Trucker Ed Gifford carefully applies makeup to his face in preparation for a Sunday Tennessee Titans football game.
It’s a Sunday night in December, and long-haul trucker Ed Gifford is having trouble with his makeup.
He pulls his dyed hair into an auspicious red ponytail and dons his favorite powder blue and navy shirt. He adds a sparkling blue top hat and climbs out of his truck. Gifford is now ready to let everyone at a downtown Nashville, Tenn., TravelCenters of America truckstop know he means business.
“Go Titans!” he screams, as NFL fans gather around his truck to tailgate. Today Gifford greets fellow Tennessee Titans fans and New England Patriots fans alike, offering anyone who stops by a taste of “New England Patriot Roast” and a good deal of friendly braggadocio. After all, Gifford, as the Titans’ biggest fan, is in the Visa Hall of Fans at the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, so he has a reputation to live up to.
Every home game during the NFL season, the company driver for Continental Express paints his face white and blue, dons his hat and one of a half-dozen Titans jerseys he keeps in his truck, and prepares to take his place alongside other NFL fanatics – in the end zone section of the Tennessee Coliseum. He’s also a regular at away games.
Gifford (front, left) was inducted into the Visa Hall of Fans in 2000. Every year he goes to Canton, Ohio, for the Hall of Fame Game to meet up with fellow inductees.
“I was an Oilers [as the team was previously known] fan as far back as 1976,” he says. “But I wasn’t devastated when they moved to Tennessee [from Houston]. I knew I was mobile.”
The Houston native hauls loads that allow him to follow his passion while hitting the road. So far, his company has been willing to work with him. With permission from Gifford’s supervisor, his dispatcher makes sure he drives through Nashville for most home games, and even helps him get to a lot of away games.
“They work hard to get me to games,” he says. “This year has been the hardest.” Still, Gifford made most of the games. A season-ticket holder since the team moved to Memphis, Tenn., in 1997 and then Nashville a year later, Gifford has followed the team to the playoffs and the 2000 Super Bowl in Atlanta.
But his biggest journey was to his induction into the Visa Hall of Fans, a joint promotion between the credit card company and the NFL. Gifford was selected as the Titans’ No. 1 fan for the 1999-2000 season and earned a trip to the NFL’s Hall of Fame, where he and fans of the league’s 31 other teams were enshrined.
To make the short list, fans sent in an essay and a photo. Gifford says Visa selected him from the list because he was an Oilers fan who had moved with the team and because he had a unique way of getting to the games – by truck.
“I didn’t have season tickets until a few years before they moved,” Gifford says. In 1994 he got his first set of season tickets, and then started seeing games when he was on the road. “I was out on the road anyway,” he says.
Now, Gifford gets together with well-known NFL zealots in every city he visits. He knows fans from Cleveland’s “Dog Pound” and became good friends with the Washington Redskins’ top fan, Zema Williams, or “Chief Zee.” Gifford even gets together with the group of fanatical fans every year for a reunion in Canton before the Hall of Fame Game.
But for most of the season, Gifford can be found tailgating around his company’s International Eagle in Nashville. There, other fanatics, employees of the TA and even fans of the opposing team come by to share in his hospitality. In December at the Titans’ home game against the Patriots, Gifford marveled at how perfect the downtown TA was for football fans – especially truckers: It sits only three blocks from the Titans’ home field.
“When the team was ready to move, [owner] Bud Adams called me and asked me where he should put the team in Nashville,” Gifford jokes. “I told him right downtown near the TA. Better parking, you know.”