Former Tennessee Titans placekicker Rob Bironas overcame insurmountable odds before making an indelible mark on the franchise.
Bironas played for several NFL, AF2, and Arena Football League teams during a nomadic two-year stretch from 2002 to 2004.
Things did not look rosy for Bironas, who even worked a day job at a Best Buy in New York in the early 2000s.
Before long, the Titans signed Bironas as an undrafted free agent in 2005.
Bironas became a clutch performer with the Titans. He made eleven game-winning field goals in his nine-year NFL career. He even helped the Titans beat the Indianapolis Colts with a 60-yard field goal in 2006.
Bironas was a measly 29 points shy of setting a new Titans franchise scoring record when the team released him in the spring of 2014.
Without warning, tragedy struck just six months later. Bironas was killed in a fatal car crash in Nashville at only 36 years old.
Although Rob Bironas died way too soon, he was the epitome of resilience on and off the gridiron.
James Robert Douglas “Rob” Bironas was born to Larry and Anne in Louisville, KY on January 29, 1978.
Bironas attended Trinity High School in his hometown and excelled in soccer, swimming, and football for the Trinity Shamrocks.
The Shamrocks’ head football coach Dennis Lampley discovered Bironas when he played soccer as a sophomore.
Lampley looking for a kicker. He gave Bironas his blessing to play soccer whenever he was not kicking for the Shamrocks football team.
Bironas’s teammate Brian Roby remembered Trinity High’s new kicker had outstanding range. Unfortunately, his control needed more work.
— Cory Pippin TV (@CoryPippinTV) September 22, 2014
Roby thought Bironas had the work ethic to make him an elite kicker. Roby’s hunch proved to be correct when Bironas became a member of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans in 2005.
It wasn’t just Bironas’s work ethic that impressed Roby. The latter thought Bironas’s loyalty to his family members always stood out.
With Rob Bironas as the Shamrocks’ kicker, they won the state title in 1994.
Bironas continued refining his kicking game with the Auburn Tigers and Georgia Southern Tigers in the next phase of his gridiron journey.
College Days with the Georgia Southern Eagles
Rob Bironas attended Auburn University from 1997 to 1999. He played for Auburn Tigers head football coaches Terry Bowden and Tommy Tuberville.
Having played football for just five years dating back to his high school days in Louisville, KY, Bironas stood out in his sophomore season with the Tigers in 1998.
Rob converted 12 of his 16 field-goal attempts and never missed a single PAT that year. His team-high 54 points helped him become a Lou Groza Award semi-finalist.
Auburn regressed considerably in Bironas’s breakout season in 1998. The Tigers won just three games that year—a far cry from their impressive 10-3 win-loss record in Bironas’s freshman season.
When Tuberville took over the reins as Tigers head coach in 1999, Rob Bironas’s days in an Auburn uniform were numbered.
Tuberville tapped Damon Duval to replace Bironas as the Tigers’ placekicker in the 1999 NCAA season.
Former Auburn kicker Rob Bironas has been killed in an auto accident. The details at 5. pic.twitter.com/TyTifpAcSp
— WSFA 12 News (@wsfa12news) September 21, 2014
When Bironas fell out of favor with Tuberville, he transferred and joined his brother at Georgia Southern University.
Bironas helped the Georgia Southern Eagles clinch the NCAA Division I-AA title in 2000. He eventually returned to Auburn to earn his marketing degree.
Rob’s father Larry was never a binge drinker during his college days. In fact, he never liked going to bars back then. When he became a family man years later, he could barely finish a full drink.
Larry Bironas’s dislike of alcohol made him wonder why his son Rob was the exact opposite. According to The Tennessean’s Jim Wyatt, he had heard stories about Rob’s partying ways in college.
Larry discussed the dangers of alcohol with Rob time and again. He hoped Rob took his message seriously.
Alas, alcohol would play a part in Rob’s tragic death in 2014.
Before Rob Bironas passed away, he became one of the best kickers in Tennessee Titans franchise history.
Pro Football Career
The Green Bay Packers signed Rob Bironas as an undrafted free agent in 2002. Unfortunately, they released him before the start of the regular season.
Prior to Bironas’s release from Green Bay, he worked for his dad Larry’s company in Louisville, KY.
Bironas’s pro football career got off to an inauspicious beginning. After the Packers cut him, he spent short stints with the Charleston Swamp Foxes, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Cobras, and Pittsburgh Steelers in the next two years.
Bironas even had several day jobs during his early vagabond days in pro football. He even worked for a Best Buy branch in New York, per Sports Illustrated‘s Robert Klemko.
The Tennessee Titans eventually signed Rob Bironas as an undrafted free agent prior to the 2005 NFL campaign. He went on to spend his last nine pro football seasons with the Titans.
When Bironas entered the NFL in 2005, he was more wired than most of his teammates prior to kickoff. He consumed more energy drinks than he could count before game time.
“Rob’s personality didn’t allow him to be your normal kicker,” Titans defensive back Jason McCourty told Klemko in 2014. “He was a guy who was talking to everybody.”
McCourty also told Sports Illustrated a team chiropractor worked on Bironas between kicking duties so he wouldn’t bother his teammates.
Aside from chugging on energy drinks, Rob Bironas had other pregame superstitions: he checked on the field several times before the opening kickoff, talk to several individuals, and do a pre-game kicking routine for several minutes.
