'We Planted Our Own Trees:' As Construction Nears, Fans Mourn The End Of Titans' Tailgating

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Jan Robinson’s been counting it down, game-by-game, as she approaches her final shot of tequila off the Mace Fask Krewe’s Spirit Sword.

Since the very start of the Titans' run at what was originally Adelphia Coliseum, she and a die-hard group of friends have tailgated in Lot N, Southeast of the stadium.

Sunday before the home team plays the Jacksonville Jaguars, they will have one big final party surrounding the game, saying goodbye to a curb area and eight or 10 spots adjacent to it where they’ve eaten, drunk and been merry for the better part of 383 games.

Jan Robinson
  Ed Pulk, left, and Jan Robinson at a luau tailgate
  in honor of Marcus Mariota 

Now lots A, B, C and D will be home to new Nissan Stadium. Other parking in the area will be part of the construction site or reassigned.

Season ticket holders are being offered spots in eight offsite garages within a 20-minute walk. Tailgating in lots surrounding the Titans’ venue has reached its end.

There are about 7,500 parking spots in the setup about to end. There will be about 2,800 when all the construction is finished, but some will be in parking decks.

A large park where the current stadium sits will come with opportunities for tailgating akin to The Grove at Ole Miss. There will be a large plaza and bars and restaurants. But things will be very different than what people are accustomed to.

So many of Sunday’s tailgates will be thanks-for-the-memories and bring-your-best.

Mask Face Krewe was named when an original member screamed for a facemask call at his first game in 1999 but mangled the words. They started as a group of six and grew to 25-plus, high school friends, college friends and others. They’ve lost a few to death and illness and divorce and gained some too. They were around 45 years old when they started, and, well, you can do the math now.

“The sense of family being together for that time before the game, yeah, there is eating, drinking catching up,” Robinson said. Then she almost called the pregame more important than the game before stopping herself and giving them equal standing. “It is as important as the game itself. We’ve gone when the team is really bad, we’ve gone when the team is really good.

“The tailgating is what kept us all going. Because you don’t want to let down your fellow tailgate members because everybody shows up. It’s how things should be. The tailgating is what has kept us together all these years. Otherwise, I don’t think anybody would have kept their tickets this long.

Kyle MooneyKyle Mooney: The Sunday night game against the Colts in 2018 when it was win-and-get-in and Marcus Marioa had gotten hurt. That night we set up at the end right in front of the pro shop by where the Sunday Night Football van was I think that’s technically Lot C. We had our normal group of eight but by the time we had started grilling and getting the food out there were close to 50 people who had ended up at our tailgate. The energy in the parking lot that night was absolutely electric. Having that many Titans fans in one place booing every Colts fan that came by and the hope of being in the playoffs for the first time in what felt like forever was amazing. Obviously, the game didn’t go how we planned but that tailgate was epic and something I’ll never forget. It’s a shame that we might not get those options at the new stadium.

In Lot R, near where the pedestrian bridge feeds loads of fans onto the east bank, 71-year-old Tommy Miles, known as Big Poppa, parks a giant red Chevy diesel truck that’s covered in magnets and flags. He welcomes everyone and the truck gets its picture taken a ton. He and the truck even have a Facebook page

He’s tailgated at every game at the stadium but one in 2010. During Covid he and his family found a spot off-site. This season’s extensive menu has included drink selections ranging from Gatorade to moonshine.

“When you have a bad season, people come for 9-11:30,” he said. “People just have a party every Sunday.”

When it comes to a plan for next year, he’s confounded. He’s 71 with diabetes and bad feet, so he’ll walk to the game but can only go so far. The Titans have talked to him about a spot in a parking deck on the other side of the river. 

Big Poppa
Tommy Miles aka Big Poppa

“But my flags have got to fly and my truck won’t fit,” he said. “I’m going to tailgate. It’s in my blood.”

As others sort out what they will do in 2024 and beyond, for some there is an undercurrent of discontent. Tailgating questions were on the team's fan surveys, and not everyone who filled one out believes his answers were factored into what the team decided to do and not to do.

Austin Wood moved to Nashville from Kansas City 10 years ago and at first, his pregame experience in the Nissan Stadium parking was minor, just he and his girlfriend -- now fiance -- Alexis Rigsby.

