Vancouverites who hate Memphis, and I do my tiny part to ensure the city doesn’t take a economic hit for propping up the arena and team.

Adams is a prime offender when it comes to exploiting the grossness of public financing. His then-Houston Oilers threatened to move to Jacksonville in the 1980s when he was trying to get stadium improvements to the Astrodome. He won that battle. Not a decade later, he was again looking to relocate. Adams wanted a completely new stadium this time, and Houston didn’t want to pay for it. In 1995, a Houston poll found that 68 percent of residents thought Adams was the Oilers’ biggest liability. The city was willing to build a new park for the pro baseball team, the Astros, but had hit its breaking point with Adams.

Adams looked around the country to see where he might take his team and was impressed by Nashville’s attempts to steal the New Jersey Devils by building a hockey arena before having a team. In Nashville, Adams found a like-minded partner in crime. The city wanted a professional sports team and was ready to heap lavish public money upon it; Adams wanted a fresh start and new revenue streams but didn’t want to have to pay for it.

Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen and governor Don Sundquist sold the public on financing a new stadium, and in ’95 the announcement was made: The Oilers were going to the Music City. As Memphis Flyer writer Jackson Baker noted at the time, what Nashville offered was a “sweetheart deal” for Adams.

The team played one more season (1996) in Houston, but it was an attendance disaster. No one went and why would they? Adams broke the lease with the Astrodome a year even earlier than promised — the Oilers were supposed to play 1997 in Houston — and pulled up stakes for Tennessee.

Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth
The Oilers first season in Tennessee was played in Memphis’ Liberty Bowl, and, like the last season in Houston, it too was an attendance disaster. No one went and why would they?

The answer to this question lies at the root of my continued hatred of the Nashville Titans. If you don’t know the answer, you either weren’t around back then and need historical context or the old fires of emotional immediacy have burned out.

For many years, decades, even, prior to the Oilers arrival in Memphis, the Bluff City had endeavored to win an NFL team. There was a major push in the 1970s, where the city was a finalist but not awarded an NFL team. I remember being a kid in the '80s and listening with my Mom to sports talk and hearing the news that the NFL’s next big decision on expansion wouldn’t come until the ’90s. For a kid, it seemed a lifetime away. For years, Memphis paid its dues and put in the effort to get a team. It was a long, tough slog, with Memphis hosting meaningless preseason NFL games — to the banging sound of the civic drum, which pounded out how attendance better be good or we would miss out on a new team.

In 1993, Memphis was named a finalist to get one of two new NFL teams, along with Jacksonville, Charlotte, Baltimore, and St. Louis. Memphis lost out again, as franchises were awarded to Charlotte and Jacksonville. And all of of the cities would wind up with a team by the end of the decade — except for Memphis.

The NFL didn’t work out for Memphis. It happens. The city ultimately didn’t want to engage in the grossness of paying for a stadium. Commence disappointment and frustration, but we’ll get over it. Maybe it’s better for us in the long run?

Then, a couple years later, Nashville looked up from its brightly burnished mirror and said, “Oh, sure, I guess we could have an NFL team,” and they got one almost immediately.

The late, great Memphis Flyer editor Dennis Freeland lamented, in 1997, “Just as Memphians were beginning to accept the fact that professional football would never come here, Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen enticed Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams to bring his team to Tennessee in 1995. Nashville? Nashville had never danced with the NFL. There was never a groundswell of support for the NFL in Nashville. There isn’t still.”

Commence weeping. “Oh, we’d like an NFL team but we’re not ready for them yet,” said Nashville. “We’re building a new, publicly financed stadium, paid for in part with state tax money. Hey, so could you babysit them for a few years, cousin Memphis?”

Commence gnashing of teeth.

I LOL Nashville
Memphis hates Nashville and Nashville hates Memphis. I trust no explanation on this count is required.

The feelings were underscored in fall 1997, when the Oilers began their layover in Memphis. David Climer, a columnist for The Tennessean, wrote back then, “Nashvillians view Memphis the same way New Yorkers view Newark.”

I can’t begin to parse that sentence, much less take offense to it, without LOLing at the underlying ridiculousness of the perspective. Nashville as New York. Is that why the Titans are called what they are, to be like the Giants?

Seriously, Nashville: LOLIRL.

Go here for the stunning conclusion to: Why Memphians Should Hate the Tennessee Titans


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