It was a process for Pete Nelson to become the mascot for the Tennessee Titans, but once he was invited to visit Nashville to personally meet with team officials, things were finally falling into place for the man that would spend the next seventeen seasons entertaining fans at Nissan Stadium.
Visiting the stadium for the first time would prove to be a memorable experience.
"When I came up to meet with them, they told me to not wear anything nice, especially like shoes, you'll have to walk through the mud," said Nelson. "Now you have to know, I'm expecting to pull up to some kind of palace at the headquarters. No, they were in trailers over in parking lot M- beside the stadium- while St. Thomas Sports Park was being built."
"I didn't think he (Don McLaughlin) was serious but then I couldn't find them and I was riding around thinking, where in the heck are these offices. I'm looking for signs and then I figured it out. Sure enough it was muddy and I went in and and they offered me a job and and I jumped at it right away like most people do, so the V.P. of Community Relations Bob Hyde took me out to lunch and then over to the stadium which was still being built. Now think about it, I've never been in a stadium like this. I'd been in our college stadium where we brought in extra bleachers for championship games, but being here, I was mesmerized."
"He (Bob Hyde) looks over at me and and he says, so what's the problem? I said, there's no problem I'm here, and that's how I landed the job."
Those years would be filled will stories both funny and perhaps even embarrassing for Nelson, as he would appear at every home game along with making public appearances at T-Rac all over Middle Tennessee to promote the Titans brand and their furry mascot. Oh yes, there was also the selection to five Pro-Bowls as a mascot, something that will always be a highlight for Nelson and the Titans to have Nelson and T-Rac represent them in the leagues all-star event.
While Nelson will always carry memories of his time in the furry suit, some memories will stand out more than others. Some of those memories are special, while some were not was welcome.
Two of his fondest memories drew laughter from both myself and Nelson as he recalled them during the interview.
"If you've ever been to a Titans game, my type of comedy is pretty physical with lots of falls and stuff," said Nelson. "So on my very first game,we were playing the Atlanta Falcons and the skit was people dressed up like Fed-Ex or UPS drivers and they were delivering a box- with Nelson inside- and it was a million degrees and this was still new to me. I was in all fur all over me, and it was a suit I hadn't gotten used to being in yet. The sweat was running into my eyes and I couldn't even see so my buddy ripped his sleeve off and put it around my head like a headband."
"We put my head (T-Rac head) back on and buttoned it all up and I went out on the field. Now this is my shining moment as an NFL Mascot. I had arrived, I'm in the league. They take me right out there to the fifty-yard line and I bust out of the box and start doing my thing and as soon as I jumped up out of that box that sleeve -headband- fell right over my eyes so I couldn't see a thing."
"It was my moment and I couldn't see anything, but I ran around for ten minutes or so not seeing anything," laughed Nelson.
His other fond moment was just as entertaining.
"My second year I got one of those inflatable T-Racs, you know the big one that looks like a bowling ball, you know, the one where I could rip the mouth open and eat the cheerleader," added Nelson. "This literally was the worst job I ever did too."
"It was the first time I was in it -for a live show- and it was the preseason and we had done one of those videos for the board of me with music from the Six-Million Dollar Man and I go out on the field and I've got a big fan on one hip and a battery on the other. I've got this belt with Velcro across my chest and down by my right knee there's an intake valve where the air comes in and blows the suit up."
"So I'm in there and I'm right on the fifty-yard line jumping around and I'm getting booed by now and I hear the fan make a bad noise and instantly this giant garbage bag that I'm secured in starts deflating. So I'm trying as fast as I can to get off the field. Now by this time the feet are dragging and I'm trying to lift them up and they're falling all over me."
"One of my Rac-Pac - the helpers who joined him on the field and handled the props he used in his skits- and my dad was standing there filming this, and later my dad would tell me he didn't think it was working right, but what has happened was the thing was made where it looked like it was bouncing on its head, but you just spin around inside it in there real quick and are upright with the costume upside down," continued Nelson. "But when you spin you spin to the right, and when you get out you spin to the left or otherwise you keep winding the thing up. Well when I spun I yanked the cords for the battery off the fan, I yanked them off and it's frayed and so I've got this power cord in front of me and I'm trying to get it hooked back up as it's deflating in a full stadium."