Dustin Hood
  Dustin Hood, Luke Willoughby and Grant James

Dustin Hood: One great memory that stands out is another thing that makes tailgating so great, camaraderie and banter with other fan bases. The Monday Night Football game against Buffalo back in 2021. There was quite a large group of Bills fans not too far from our setup. Grilling the food and drinking their drinks, they started their innocent little ode to Isley Brothers and Let's Go Buffalo. They were quickly drowned out by the voices of me and my best friend, Luke, echoing the words of Mike Keith and Pat Ryan. The two of us absolutely blaring the call of the Music City Miracle over them, word for word. Each Buffalo fan stopped their singing and simply turned and looked dejected as we ended the call by singing their song back to them and chanting, "Go home Buffalo!!! Go home Buffalo!!!" A magical moment.

"Then the people next to us became good friends," he said. "And then we build out this big group of people. I golf with some. We see them all year long. It's not just football. It's quality time with people. We were in an SUV having a drink or two. We didn't expect to build these long-lasting relationships."

That's the kind of story the Titans or the NFL might turn into a TV commercial that fits with the Football is Family slogan.

But neither organization will love where Woods takes the story from there, as he and his friends consider what happens as their parking lot disappears to make room for the new stadium.

Austin Wood
Austin Woods, on a knee, with fiance Alexis Rigsby over his left shoulder and their tailgate gang.

He was asked if he'd be interested in sponsored tailgates or if not having the opportunity to tailgate would affect his willingness to renew his tickets. He's not so sure answers to those questions were taken very seriously.

"It almost feels like a slight," he said. "...It all comes down to the almighty dollar."

The financing plan calls for Metro Nashville to repay $760 million in bonds in part with 50 percent of the 9.25 percent sales tax on the 130-acre stadium campus. Given that, Woods figures the team and the city will want people buying beer, cocktails and food from venues on that property rather than tailgating with their own stuff brought from home.

"They want us buying their $15 beer," Woods said, echoing a theme other tailgaters share. "Change the tradition, they don't really care. They hope the fans continue to go, which they will."

But that tax will repay some of the city's debt on the stadium, not the Titans' $840 million plus overruns. The team will only control 100 feet beyond the perimeter of the stadium. The land the city regains that previously spent most of its time as empty asphalt will be developed and expected to produce revenue for the general fund that can help address schools, public safety, infrastructure and other issues. 

The Titans hope new traditions will connect themselves to new Nissan Stadium, in the new plaza, in the Grove, in the nearby bars and restaurants. 

Steve Pulk
  Steve Pulk

Robinson, who feels founders like her could have gotten a bigger discount on new PSLs, knows all of that. It's just not what she lived.

"They don't have a rearview mirror, it's all toward the future," she said. "But that's the way the world goes."

Hopefully, any fan resentment about the need to find new traditions connected to a new venue will be set aside Sunday, during the last big bash.

I suspect Robinson will be concentrating more on that tight group of friends, 24 years of memories, her gang's special spot --  and maybe the menu.

Steve Pulk of the Mace Fask Krewe remembers the group looking across Shelby Street early on and seeing some trees in the lots on the same side of the street as the stadium. Inspired, they created some of their own shade.

“We planted our own trees,” he said. “We watered our own trees. Those are our trees. We’re going to hate to see those cut down.”

They are unlikely to need the shade on Sunday. The current forecast calls for a high of 47 degrees, a partly cloudy afternoon and the last big party on hallowed tailgating grounds that will be home to an indoor stadium and its surroundings in 2027.

Pulk is not renewing his tickets. To him, everything the Titans are doing now is for big business, and the end of tailgating is the end.

"I've lost that loving feeling," he said.

But he's got one more big Sunday morning in him.

“Jambalaya, oysters on the half shell, you should come by,” Pulk said. “It’ll be a pretty big meal. And you’ll probably see a few tears.”

Todd Brown and Amy Adams Strunk
  Todd Brown with Amy Adams Strunk

Cooper Brown: My family and family friends have tailgated in the same spot right outside the stadium in Lot A since 1999. Every Sunday we get there at 8 am, and many lifelong friendships have been formed there. Once a season every November, Amy Adams Strunk comes to our chili cook-off and judges her top three. We are all very emotional about it being the final season there. My dad isn’t much of a crier. But he told me that I shouldn’t be surprised if he cries on Sunday.


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