Former Tennessee Titans placekicker Rob Bironas was a fan favorite during his nine seasons with the Titans and after his release, not only because of his kicking ability on the field but also because of his giving heart and desire to be a part of the Nashville community. Nashville not only lost a favorite football player over the weekend when Bironas was involved in a single-vehicle accident, but also one of its favorite residents as well.
Bironas was featured on the pages of Sports & Entertainment Nashville back in 2012 and a look back at that article shows just why is he was so beloved both on the football field and off. Rob Bironas will certainly be missed by all who ever watched him play or came into contact with him.
Bironas’s career is alive and kicking in Nashville
by Chris Lee
NFL kickers share a tight bond. One might even say they’re often on the same frequency. Just ask Tennessee Titans kicker Rob Bironas.
On Opening Day of the 2012 season, San Francisco’s David Akers lined up for a 63-yard field goal in Green Bay just before the half. Akers approached the ball and slammed into it with his left foot. It drifted towards the crossbar and connected with a thud. The ball seemed to hang in the air for eternity before coming to rest just behind the end zone.
Players don’t tend to celebrate mid-game field goals too much, but this time, Akers was mobbed. This was no ordinary kick: Akers had just tied the NFL record for the longest field goal of all time.
About that time 700 miles to the south, his good buddy, Tennessee Titans kicker Rob Bironas, had a laugh.
“The funny thing is that in pre-game warm-ups in our game, actually my last kick (in warm-ups)… was a 63-yarder off the upright!” Bironas remembered a few days later.
Bironas, who wears No. 2 because it’s Akers’ number, yearns for the day he’ll be able to make one from 64. His career high is 60, with a game-winner against the Colts back in 2006. But if even if he never gets there, he’s already made his mark on the record book with an NFL-record eight field goals in a game against Houston in 2007.
He may not be done. Bironas entered the 2012 season as the No. 2 kicker of all-time in career field goal accuracy, about half a percentage point behind San Diego’s Nate Kaeding.
Not bad for a guy who didn’t play football until his junior year of high school, who lost his starting position and football scholarship heading into his senior year of college, and who was let go by three NFL teams before finding a home in Nashville.
It all started in Louisville, Kentucky’s Trinity High School, where actually, it almost didn’t start. Bironas, a soccer player, wanted to go out for football as a freshman and showed up for tryouts, but he was informed he was two weeks too late. The next year, Bironas showed up on the appointed date, but there was a problem.
“They told me that they had had midnight practice the night before – try again,” he remembers.
Two years later, he was good enough to make the roster at Auburn. Eventually, he earned a scholarship and was even voted to the preseason All-Southeastern Conference team. But coach Terry Bowden resigned, and new coach Tommy Tuberville didn’t have much use for Bironas, who was suddenly without a scholarship and without a starting job. So Bironas finished up at I-AA Georgia Southern and then went undrafted by the NFL.
Green Bay signed Bironas as a free agent, and he was ready to kick in the preseason game. He’d bought non-refundable plane tickets for his mom and girlfriend to see him in his first exhibition game. Suddenly, the Packers had five injured receivers, and someone had to go. That someone was Bironas.
“My special teams coach didn’t even know I was getting cut. That was a blow. That was the first time I’d ever been cut,” he remembers.
Bironas bounced around the Arena Leagues for three years, with preseason stints with Tampa Bay (2002-3) and Pittsburgh (2004) in between. He still didn’t stick, but the confidence remained.
“It was like any other job,” Bironas recalls. “I was selling myself and felt I had a pretty good product, so I felt it would eventually work out. I put a timeline on it to be 28, 29, and (if I didn’t make it) I’d sit down and start my life in another direction.
“I just kept getting closer and closer and didn’t want to give up on the dream.”
Bironas’s intuition was correct. The next season, he made the Titans roster in the preseason, and he’s stuck to this day.
The “sticking” part may be the hardest, because the margin for error for kickers in the NFL is nearly non-existent. A kicker needs only to miss roughly one out of every five kicks to lose a job, so even though kickers aren’t often popping pads with teammates, the level of mental toughness one needs to compete isn’t any different.
So, what’s his secret for survival?
“It’s a precision job, something you work at every day. You kick a hundred thousand balls, a couple hundred thousand balls, how many ever you see in your lifetime. Just don’t let the ones that you mess up on or miss… happen in a game, and definitely not one that matters,” he says.
The amazing thing about kickers is how the great ones like Bironas manage to hang on. Gary Anderson and John Carney kicked until their mid-40s, and Morten Andersen hung on after his 47th birthday. Bironas says he’ll play “as long as I’m kicking well and having fun and my body’s good.”
When he’s done, it’s not hard to figure out what’ll come next for Bironas. He’s perhaps even more passionate about his foundation, the Rob Bironas Fund, than he as about his sport. He started the organization after being inspired by the charity work of many of his veteran teammates, and he quickly noticed the impact that a star athlete can make.
“It fathomed me that I could go to their events and help raise money, just because Rob Bironas was there, or because I was signing autographs or taking pictures – I feel like I’m a normal guy on the field and off the field, but people look at you differently and you don’t always realize that you’re someone else’s mentor or somebody else’s hero or a role model to children,” he says.
“I started the Rob Bironas Fund because I wanted to help the community here in Middle Tennessee. Nashville’s taken care of me… I always felt like it was big to give back to kids because they don’t always have the choice. … They might not ever be introduced to something if it wasn’t for an organization that was able to help.”
Bironas has done no shortage of helping. He’s donated a lot of time to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, serving as the honorary chair of the Middle Tennessee chapter and helping grant the organization’s 1000th wish.
Living in Music City has particularly inspired Bironas. He’s recently helped two children fly to California and arranged for a company there to build them a custom drum set. He also banded together with a couple of friends to donate $12,000 of musical instruments to schools in his home state of Kentucky.
“My love is for children and music because I see the scholastic excellence that it helps provide. I watch these entertainers here in Nashville that have taken a parallel road, and I envy what they do. I guess it’s because it’s something I can’t do. It’s something I didn’t put the time into as a kid,” he says.
For more information or to donate, visit www.robbironas.com/bironasfund