NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback Luke Falk never saw it coming. He wasn’t strapped, so he faced an ominous fate. Falk was chatting with his dad in the team’s hotel lobby when he saw a glimpse of linebacker Will Compton, eyes wide, ready to end him.
Falk sprinted for the hotel doors. Compton and team ally, receiver Michael Campanaro, caught him, stabbing him with a Nerf sword. Falk, reminded of his untimely death, simply shook his head. He let his guard down at the wrong time.
“Best kill is the first one. He was a runner, but he couldn’t escape. He wasn’t strapped. We had to take his soul,” Compton said. “You gotta stay strapped.”
This is the way of life in the Titan Games — a real-life version of the popular survival video game “Fortnite” — that has put the entire Titans roster on guard for several weeks. Players carry their sword everywhere, like it’s a cell phone. The game runs until minicamp ends on June 14.
The rules are simple: Each team has two members, one offensive player and one defender. The game cannot be played inside the facility. On days that the team is practicing, game curfew is 7:30 p.m. On days with no practice, game curfew is midnight. Every player must have a Nerf sword on him at all times during that period. If you don’t, well … that’s how you end up like Falk.
“It’s called tagging, not killing, it’s 2018 — that could be a trigger for some people,” left tackle Taylor Lewan proclaimed, explaining the rules. “You have to have video evidence of you tagging someone with a sword. Once that person is tagged, they are out. The winner gets a prize at the end. So far it’s gone well, lost some guys out there. I’m still alive for now, and I’m very happy to be alive.”
The idea was presented to the Titans offensive line by former coach Russ Grimm. Lewan discussed it with Compton over breakfast one day and they made the joint decision to run the idea by coach Mike Vrabel.
“I came in thinking it was going to be a hard no,” Lewan said.
But Vrabel was up for it. He saw an opportunity to build some team chemistry, have some fun during organized team activities and allow the team’s competitive juices to flow off the field — with some rules, of course.
“We thought it’d be a good opportunity for our players to get to know each other,” Vrabel said. “They seem to be having fun with it and being safe with it at the same time. It gives us a break away from football. This is hard. I get it. We ask a lot of them. Hopefully we can find some time to have some fun in and around all the coaching.”
The Lewan-Compton pairing was natural, but other highlight duos include: quarterback Marcus Mariota and linebacker Derrick Morgan, running back Derrick Henry and cornerback Logan Ryan, and tight end Delanie Walker and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson.
Compton said they’ve taken at least eight souls, but noted Mariota was “one of the good guys,” and they hadn’t seen him out yet. Nearly all the rookies have been eliminated.
“The idea of the whole thing is when we’re out at practice — it’s business. When we’re outside, let’s have a little fun,” Lewan said. “If you go to the bars with a couple guys, you see another guy out there, make sure you have your sword and take out a dude or two.
“You may go to someone’s house, lay under their car, wait until they wake up in the morning and, ‘boom’ you’re got.”
The Lewan-Compton duo is creative. Lewan had his fiancée dress up as a hotel employee to knock on other players’ hotel room doors to secure tags. It was successful a few times. They tagged rookie linebacker Rashaan Evans when he was in the hotel lobby talking to his mom. They tagged second-year linebacker Jayon Brown at the airport.
“Poor Jayon, bless his heart. We lost him on Saturday night,” Lewan said. “But you know what, he wasn’t strapped so that’s his problem.”
There will be a prize for the champion when the game ends on June 14. Coaches collect the info on the tags and report the news each morning with a R.I.P. label that draws a bunch of laughs. It has become an official team OTA game.
But the biggest perk for the winners might be the pride of holding it over the rest of the team for much of the summer. It’s a way to make June fun, but some are taking this seriously.
“The end game is when we take all of the souls, one-by-one,” Compton said with a stare that looked like he was eyeing up an opposing quarterback. “We will win. No mercy.”