Fisher keeps going to bat for area charities

Thursday, June 18, 2009 at 12:00am
Despite his busy schedule, Titans head coach Jeff Fisher finds time to gather his players and host an annual celebrity softball game — now in its ninth year — to benefit local charities.

Jeff Fisher loves Nashville.

There probably isn’t an NFL coach who doesn’t express their undying love for the city where they are employed. Surely Patriots coach Bill Belichek loves Boston, and Giants coach Tom Coughlin loves New York, and Packers coach Mike McCarthy loves Green Bay, and so on.

But when Fisher talks about the place he’s called home for the past 12 years, it’s obvious the Titans coach isn’t merely tossing out some obligatory compliment.

Fisher’s love for Music City is born out of his success with the Titans. He’ll be entering his 16th season at the helm of the franchise this year. That makes Fisher the longest-tenured NFL coach, and it’s allowed him to establish roots in the middle Tennessee area.

“It’s been a tremendous experience. I’m very, very fortunate,” Fisher said. “My children will have all attended the same elementary, and middle, and graduated from the same high school.

“In this business that’s hard to do, to be in one place that long. We just absolutely love Nashville, it’s a great place to live. It’s our own best-kept secret. The support has been great. We’ve sold out every game since [1999].”

Fisher’s longevity has allowed him to create a Nashville tradition unto itself — his annual charity softball game. This year will be the ninth installment of the game that features Fisher and Titans stars interacting with the fans, while also raising money for local charities.

This year’s game, which takes place 7 p.m. Saturday at Greer Stadium, will benefit Mercy Ministries, Soles4Souls, Catch-A-Dream, Nashville Children’s Alliance and other local charities.

Already, Fisher’s softball game has raised more than $340,000 heading into this year’s installment. Fisher said the idea for a softball game came not long after the team came to Nashville.

“We had several options. I wanted to do something, and I wanted to do something right away,” Fisher said of starting a charity event. “And everybody does a golf tournament. They’re great tournaments, and they’re worthy causes.

“But I wanted to do something where we could involve the fans. So nine years ago we started, and it’s hard to believe we’re in our ninth annual right now. It seems like each year it improves.”

Rosters haven’t been released yet for the game, but Fisher said it’s become an incredibly popular event among the players. In fact, there are more Titans who want to participate in the game than there are roster spots.

Some of the players who have confirmed they will play in this year’s game are Nate Washington, Kenny Britt, Kerry Collins, Cortland Finnegan, Ahmard Hall, Jovan Haye, Vincent Fuller, Michael Roos and Rob Bironas. Previous participants also include Steve McNair, Eddie George, Vince Young, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Chris Hope, Keith Bulluck and Jevon Kearse.

“The players literally lobby, and line up and beg to play in the game,” Fisher said.

As for the game itself, Fisher tends to stretch the rules of softball as far as humanly possible. In the past, trailing late in games, Fisher has put cheerleaders, mascots and others on a single base in an effort to avoid a potential upset.

The game had taken on the feel of the Harlem Globetrotters, coached by Fisher, against the Washington Generals, coached by Titans special teams coach Alan Lowry. Last year however, Fisher’s luck ran out as Lowry’s team scored the upset for the first time ever.

Fisher gets to choose which players are on his roster, leaving Lowry to take the holdovers.

“Then after that I get to pick a little who I want. I do prefer the underdog guys,” Lowry said, showing his special teams spirit.

Fisher isn’t buying the underdog mentality though. He said, “I’m not so sure coach Lowry doesn’t have practices.”

While the game provides Titans the opportunity to goof around without helmets and gives fans a different look at their favorite players, Fisher said the point of the game was obviously to raise money for worthy causes.

To that end, the annual event has been a success. Fisher personally selects the charities which will benefit from the game. He said all are near and dear to his heart and especially sang the praises of the Catch-A-Dream charity.

“Catch-A-Dream is something we’re trying to support. It’s the outdoor version of Make-A-Wish,” Fisher said. “Youngsters with terminally ill conditions can realize an outdoor dream. They can go catch a salmon in Alaska, or bass fish in Florida, or hunt if they choose. It’s really a special organization.”

Besides the charity softball game, Fisher has been involved with other local charities as well. He agreed to be roasted as a benefit dinner event for Cumberland Heights substance abuse treatment center. Fisher also participates in a number of charity golf events and will be traveling as part of an NFL coaches contingent on a USO tour to Iraq to visit the troops next month.

“I don’t have the time to do everything I would like to do, but I try to give back as much as I can,” Fisher said.

On the issue of giving back, at least one Titan believes the players’ community involvement is under-covered. Chris Hope, a Pro Bowl safety, said the media is too eager to cover the legal troubles of pro athletes and too absent when players are giving back to the community.

Hope made those comments just as national media coverage was swirling for all the wrong reasons around NFL stars Donte Stallworth and Plaxico Burress.

“I think just how the world is, everybody wants to report on the negativity,” Hope said. “The fans, the public, that’s what America wants to see. They don’t want to see a guy going and talking to a group of teenagers about growing up and being a successful man.

“They’d rather do reports and show coverage about Michael Vick getting released from jail. I think a lot of it has to do with the media. You guys always hype up and get five reporters at a bad scene, or something happens in the organization that’s negative, versus getting the whole staff out to report something that’s positive.”

What: Jeff Fisher Annual Charity Softball game
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Greer Stadium, 534 Chestnut St.
Cost: $10 for general public, $6 for children 12 and younger
Titans players on hand: Nate Washington, Kenny Britt, Kerry Collins, Cortland Finnegan, Ahmard Hall, Jovan Haye, Vincent Fuller, Michael Roos, Rob Bironas and others