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Front Page - Friday, October 27, 2023

It’s painful to watch our heroes exit

Former MTSU star Kevin Byard held an especially warm spot in the hearts of Titans fans. - Photo by Steve Luciano | AP

In the world of being a sports reporter, you rarely get a chance to put your fan cap on, and for good reason. It can cloud your judgment and take away from fair and balanced reporting.

But for Titans fans languishing in the aftermath of the Kevin Byard trade, part of me that remembers exactly how some of you feel.

Byard was dealt Monday afternoon to the Philadelphia Eagles for safety Terrell Edmunds and two low-round picks in next year’s draft. That’s hardly a king’s ransom for a player who was one of the faces of the franchise, but realistically, it’s probably fair value for a 30-year-old safety.

If initial online reaction to the trade is to be believed, Titans fans seem hurt to lose a player as beloved as anyone to don a Titans uniform since the days when McNair, George and Wycheck were fan favorites, much less for what they feel is a paltry sum.

Byard also had the added advantage of having played locally at Middle Tennessee State before being drafted by the Titans in the third round of the 2016 draft. He became a two-time All-Pro safety, was a pillar in the community with his foundation and charitable work, and among the most accountable and approachable players in the locker room.

While this move is heartbreaking and confusing for many Titans fans, it drives home the fact that – above all – professional sports are a business, and if you aren’t winning enough, changes are going to be made – even if those changes crush the soul of your fan base.

“He’s the Mayor of Murfreesboro. I didn’t think he was going anywhere, but that’s the nature of the business,” says fellow safety Amani Hooker of Byard. “That’s what we all signed up for. These relationships, no matter how personal they are, player to player or player to coach, it’s a business.”

That’s one of the hardest parts of being a fan of any professional team and its players. Fans are engaged with the players on a different, perhaps deeper level than management, pouring themselves completely into the players and teams they root for, often with blind loyalty as they buy tickets, jerseys and memorabilia to show their support.

How many Titans fans have already bought their Byard No. 31 Houston Oilers throwback jersey for Sunday’s game against the Falcons and were looking forward to watching him play in his? It can hurt when that loyalty isn’t returned by the organization.

For a moment, all the social media lament regarding the Byard trade took me back to 1974 and the 12-year-old me who didn’t understand the business side of sports. That was the day my beloved New York Yankees cruelly swapped my favorite player, Bobby Murcer, to the San Francisco Giants for Bobby Bonds, who’d eventually be better known as “Barry’s father.”

There was no social media way back then, but trust me, such a deal today would have sent Twitter ablaze, for these were two of the 10 best outfielders in MLB at the time, traded in a one-for-one swap for each other.

For me, at that time, dealing Murcer was unforgivable, splitting my loyalties with my favorite player no longer on my favorite team. But in hindsight, the Yankees were trying their best to get back to their former glory of a decade before. Murcer had been their best player in these dark years, but the deal was the first of many moves that eventually reignited the Yankees dynasty a couple of years after the trade.

Of course, the fan in me didn’t fully forgive them until they reacquired Murcer in a trade a few years later, which allowed him to finally play in the playoffs and a World Series.

Back to the situation at hand, Coach Mike Vrabel admitted Tuesday the move was a business decision he hopes will benefit the franchise in the long-term.

“We know there is a business side of this, and sometimes you have to make tough decisions. Certainly this was one of them,” he said. “Ran (Carthon) and I are continuing to grow the team and continuing to do what we think is gonna be best now and in the long run to add to our roster, to strengthen our roster, and this was an opportunity to do that,”

So for Titans fans who are distraught that Kevin Byard is no longer in two-tone blue, it’s the end of one chapter, but not necessarily the final one.

If Byard wins a Super Bowl in Philadelphia or the Titans can jump-start a needed rebuild with the picks from this deal, then perhaps for some fans, part of the sting of what transpired Monday will begin to fade.


 Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com