It had been years since some of his former players had seen Jeff Fisher.
Whether they played for him last season or a decade or more earlier, though, none of the Tennessee Titans — past and present — ever had seen him as he was Saturday, when he hosted the Jeff Fisher and Friends softball game for the final time.
Refreshed. Renewed. Rejuvenated.
“I told him [Saturday] he looks a lot … stress-less,” wide receiver Derrick Mason, who last played for the Titans in 2004, said. “He does not have the stress of that job anymore.”
It was nearly five months ago that Fisher resigned and/or was fired (both sides called it a mutual parting) as coach of the Titans, a position he held longer than anyone else in franchise history.
Since then, Fisher watched as many of his assistant coaches were fired by his replacement, Mike Munchak. He got some welcome distance from the sport and the team and even climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro as part of an NFL service project designed to raise awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project.
What he did not do was say goodbye in person to those who played under him.
“After the season, a lot of people weren’t around and we never really got to talk to him too much,” quarterback Kerry Collins said. “I know it’s great for me to be here and to try and catch back up with him and try to share a few laughs about the last five years, for me. Great to see him.”
In addition to notable stars such as Eddie George, Brad Hopkins, Michael Roos and Cortland Finnegan, the event attracted an estimated crowd of 5,000 to Greer Stadium. Three of the four wounded soldiers who ascended Mt. Kilimanjaro with Fisher and several former players also were on hand.
It was the 11th year of the event and it benefited the Wounded Warrior Project, the Nashville Children’s Alliance, Mercy Ministries, Catch-A-Dream, InterFace Ministries and the American Freedom Foundation.
“I haven’t seen a lot of these guys … well, Dainon Sidney, I, haven’t seen in a long time,” Fisher said. “[Mason] told he’d be out, and Eddie [George]. … It’s great. We’ve developed a lot of great relationships over the years and gotten close to a lot of players. We spent a lot of time with them over the years and it was great to have them back.”
For many players, the event was a regular part of their offseason while they were with the Titans (“It’s just what you do,” Collins said).
This one was different, though, because Fisher no longer is coach of the Titans and the future of the event is in doubt. Many of the former players showed this time as a tribute to the man who was 142-120 in 16-plus seasons and who took the franchise to its only Super Bowl appearance.
“I was asked,” Sidney, a Titans cornerback from 1998-2002, said. “Coach Fisher is a good man, and it’s always good to come out and have fun, especially since we’re doing this for a good reason. … It’s been a while since I’ve seen Coach Fisher.”
As much as the game was an opportunity to look back, it also was a chance for everyone to see Fisher off into the next phase of his life, whatever that turns out to be.
“I know this: Everything Jeff has done — on and off the field — here in Nashville people are going to remember,” Collins said. “They’re always going to hold a special place in their hearts for him, and I think the vice versa is true. Jeff really holds this place dear.
“… There’s always going to be a special relationship between Jeff and this community.”
The same, apparently, is true of him and his players.