"I'm trying to get these wires to touch to at least fill it up some. I'm even putting my finger there hoping it will make some kind of connection. So I'm trying to get off the field the best that I can and when I run by the Miami Dolphins player, he elbows me in what looks like the head, but it was really right on my nose inside the suit. So not there is no air and I'm gasping for air and there was a hole where I could shoot super string out, and so I ripped it and was gasping for air. By the time we got back to the T-Rac Den the thing was just destroyed."
"I blew it and got booed off the field, but getting booed is more fun than getting cheered, unless it's something like that," concluded Nelson.
Though funny and somewhat embarrassing, Nelson would have one moment that would be his biggest embarrassment and bring national attention in the process.
It was August of 2006 and the New Orleans Saints were in town to face the Titans in both teams first preseason contest. As the halftime came to a close, Nelson in full T-Rac costume as driving one of the many motorized carts used in his skits off the field near the Saints sideline when he accidentally collided with Saints backup quarterback Adrian McPherson, who was fielding punts before the start of the second half.
McPherson suffered a badly bruised knee which knocked him out of the second half of the game and the rest of the Saints preseason games.
Then Titans head coach Jeff Fisher issued a statement about the incident in the aftermath as the Saints organization publicly voiced their displeasure over the incident.
"We'll do out best to keep you informed as we move through the issues," Fisher said at the time. "I just hope the player (was) not seriously hurt and doesn't miss any practice time. Beyond that, we'll take a hard look at what we're doing. We'll make some adjustments and move on."
McPherson would later file civil suit for $20 million dollars against the Titans organization naming the team's T-Rac mascot and Nelson himself in the case filings.
According to the lawsuit filed in December, McPherson, who was listed as a quarterback on the team's roster was "going to play in other significant capacities for the Saints" but "as a result of the wreck," McPherson was forced to miss the entire pre-season as well as the NFL season since he was placed on the team's injured reserve list.
"It was the same weekend that our general counsel Steve Underwood moved into the building to take over and run things from Nashville and my cubical was right across the hall from his (Underwood) office. So every time he would walk out, he would see me and make a joke. So that was a pretty bad moment there."
"When writers are doing articles on how many articles are being written in this, you know that was a doozy," admitted Nelson.
Nelson shared the decision to end his run as the Titans mascot and honestly seems to be at peace with the decision.
"People always asked me, how long can a mascot go, especially someone like me who has undergone all the surgeries and is so physical in their comedy. It's the way I've lived my life and I will pay for it later but you go on. Literally I have been doing this my whole adult life since I was 18 and now I'm 40. My body is just like a player or somebody else and when I do a show I dive and hit the ground and bounce around multiple times every show. How many hundreds of those have I done in 22 years of being a mascot."
"I've been contemplating it for a while, but then every year I would pray, and I'm being dead serious here. I'd pray Lord, when it's time to go, let it be ok, and let's start a new chapter," added Nelson. "So that was kind of it. You know most people have two or three careers, well this was my first."
"The Titans were great to me from my very first day till the last, honestly, they were great to me from the beginning to the end. They gave me creative freedom which is big for anybody. You want freedom to write what you want to write and they gave me the freedom and resources I needed to make it successful. And of course support, literally everybody in that building was all about supporting and helping out from the players to the V.P. and everyone in between,"
It was a great run for Nelson, and he will take those memories with him as he transitions into the next stage of his life and a new career.
"It was time, time catches us all and it was time and the Titans have been so great and have offered if I need to go back and take some classes, or if I want to go into communications or the seminary to take some stuff. They've given me time to figure out if I want to go into administration to go into the business world or something like that."
I was blessed with a unique, strange talent by the Lord and he gave me a strange talent and a strange wit and I was perfect for it. I've always said, when my time's up I'm going to need to take a lot of therapy on separating T-Rac from Pete because T-Rac was my persona kind of like in the movie "Mask" and when I got in there the character really took on my personality, just exaggerated to a greater degree."
While there is no definitive direction for Nelson as of yet, he will likely hit his next career with the same style and class as his first.
"I don't know what I'm going to do yet, I've got ideas, but literally it was just time to quit," concluded Nelson.
Time indeed does catch us all, and while we might outrun it for a moment, in the end we all will be surpassed in our life by it. That time was now for Pete Nelson as T-Rac. He will always be remembered as the first mascot of the new Tennessee Titans and where ever he lands next, someone will gain a talented and funny man of great character.
Thanks for the laughs, Pete, and let's do that lunch we talked about soon my friend.