NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A framed photo featuring Rob Bironas is tucked inside the locker of Titans punter Brett Kern at the team’s practice facility.
It shows the former Titans kicker celebrating one of his game-winning kicks, this one against the Steelers in 2012. Kern, his teammate and close friend, was right there with him that night, just like so many times before.
Titans Online takes a look back at the career of kicker Rob Bironas in photos by Donn Jones Photography and the Associated Press.
Another photo taken alongside Bironas decorates a canvas in Kern’s locker, one that includes long snapper Beau Brinkley. It was taken earlier that same season, as the three Titans walked onto the field prior to another game.
A Bible verse, Psalm 23:4, is inscribed on the surface: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
The snapshots provide lasting memories of Bironas, who remains in the minds of his friends and former teammates one year after his death.
“He was a great teammate, and friend,’’ Kern said of Bironas. “I miss him, his text messages, his smile, and poker night at his house.
“There’s probably not a day or two that goes by without me thinking about him, and what happened. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
It’s been one year since the weekend Bironas lost his life in a tragic car accident near his home. On the night of September 20, 2014, the former Titans kicker lost control on a curve in his 2009 GMC Yukon Denali and crashed after 11 p.m., less than a mile from home.
Police said Bironas was speeding when his vehicle went off the road and hit a line of trees before coming to a stop upside down in a culvert. Bironas was taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center where he was pronounced dead. The cause of death was listed as blunt force trauma. Larry Bironas, Rob’s father, told The Tennessean his son broke his neck in the accident. He was 36.
The Titans were in Cincinnati, Ohio, set to face the Bengals, on the Saturday night the accident took place. They’ll be back in Ohio this Sunday to face the Cleveland Browns.
“Rob was always in a good mood,’’ cornerback Jason McCourty said. “He always had a positive attitude, and was always one of the guys having fun. Yeah, he won a lot of games with his leg. But he made an impact in different ways. You definitely miss him. It’s still hard to believe he’s no longer with us.”
Rob Bironas is gone, but he hasn’t been forgotten by those he played alongside him with the Titans.
Bironas played from 2005-2013 with the Titans. He had 1,032 points in his nine-year career, just 28 points behind Al Del Greco, the top scorer in the history of the Houston Oilers / Tennessee Titans organization, and he made 85.7 percent of his field-goal attempts (239 of 279) to rank fourth in NFL history in accuracy.
He made a franchise-record 11 game-winning field goals, including a 60-yarder against the Indianapolis Colts in 2006 that remains the longest field goal in Oilers or Titans history.
He’s remembered in different ways.
Brinkley has the same canvas photo of Bironas, Kern and himself in his office at home. It was a gift to the players from Brinkley’s wife, Whitney. The night before game days, Brinkley has also started a tradition of wearing the t-shirt he received when he and many of Rob’s close friends and family ran in a marathon in his honor within the past year. They all ran 2 miles – Bironas wore No.2.
“It has a 2 on it with a halo over the 2,’’ Brinkley said.
Brinkley said Bironas looked after him when he came into the league as a rookie in 2012. Brinkley also thinks he was looking over him when he made a hole-in-one this summer on the No.8 hole at Gaylord Springs.
Brinkley was playing with a Titleist No.2 that day. One of his playing partners was Joe Grenvicz, Rob’s close friend.
“We rode in the same cart that day, and after it happened we kind of looked at the ball together,’’ Brinkley said. “Just looking at the 2 on the ball, it was so fitting. We immediately thought of Rob. You know he’s always looking out for us.”
All of Kern’s golf balls have the No.2 on it, because of Bironas.
Titans safety Michael Griffin still has the program from the memorial service for Bironas in the console of his car. Kern, who was Bironas' roommate on the road for five seasons, and Brinkley showed up at that memorial last year dressed as Bironas did when he traveled, with a blazer, blue jeans and Chuck Taylor sneakers.
“I still think about him,’’ Griffin said. “We shared a lot of great memories together. He won a lot of games for us, but he was always a fun guy to be around.”
McCourty and Griffin said they both thought about Bironas in training camp, in fact.
“One of the biggest pranks he always did was he threw all the rookies shoes and clothes into the cold tub,’’ Griffin recalled with a smile. “That was his thing. We always knew, as soon as it happened, Rob did it. If you were a rookie you were getting it. People would get so mad at him.”
Bironas was money on the field. Only David Akers made more field goals (247) between 2005 and 2013 than Bironas. For kickers with 100 or more field goals since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, Bironas ranked third making 75.2 percent of his kicks from 40 yards or longer (94 of 125).
Kern said he’ll be thinking about Bironas this weekend when he takes the field against the Browns. He said he flashes back to days with Bironas often.
“There’s always little things that just kind of come up and you’re like, that’s something Rob would do. Or that’s something Rob would say,’’ Kern said. “Rob always had a way of just having fun on Sundays and keeping you relaxed and cracking jokes. He would always take your mind off a bad punt or kick, he’d crack a joke about it and move on to the next one. That’s probably what made him so good.”
Brinkley admitted he thinks of Bironas every time he walks into Nissan Stadium because of the influence he had on his life.
“I wasn’t very good my rookie year, my short snaps were terrible,’’ Brinkley said. “Rob could have told the coaches and said, “Get this guy out of here, he’s terrible.” But he stuck with me and I am forever grateful for that. He was a great friend.”
In death, Bironas provided a painful reminder to everyone, Griffin said.
“When something like that happens, you realize it’s just a blessing to be on this earth,’’ Griffin said. “You realize life is short and you can’t take anything for granted in this world. The only thing that’s guaranteed in life is death. What happened to Rob, it’s still hard to believe it really happened.
“But it is one of those situations where you try and value every single day and try and do the best you can.”