Pete Nelson became a part of the Tennessee Titans organization in the summer 1999, before the team's new Nashville stadium was even completed. He would spend the next 17 years seeing that stadium from a special vantage point the rest of us can only imagine.
His name is not common place to most Titans fans, but every fans knows his role as the team's mascot T-Rac whose antics have entertained fans at every home game since the team landed on Nashville's East Bank.
Last week Nelson announced that his time inside the fury costume had come to a close via his personal Facebook account. It was a somber statement in which Nelson shared his heartfelt feelings about his 17 years with the Titans to those who know him and are friends on the social media site.
On Friday Nelson shared his thoughts on his mascot career along with other memories of his time with the Titans in an exclusive interview with TitanRedZone.
"It was time," said Nelson of the decision to end his run as the Titans mascot. "I've had fun with it, that's what T-Rac is supposed to be."
Nelson got his start in college, five years before he would even think of a career inside an animal costume.
"How I got started was at the University of North Alabama, which is a Division II school just a couple hours from here," said Nelson. "My dad was a very popular History professor there whose son grew up to be someone who wears a fur costume for a living. He was still my biggest, biggest fan."
"I went with my dad to a UNA football game, and this was during the time when UNA was winning big, and was the first ever school that gives scholarships to win three national championships in a row," said Nelson. "Dad said, so do you think you want to go here, and I said yeah, I guess, but I knew I wasn't smart enough to get an academic scholarship and wasn't big enough for an athletic one, so I had to do something."
That something would be to become Leo the Lion, the mascot for North Alabama.
"I went and talked to the associate athletic director and a month later he gets back with me and says come on in and lets's talk," continued Nelson. "We're going to let you work with our guy- the current mascot- well that guy didn't come back to school, so the season was coming up and when I went in and he said, you need to get the mascot suit. I got it and did some appearances leading up to the season and then I started doing the games, but I had never been in a mascot costume a day in my life until I started as Leo and put that on."
Nelson, a humorous individual joked that he spent six years in school at UNA because he was not a great student. Five of those as the school's mascot.
"I was there six years, only got one degree and was the mascot for five, so that kind of shows you my academic prowess but I sure did have a lot more fun than everybody else," Nelson said.
Those five years gave him experience and created the desire to take his unique talent and attempt to move on the the NFL.
"I was in the Sigma Chi fraternity and we had lots of connections, I had letters of recommendation and things like that, and it came down to me and one other guy with the Titans. I called the office and Bud (Adams) assistant said send it here overnight it and it will be on his desk in the morning," stated Nelson. "I was thinking, I can actually send this to the NFL. I'd never been to a Division I game, much less an NFL game and yet here the opportunity is to do this."
"So I sent my stuff to him, and I put down my parents home number. The very next day I was playing softball with my church and Bud Adams called my folks and talked to my dad," admitted Nelson. "He talked to my dad for a good fifty minutes and was leaving to go to New York for league meetings, here's the number and have him give me a call when he gets in."
When he returned home, Nelson got the news that an NFL owner had called to talk with him.
"When I got home, dad said Bud Adams called and I talked to him for about an hour," said Nelson. "Mr. Adams was a Kansas guy and my dad got his Ph.D from Missouri so they had that little banter between them. A lot of people don't know that Bud Adams would do that. He wanted to get to know you before he was going to do any type of business with you. He believed that that kind of made a friendship and promoted loyalty and things like that."
"I called him and he was at the Waldorf Astoria (hotel in New York City) and here I am living in some fraternity brothers house in this big like bedroom, but the washer and dryer was in my bedroom and I was using the dryer as a night stand," laughed Nelson at the memory. "So here I am, the final days of college and I've got to get out and get a job and he (Adams) says, can I call you right back,I'm in a meeting right now and will call you back in forty-five minutes. Will you be there?"
In keeping with his humorous nature, Nelson's response to Adams question was in joking fashion.
"Well yes, unless you tell me to play in the intersection, then I'll be there," joked Nelson.
Those forty-five minutes must have seemed like hours for Nelson as he waited for Adams call.
"Now I'm sweating it because this is what I want to do and I had hit up about every NFL team and was on the radar for several gigs, but this is where I wanted to go," continued Nelson. "I wanted to go to Nashville to the Titans where my hometown was two-hours away. It was just far enough away that I wouldn't get hit up every weekend for free tickets from everybody for every game."
"He (Adams) called back and we talked, and talked about just small talk and then some deeper conversations it just clicked," said Nelson. "After forty-five minutes it clicked and he just went into business mode and he talked about the mascot and what you do and then he said I will get back with you."
"It was a little while and I was worried so I called back a couple times and you've got to be a little aggressive because it's almost summer and It's May, so eventually I got a call from one of the VP's of the Titans (Don McLauchlin) who said Bud likes you so I guess we should meet you, come on up," added Nelson.
Nelson would travel to Nashville where he would become the first official mascot of the Titans as the team moved into their new home at the then Adelphia Colesium.
Part II will be published on Tuesday, Juoy 5 where Nelson shares memories of the 1999 season along with his best and worst memories of his time as T-Rac, the decision to end his mascot career and what's next for him in the future.