Anyone who knows me - or has ever heard me on the radio in Nashville - knows I love the Atlanta Braves. I live and die with that team.
So perhaps it was no surprise that I was in Atlanta watching the Braves play the Mets in May of 2007 when I got a call from Butch Spyridon. The President and CEO of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation, Butch told me the Predators had been sold, and it hit me hard, not only as a season-ticket holder, but as a proud resident of Nashville.
I figured out earlier than most people that the guy he sold it to was going to move this team. Everybody else was saying, "We hope he likes the city," and I was like, "Wake up - this guy is going to move this team."
It really started to hit me on the ride home that night what a catastrophe this was going to be for our city - that if you lose a team there becomes a stigma, whether it's fair or unfair, that somehow, you're not good enough. I just didn't want to see our city go through that.
The other thing that really hit me was: What's going to happen to the arena? Our city had taken a lot of pride in building that facility, and now all of a sudden, 11 years later, we're not going to have a main tenant. I felt like that was going to be a disaster, and the arena was going to become a white elephant.
The more I thought about all that going home, I began wishing I could do something to stop this.
Later that weekend, Butch called me and told me what the plan was to try to get a group of people together. He asked if I would be interested, and I just jumped at it.
We met on the Tuesday after Memorial Day back in 2007 - there were about five of us that were there - and we really had no clue what we were doing or what we were going to do. We put a phone call into Ron Samuel, now vice chairman of Pinnacle Financial Partners, to ask if he would be the leader of it and he agreed. We met again on Friday and the chamber rolled out to Ralph Schulz, President and CEO of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, a questionnaire that they wanted people to respond to.
I went on the air that afternoon and basically said, "Look, I'm going to be part of a group that's going to try to do something to keep this team here, and from time to time, we're going to need your help. The first thing we need is for any and all of you who care, spend the three to five minutes that it would take to fill out this questionnaire." We found out over that weekend that about 6,000 people filled the thing out, and that was the first time it really hit me that there's some passion here for this, there's some people out there wanting to do something to help us.
From there, it kept growing and growing. On the air, I was telling people that I didn't know how we're going to save this team, but the level of passion and the level of care for our city I saw then - it still gives me goosebumps today when I think about it. I knew there was an energy level in that room where we'd have our meetings that we were going to do everything in our power to make it happen.
As our discussions continued over the next few weeks, we decided that we were going to have our own rally and ticket-thon to try and help the team, but I wasn't convinced it would work.
I was completely "Mr. Negative" in the couple of days leading up to it in the middle of July. I thought it was going to be a disaster. It was almost like running a political campaign, and given the fact that I'd never been in one of those before, I really had no idea what to expect, and it was hard to tell whether the message was getting through to anybody.
The morning of July 19, I got to the arena that morning at about 4:30 a.m. and had made the decision to say to myself, "You've just got to take your loss, you've done the best you can, there's a real chance it's just not going to be good enough."
But then, 5:45 a.m. rolled around and I had my first inkling we were on the cusp of something special. The event didn't start for hours, and yet there were a bunch of people already outside waiting to get in the building.
As the day went on, it became more and more obvious that we had gotten the word through to people, that this was important and they realized we've got to do something. By the time the rally happened that afternoon, we had about 8,000 people in the arena and I'd never dreamed of that. I've never been so relieved that something worked.
So, I'm feeling pretty good about things now, and I'm up on the stage and I'm announcing that we've sold close to 700 season tickets at that point and almost $2 million worth of tickets. I said something stupid like, "I don't know what's going to happen, but this team's not going anywhere." And of course, I had no idea whether it was or not, it just sounded good at the time.
Turns out I was right.
The one thing I'll never forget about that night, and I don't know who the gentleman was, but we stayed on the air until about 9 p.m. that night and we're all feeling pretty good because this thing has gone way better than we thought it would and he walks up to us. He just gave me this big bear hug, and I looked at him and said, "What's this for? And he said, "You just saved my job."
It hit me right then. There were a lot of people whose lives had been put on hold through all this. I know I called both Ralph and Butch on the way home, too. It was one of the most satisfying drives home because I felt like at that point this was going to work.
I give Ralph Schulz and Butch Spyridon all the credit on that part, because Ralph put chamber money behind the event, Butch put a lot of the manpower behind it, and they really went out on a limb.
By December of that year, they held the press conference to announce that the local group, Predators Holdings LLC., was purchasing the team to keep it here where it belonged. It's still one of the best feelings in the world to know that maybe, in some small way, maybe they were influenced by our rally.
What has transpired in the years since has been beyond my wildest dreams.
I never thought that another team would ever get my attention the way the Atlanta Braves do in baseball, but the Predators have become about the closest thing to that. I remember telling some friends of mine that summer after the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017 that the most fun I had ever had in sports was in 1991 when the Braves went worst to first and they got in the World Series. It was just so much fun for me, but this run two years ago surpassed it.
For all of us that were involved in it, just the appreciation that we all have for people like Preds CEO Sean Henry, for the entire ownership group, because without them, what we would've done would've been completely in vain. Look what they have done with this franchise. It's just unbelievable.
What excites me so much is to see how they've taken this and driven it to the point that none of us worry about this anymore. We feel like this franchise is in really good shape and that it's going to be here for a long time. It's a part of what makes our city great. I can't imagine Nashville without them.