On the Mountaintop 

Nashville likes the view from here

Nashville likes the view from here

The administration of James Monroe, 1817-25, was remembered as ”The Era of Good Feelings.“ Americans had recently repulsed the world’s most powerful empire for the second time in a generation, and they were feeling their oats.

The rest of the world, which generally had viewed Americans as a boorish agglomeration of rustics and provincials, began to regard the United States as a country to be reckoned with. Americans themselves were awakening to their nascent power as the nation rapidly expanded.

Everything was hunky. People were pumped. Loud and proud, they thumbed their noses at more established powers. Sound familiar?

In Nashville, maybe we’ll recall this heady time as ”The Season of Good Feelings.“ That’s as good a term as any for the ambiance that has enveloped the city since the Titans began their remarkable run.

Throughout the fall, the team became the talk of the town. To Nashvillians, Adelphia Coliseum became not only the coolest new municipal toy but the most visBle social nexus. For eight weekends, the most frequently heard question around the city was, ”Are you going to the game?“

But if Nashvillians hadn’t experienced anything quite like the NFL phenomenon during the regular season, the playoffs ushered in an atmosphere that practically defied description. It was electric. It was giddy. It was everywhere.

It was typified by the throng—40,000 or more—who ignored the finger-numbing cold Sunday night to hail the Titans upon their triumphant return from Jacksonville.

Almost as soon as the game ended, they began streaming to the stadium. Some had never even been there before. None had ever witnessed a city-wide pep rally.

They wore their Titans caps and jerseys. They brought hand-lettered signs. They whooped and hollered for every last player, for every single coach, and for the septuagenarian owner who had doubted that he would live long enough to see his team play in a Super Bowl.

For most of the Titans, the whole experience was as full of wonder as it was for their supporters. Those who had endured the team’s years in the wilderness—two seasons of indifferent receptions and undistinguished results—must have marveled to have found the promised land on the river’s east bank.

Place-kicker Al del Greco spoke for many of his teammates when he told the crowd that, after being greeted by 8,000 people at the airport the weekend before, they had not imagined that the fans could still surprise them.

In truth, Nashvillians have surprised everyone, including themselves. When they ponied up to build the stadium and import a team, Phil Bredesen and the NFL Yes! crowd understood that Tennessee was especially fertile soil in which to plant a football franchise. But even they could not envision that, in just one season, the crowd at Adelphia would earn a reputation as the NFL’s loudest.

The big influencers had heard what pro sports could do for a city’s spirit and sense of identity. But even they could not have foreseen the wave of pride that washed over the city. Nor could they have imagined how something as ordinary as a football stadium could become an extraordinary engine for racial integration—bringing more black and white Nashvillians together, voluntarily and for a common purpose, than ever before.

Those who have experienced championship seasons in other cities—particularly smaller ones like Kansas City or Green Bay—can testify to the magnetic, unifying effect that pro sports can exert upon a populace. But even they might have been astonished to see how Nashvillians went flag-waving, horn-honking nuts together. No one dreamed that, in a town where jaded attitudes once counted as civic virtue and natives greeted music celebrities with yawns, the Titans could become a tie that binds.

Perhaps it’s all because something more than the usual dynamic is at play here.

For Nashville, the Titans are not just a team but a symbol. For a minor-league town with something to prove, the Titans and Predators at last provided evidence of membership in an elite fraternity. Their arrival told the country that we too had arrived.

Like irreverent arrivistes, Tennesseans took over downtown Indianapolis and celebrated raucously in Jacksonville. And like the upstart young America that, at New Orleans, routed the elite of the British army, the veterans of Waterloo, Nashvillians swelled with a sense of collective accomplishment when the Titans claimed the AFC crown. This was their time.

Suddenly, all but one other city in America envies what Nashville now enjoys.

They say we lack the sense of history to appreciate how lucky we’ve been. Other cities wait decades for a championship. Nashville ups and wins one in its first year at Adelphia.

Just wait, they say. For every mountaintop experience that pro sports bring, there will be many valleys.

That may be so, but no one here now is remotely interested in such a repellent notion. Nashvillians have only one complaint: Unlike earlier years, there’s only one week instead of two for the excitement and anticipation to build before the Super Bowl.

One week is not enough. Something magical is happening here, like a fairy tale, and no one wants to see it end.


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