By Skip Anderson
Michael Barker can tell you exactly where he and his father Jerry were when the Tennessee Titans executed the Music City Miracle, one of the most famous plays in NFL history. It's the same place they were when the Atlanta Falcons rolled into town for the inaugural preseason football game in 1999 at what is now LP Field. And it's the same place they will be for the next Titans home game – Section 127 in the south end zone of the stadium on Nashville's east bank.
The Barkers are model citizens as far as Titans fans go. They bought the PSLs – Public Seat Licenses – before construction workers had even installed their seats. And while there is no shortage of season ticket holders who have continually renewed their seats, few can claim regular-season and post-season attendance streaks dating back to Day 1 when the Houston Oilers transmogrified into the Tennessee Titans. And with one painful exception, the Barkers have attended each preseason game, too.
“We missed a preseason game in 2007 to go to a wedding,” the younger Barker told the Williamson Herald. “And watching the game on ESPN that Thursday night, my father and I realized the streak was over.”
It's a heady asterisk they now carry – an ink stain an otherwise flawless attendance record – and their absence an otherwise forgettable preseason game reminds them not to repeat “the mistake.” His words.
“My brother-in-law has absolutely no idea we broke our streak to be at his wedding,” he said, laughing. “Put that in the story; it's time he knows.”
Lesson learned. Through the five-plus seasons since – nearly 50 home preseason and regular-season games – the Barkers have made each home game, and a respectable number of away games, too.
“Even if there's a family reunion, it's a given that we're going to the Titans game. It's not even up for discussion,” Barker said. “We've been really, really lucky that we haven't missed anything huge over all these years of Sundays.”
To be clear, the Barker's fanaticism runs beyond their attendance streak, which by the end of the 2012 season will be more than 130 games. They have been known to attend on-location broadcasts of radio shows that feature Titans players. The elder Barker has a Titans-themed room with team-colored carpet and walls that are loaded with Titan's memorabilia, posters, and autographs. On game days, the Barkers don Titans jerseys and hats, and whatever else blue and white they can find. They have been known to paint their faces, but experience is the best teacher, as they say. “That stuff is a mess,” the son said. But that certainly did not limit their creativity. The TV camera, for instance, singled out during the Monday Night Football broadcast on Christmas night, thanks to the homemade Titans-themed Santa outfit the younger Barker wore to the game.
“My wife intentionally made it two sizes too big so I could wear my winter coat beneath it,” he said.
And then there's The Bus – a 1971 Blue Bird school bus retrofitted to be the envy of the pre-game tailgaters setup beneath the Korean Veterans Bridge, complete with flat screen TVs (plural), grills (plural), reclining chairs (plural), and room to carry more than 20 Titans fans to the game and back to Franklin where the Barkers live.
“We painted the thing blue and white, painted some flames on it, and down the side it said 'Titans Express,” Barker said. “My mother even made Titans curtains for all the windows.”
And, as a community service to his fellow tailgaters who regularly set up beneath the Korean Veterans Bridge, the Barkers installed a horn to declare when the time neared to move the party into the stadium. Not just any horn, but a ground-shaking, teeth-rattling pneumatic train horn powered by the bus' air-brake system.
“We wanted to distinguish ours from the multi-million-dollar mobile homes nearby, and we did,” Barker said. “But it had become such an expensive production each week, and the bus was aging, we eventually sold it on eBay.”
So, anything that has happened during a home Titans game*, the Barker boys were there – there's that pesky asterisk – both the good and the bad.
“Even more than the Music City Miracle, the best would be when the Falcons came for the first game in the brand new stadium in 1999,” the younger Barker said. “The level of excitement was through the roof. And, to be honest, we had no idea we would have that much fun.”
“That's easy, the worst was when the Ravens ended our home-game winning streak,” he said, referring to the 24-23 loss well into the team's second season as the Titans. “We keep coming back, though. Win or lose, we love the Titans.”
Posted on: 10/9/2012