NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Beatles? Well, not exactly, but the Titans certainly have given their fans plenty to scream about.
Winning does that for a team.
In the past three years, the Titans have had problems getting much attention in a state gaga over college football. Everywhere they go these days, fans are dressed up in red and blue, faces painted and yelling their lungs out.
The fireball logo has spread all over Music City, and merchandise is flying off store shelves.
When the Titans returned late Sunday night from their 19-16 victory over the Indianapolis Colts and with the franchise's first berth in the AFC championship game since 1979, as many as 9,000 people met them at the airport.
"It was incredible," said running back Eddie George, who remembers the days when two fans constituted a crowd in Houston.
"It was like we were the Beatles or something. All the fans out there, every level packed way back from one side of the airport to the other. People outside the windows. It was an excellent reception. It was something we longed for."
Airport police were overwhelmed by the crowd and wound up letting fans leave without paying to park. One woman was injured when she fell off an escalator and hit her head.
Remember that this is a team that has been ignored while going 8-8 for three seasons, playing in a different stadium every year with an Oilers nickname that few in Tennessee wanted.
Safety Marcus Robertson said it seemed as if there were more fans at the airport than attended games in Memphis during the 1997 season. The then-Oilers drew a league-low 28,095 to the Liberty Bowl 200 miles from Nashville.
Thanks to a franchise-record season, the fans are coming out of the woodwork.
One local TV station counted down the days to Sunday's kickoff on its cable channel. People then gave the Titans a rousing sendoff at the airport on Saturday, greeted them at their hotel in Indianapolis and scrounged up a few thousand tickets to the RCA Dome for Sunday's game where they forced the Colts to deal with crowd noise.
"We had Peyton Manning and them going on a silent count," Robertson said. "Our fans made a big difference."
Coach Jeff Fisher discussed the fan reaction with the Titans Monday morning, but he isn't worried about his players being distracted by the attention that has built since the season-opener. If anything, the Titans are feeding off the support.
"No one would've thought we would be where we are right now, let alone that we would've gotten the support we've gotten," Fisher said. "It shows an awful lot for the relationship between this organization, the players and the fans."
Now the Titans are curious to see if their fans can wiggle their way into Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville for Sunday's championship with the Jaguars. Direct flights from Nashville to Jacksonville had sold out by Monday morning, and getting tickets was the biggest question.
Fisher had preached patience, promising that winning games would fill the empty seats. The players say they never doubted Fisher, but nobody expected what is happening now.
"This has exploded for some odd reason," George said. "I guess people are excited about it. I said a long time ago that as soon as we start winning people will start getting excited, and this is incredible."
Titans quarterback Steve McNair wore a walking boot on his left foot Monday, trying to ease an aching turf toe.
McNair aggravated his big toe in Sunday's AFC divisional playoff victory over the Indianapolis Colts by playing on the Astroturf in Indianapolis' RCA Dome. He wore the boot last month for a few days to ease the pain and has been wearing baseball cleats for comfort.
"With a couple days rest and wearing the boot again, I think it will help it out before Wednesday," said McNair.
That's when the Titans (15-3) return to the practice field to begin preparations for Sunday's game at Jacksonville.
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