Wiedmer: Will Witherspoon saves the day for the Titans

Wiedmer: Will Witherspoon saves the day for the Titans

September 26th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

NASHVILLE -- Tennessee linebacker Will Witherspoon was about to exit LP Field following the Titans' 17-14 victory over Denver when the requests began.

"Will, we want your gloves, Will!," they screamed from sections 141 and 142 on Sunday afternoon. "Please give us your gloves!"

But Witherspoon kept walking. Off the field. Up the ramp. Into the locker room, his tardy smile growing with each fresh step as he said to himself, "Not today ... I'm holding onto them today."

At the time it seemed that he was probably holding onto them for good luck, given that Witherspoon's last-minute interception of a Kyle Orton pass was just the 12th of his 10-year career.

If there was magic in those mitts, Witherspoon could be forgiven for wanting to keep them as long as possible. After all, the Titans had very little magic anywhere last season in going 6-10. Everything that could go wrong did, and often at the worst possible time, including last year's home loss to Denver, when the Broncos scored with less than two minutes to play to win 26-20.

Then bad luck struck again with 6:04 remaining in the second quarter, wide receiver Kenny Britt going down with what appears to be a serious injury to his right knee.

"I'm OK," proclaimed Britt as he left the locker room on crutches. "My status is that I'm limping."

Sometime soon -- possibly this afternoon -- the limp will have a medical diagnosis: sprain, strain or worse. Possibly much worse.

But that's for later. Why, a reporter wanted to know, didn't Witherspoon give his game gloves away to the fans?

"They're for my kids," said the former Georgia Bulldog after the Titans' second win in three games. "I'll put them in a clear box and they can share them. It's a group present."

This was a group win. Even Witherspoon's interception came about because defensive lineman Jason Jones tipped Orton's throw.

"We just needed a big play," he said, remembering that the Broncos were on the Titans 39 at that time, facing a 3rd and 11 with 1:46 to go.

"I saw Orton get ready to pass, I just put my hand up, got my left arm up. I didn't even know Spoon had intercepted it until I heard the crowd. Then I looked around and saw Spoon had the ball."

But it didn't stop there. Derrick Morgan -- the former Georgia Tech star -- stopped Broncos running back Willis McGahee six inches from the end zone on fourth down some 87 seconds into the final period.

There was the savvy play of Titans punter Brett Kern, who rambled 35 yards on a fumbled punt snap for a first down late in the second quarter that set up a Titans field goal just before the half.

And, for the third week in a row, there is the inspired play throughout by quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who took just seven plays and three and a half minutes to drive the Titans 95 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

Said first-year coach Mike Munchak of Hasselbeck, whose first practice with the Titans was August 4: "He's exactly who we thought he'd be. He's a pro, and he acts one on a daily basis."

His 936 passing yards through the first three games are also the most by a Titans (or Houston Oilers) quarterback since Warren Moon in 1992.

But if Hasselbeck may have won this contest for the Titans, Witherspoon saved it.

"We get the tip and [Will] makes the play of the game," said Munchak. "That's what this league is all about -- making plays."

A little more than a year ago it was all Witherspoon playing. Period. After unexpectedly flying back from Florida following his mother's funeral, Spoon was given the game ball for his six tackles against Oakland.

Said former coach Jeff Fisher that afternoon: "You go through a lot of things over your career, but this was one of the most courageous days I've ever seen out of a player. To have not practiced all week and to have buried his mom late Saturday, and play the way he did, my hat is off to Will Witherspoon."

But it wasn't just that day that separates Spoon from the average NFL player.

Given Saturday's early Georgia-Ole Miss kickoff, and a open block of time to enjoy it, you might have expected Witherspoon to curl up on the sofa and support his embattled coach Mark Richt.

And he was quick to say, "I do worry [about Richt's future]. They need to look at his body of work, not just the last season or two. He's a great coach and better person."

But Saturday found Witherspoon playing with his three daughters during the Biulldogs' 27-13 win over Ole Miss.

"I Tivo-ed it," Witherspoon said. "I'll probably watch it tonight."

Probably while his daughters play with the gloves that helped make the Titans' play of the game.