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Thursday, December 4, 2008
Titans' O-line revels in faux friend


Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- He's a good listener who doesn't talk back. He's reliable and steady. He's always good for a laugh.

He probably ranks as the offensive linemen's favorite teammate.

So popular is Bryan Pride, his offensive linemates got a special nameplate installed above his locker. They track his weight gains like proud parents. They sometimes put a "Monday Night Football" hat on him and drape a towel around his midsection when reporters visit the locker room.

 
 Paul Kuharsky/ESPN.com
 He started as an empty Gatorade bottle wrapped in tape. Bryan Pride has grown into a running joke for the Titans' offensive line, complete with his own locker stall and a name plate.
It's not a bad life for a giant ball of tape the position group has been nurturing for months, a symbol on a larger scale of the light-hearted mood and style of the team with the AFC's best record. The defensive line has Dave Ball, the offensive line has Pride.

This morning he weighed in with the rest of the fellas, and he's up to 122.4 pounds. He's on the last line of the official report strength and conditioning coach Steve Watterson passes on to general manager Mike Reinfeldt and coach Jeff Fisher.

"So far, he's been a model guy for the locker room," Watterson said. "He's there, he's steady. It's amazing. I don't know that he sleeps at all. He's there before the first guy gets there, and I swear to you, sometimes I've been here late, 11, 11:30 at night, and he's still here. He's dedicated. I don't think he has much of a life outside of here."

That doesn't mean the Titans don't have to monitor him closely.

"If you don't keep him on track and keep him balanced, he will drift away," Watterson said. "If he gets on a slippery slope, you're in trouble."

Pride started as a time-killer for reserve lineman Daniel Loper, who wound athletic tape around a Gatorade bottle. He took the shape of a football or rugby ball, and the group would toss him around.

"He was very oval shaped and football like," Loper said. "And we were throwing him around to people. It was fun when he was like six or seven pounds. Once he got to 20, it stopped being fun and we quit doing it."

The name is homage to Jacob Bell, the guard who jumped to St. Louis as a free agent who called everybody Bryan. Loper said it was left tackle Michael Roos who had the ingenious idea of making Pride round. Someone found an old Christmas tree stand, sat him on it in front of an empty locker and an imaginary teammate, an honorary mascot and running joke was born.

But not everyone on the team is in on the love affair.

"Bryan's been known to get knocked off his pedestal, it happens with rookies," veteran center Kevin Mawae said. "Some people actually wrote on him that 'Bryan Must Die,' which is kind of heartbreaking. So he's pretty much an O-line thing. Somebody in this locker room had a little envy about Bryan Pride and the attention that he's getting in this locker room."

Meanwhile, the real members of a line that has been a big key to the team's success this season are gaining notoriety.

Mawae overtook Indianapolis' Jeff Saturday and is in first place in fan balloting for the AFC Pro Bowl team. Roos is fifth among tackles. And first-year starting left guard, Eugene Amano, is getting grief from the whole gang for ranking second only to Alan Faneca of the Jets among guards. (The Titans' right guard, Jake Scott, is third).

 
 Paul Kuharsky/ESPN.com
 Tennessee's offensive line tracks Pride's weight gains like proud parents. Here the most recent gain, scribbled on a tape strip attached to his locker, had him up 17.4 pounds.

With 142,035 votes as of Tuesday, Amano is outpolling stars like Jets defensive tackle Kris Jenkins (139,195) and Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (140,701).

Born into a military family while his parents were stationed in the Philippines, Amano is likely benefitting from some international support.

"We think because he's Filipino that he's got somebody down there passing stuff out, one T-shirt, one vote for Eugene," Mawae said. "We think he's got something going on down there, but he claims there is no Internet service in the Philippines. More power to him."

Things could change with the two-thirds of the voting upcoming from players and coaches.

"There are not as many Filipino players and coaches in the NFL," Mawae said.

Amano said he feels good about his play in his first season as a starter at a new position. He's surprised by the Pro Bowl tally, but willing to take the ribbing that's come with it.

"I appreciate the sign of confidence from fans," he said. "I think it's a good deal. The way we were playing and our record has a lot to do with it. I guess there are more Filipinos around the nation than I expected. It's pretty surprising."

Loper was hoping to get some momentum for a write-in campaign for Pride -- who he suggests is a Green candidate because he's made of tape scraps that would have otherwise been tossed in the trash.

"He doesn't have that guy at the house clicking and clicking his mouse," Loper said. "Bryan is getting all his votes for real."

Perhaps the consolation prize will be a date. Some recent conversations among the linemen have centered on the possibility of a mail-order bride for Pride.