There were a lot of odd things happening Sunday at LP Field – a beautiful ballpark on the banks of the Cumberland River. Things I’ve never seen or heard at an NFL stadium in my twenty-plus years going to NFL games.
First, let’s set the scene. No one, not a single person in the city of Nashville, will convince me there were more Titans fans than Bears fans at LP. On every beer line, in every men’s room, in the parking lots, on the pedestrian foot bridge…navy blue and orange. Everywhere. Bears fans not only took over the stadium for three hours Sunday. They took over the city for three days. It was as impressive a road display as I’ve ever seen.
Then there was the game. Before the unraveling of a giant American flag cut to the shape of the United States and an expensively thrilling flyover, I turned to Noah and questioned in a polite whisper, “Do you think we’ll hear boos when the Titans come out of the tunnel?”
We did. And they were resounding.
I couldn’t help think what the reaction would be to something so offensive happening at Soldier Field – if another team’s fans overwhelmed the world’s greatest sporting facility and booed the Bears as they emerged from the tunnel. I would stab someone with a harpoon. What would you do?
And, oh, it got worse. Much worse.
Chants of “let’s go Bears” filled every area of the park. Bears players were running up and down the sideline, asking for and receiving noise from fans in the stands. “Bear Down” was being sung at multiple urinals. Every time Packers highlights appeared on the Jumbotron, the boos could have been heard in Memphis. It was a surreal experience for a Bears fan. It must have been a sad one for the 7 Titans fans who didn’t sell their tickets.
I’m not a big believer in “the fourth phase” bullshit. I think it’s a marketing pitch to make fans think they’re more involved than they actually are. But you’d have to Helen Keller’s more blind and deaf cousin to not recognize the impact Bears fans were having on Bears players yesterday. I’ve been to many Bears games but as we gave the offense and defense standing ovations in the fourth quarter, I felt a kinship with them perhaps for the first time. We fans were thanking them for their effort and they were rewarding us with point after point after point.
And Noah and I stayed there. Stayed in our seats until the last Bears player, Chilo Rachal, had left the field. It was a respect thing. Like when you don’t leave the dinner table until your father has finished eating. Because without him there’s be no dinner. Without the Bears we’d have just been twenty thousand oddly coordinated dressers in the Music City. With them we truly were the fourth phase. We were part of it. And it’s a memory that will never fade.