In the locker room, he was a prankster. He was the guy who’d throw the rookies’ clothes in the cold tub every training camp. He was quick with a joke. He liked to make people laugh.
During his nine seasons with the Titans, Bironas also showed off his heart with his work in the Nashville community. He was a regular at fundraisers, either for his own foundation, or supporting efforts from friends.
Bironas will be remembered for all those things, in addition to the sadness that accompanies his tragic death. The popular kicker died late Saturday night in a single-vehicle crash in Nashville. He was just 36.
“It’s a true tragedy. It’s just hard to make sense if why something like this happens,” said former Titans special teams coach Alan Lowry, who coached Bironas from 2005-2013. “You always try to figure it out, and I don’t know if we ever will. It’s just one of those things I guess we’ll find out when we get to heaven.”
According to Metro police, Bironas lost control of the SUV he was driving while traveling at a high rate of speed on Battery Lane. The vehicle went off the road and hit several trees before ending up in a drainage culvert, upside down.
Bironas was transported Vanderbilt University Medical Center and pronounced dead on arrival.
Funeral arrangements have not been set. Bironas married Rachel Bradshaw, the daughter of Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, in June. A police chaplain was with her in the hours after the accident. The family made no comment, but a statement was posted on Bironas’ social media accounts.
“We appreciate your respect for the family’s privacy and your prayers at this time,” it read.
Friends of Bironas said he’d spent the evening at home with his wife, and other friends, watching movies. He went out to run an errand, and crashed near his home while returning. Police said there was no evidence of alcohol on the scene.
Bironas was released by the Titans in March. His former teammates got the news early Sunday morning, hours before the team’s game against the Bengals in Cincinnati.
“I’d like to start by saying that our thoughts and prayers go out to the Bironas family,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said immediately after his team’s 33-7 loss. “I didn’t know Rob well, but there are a number of guys on our football team that did. I know that he meant a lot to a number of guys. It was pretty tough news this morning to hear. We are thinking about his family and we are grateful for his contribution to the Titans.”
Titans punter Brett Kern was especially close with Bironas, who also left behind a young son, London. Kern got the news around 6 a.m.
“I really don’t know what to say. My thought and prayers are with Rachel, his son London, the Bironas family,” Kern said before choking up. “Just thinking about him … Can we talk about this tomorrow?”
Other players talked about the impact Bironas made on their lives.
“It’s tough to see a guy like that die young,” quarterback Jake Locker said. “Rob was a real charismatic guy – always put a smile on people’s faces. He had the opportunity to restart his life when he got married. You feel for his loved ones.”
Receiver Nate Washington remembers Bironas as the jokester.
“Rob was a good guy,” Washington said. “He was a guy who was going to keep a smile in that locker room, whether it was his jokes or his pranks. His locker wasn’t too far from mine. … You make friends in this league and you remember the good times you spent with guys. It’s sad. I am wishing his family the best.”
During nine seasons with the Titans, Bironas established himself as one of the NFL’s most accurate kickers. In fact, he finished his career as the fourth most-accurate kicker in NFL history, connecting on 85.7 percent of his kicks (239 of 279).
He finished as the Titans’ second all-time leading scorer with 1,032 points, and he set a franchise record scoring triple digits in seven straight seasons. Bironas made a franchise-record 11 game-winning field goals during his career, including a 60-yarder against the Colts in 2006 that remains the longest field goal in Oilers or Titans history.
“He was almost like a golden foot. He was pretty much automatic,” safety Michael Griffin said. “All those years you saw his locker and you saw that No. 2. You saw those No. 2 jersey in the stands. Everybody loved Rob.”
The Titans released Bironas because they wanted to go with a kicker with a stronger leg. Bironas was also due to collect a hefty signing bonus at the time.
Bironas took the news hard, but he used the next several months to get his body into better shape. He lost weight with exercise, and was a regular at yoga classes.
And he hadn’t given up the hope of playing football again. In recent weeks, Bironas kicked regularly at Father Ryan High School. He had a tryout with the Lions last week, and friends said he was optimistic about his chances of being signed as early as this week.
Instead, his family and friends will mourn him.
“Rob was a fan favorite,” said Nashville mayor Karl Dean. “I got to know Rob through many community events he supported in our city. He was down to earth, and it was clear he loved Nashville. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife and family.”
The city of Nashville grew to love Bironas, who made it clear in a statement to fans back in March the feeling was mutual.
“Nashville is my home. Regardless of where my NFL career may take me next, my roots are here,” Bironas wrote in March. “You have been my biggest fans, and I hope you will continue to cheer me on as I look forward to remaining an active member of this community.”