Bironas’s roommate on the road, punter Brett Kern, thought he had obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
One time, Bironas saw Kern brush his teeth in their hotel room for just 75 seconds. He told Kern a person should brush his teeth for two minutes for optimum dental health.
Kern could only shake his head and stifle a laugh. He swore Bironas displayed similar tendencies in other facets of daily life.
Bironas was also a known prankster who dunked rookies’ clothes in a cold tub whenever he was left alone in the locker room in training camp every year.
Bironas did not try to make the Titans’ rookies feel angry. It was simply a part of the team culture. In fact, Bironas always made Tennessee’s rookies feel welcome, per Sports Illustrated. Nobody within the Titans organization had a reason to lash out at him.
Whenever the Titans did not play on Monday Night Football, Bironas, a Vanderbilt physician, a financier, a singer, a pizzeria owner, and several of his teammates watched the game in his basement.
Joe Grenvicz, Bironas’s best friend and financial manager, told Sports Illustrated the Titans kicker held everybody in their group together. They really felt his absence whenever he was not around.
The (Responsible) Partier
Former Titans quarterback Matt Hasselback recalled Bironas was somebody who liked having fun off the field.
Although Hasselbeck knew Bironas drank on weekends, their mutual friends told him he toned down his drinking considerably as the years went by.
Bironas also despised drugs and asked a designated driver to take the wheel whenever he went out.
Grenvicz confirmed to Sports Illustrated in 2014 Rob Bironas was never into illegal substances when he played in the NFL.
However, two of Bironas’s buddies told the publication he had a prescription for Ambien, a medication for people who have a hard time sleeping.
A Consummate Professional
Whenever Bironas was on the gridiron, he normally asked McCourty about Tennessee’s defensive schemes. Bironas also asked the Titans’ team photographer to take photos of fans in attendance.
One time, Bironas sent a photo of McCourty’s wife and daughter which the photographer took.
Bironas earned a reputation as a clutch performer in the National Football League.
He set a new Titans franchise record with eleven game-winning field goals in his nine-year pro football career.
Bironas’s 60-yard game-winner against the Indianapolis Colts in 2006 was the longest in team history.
Bironas re-wrote the NFL record books the following year when he nailed eight field goals in a win over the Houston Texans. Better yet, his eighth field goal of the game secured the Titans’ narrow victory.
Bironas’s 35 field goals made and 39 field-goal attempts in 2007 were both career highs.
To nobody’s surprise, Bironas earned his only career First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection that year. He also won Pro Football Weekly’s Golden Toe Award in 2007.
Rob Bironas was one of the most confident placekickers during his era. McCourty remembered Bironas imploring his coaches to let him kick a field goal whenever the Titans’ offense approached midfield as either half wound down.
🔵TITAN UP TALK THROWBACK🔵
12/3/2006: The Titans hosted the 10-1 Colts at LP Field as heavy underdogs, with a 4 year losing streak against their hated rivals.
Tied with 2:00 remaining in the game, the Titans drove & gave Rob Bironas a shot at a 60 yard FG for the upset win… pic.twitter.com/JVYF6qY1DY
— Titan Up Talk Podcast (@TitanUpTalkPod) March 6, 2021
A Philanthropist and Family Man
Bironas wasn’t just known for his kicking leg. He earned a reputation as a philanthropist during his pro football career.
Bironas launched the Rob Bironas Fund in 2008. The organization helped support various children’s charities.
One such charity was the Nashville Symphony where Bironas was a member of the board of directors. Alan Valentine, the group’s CEO and president, told The Tennessean in the fall of 2014 that Bironas was one of the reasons behind its resurgence.
Bironas’s passion for music was evident when he joined the Nashville Symphony. He used music as a means to help children in the Nashville area reach their full potential.
“It’s something he cared about a lot,” Valentine told The Tennessean. “I think he had a heart of gold.”
Bironas hit his stride in his seventh NFL season in 2011. He established a new league record by nailing a field goal with a minimum distance of 40 yards in ten straight games.
Whenever Bironas missed a field-goal attempt, he never berated himself for it. Instead, he took it in stride and moved on to the next one. It was one of Bironas’s traits that endeared him to former Tennessee punter Craig Hentrich.
During Bironas’s nine-year tenure with the Titans from 2006 onward, he spent quality time with his son, London. The child lived in New Jersey with his mother at the time.
Bironas tried to have his son spend more time with his family in his hometown of Louisville, KY whenever he could.
Rob sometimes accompanied London on Nashville-bound flights so they could spend time together. He occasionally flew back to New Jersey with him.
Barbecue restaurant owner Patrick Martin told Sports Illustrated Bironas was so proud of his son that he frequently showed his friends his soccer and MMA videos.
As Bironas’s tenure in Nashville, TN wound down, he met his future wife, Rachel Bradshaw, prior to a Titans home game in 2012.
Bironas told his teammate, Brett Kern, that he just met the woman he would marry someday. They eventually tied the knot two years after they first met.
The Tennessee Titans averaged seven wins per season with Rob Bironas as their kicker from 2005 to 2013. Tennessee made the postseason twice but never advanced past the AFC Divisional Round during that nine-year time frame.
Six years ago today the @Titans family lost Rob Bironas in a car crash.
The team’s kicker for nine seasons, he‘s second on the franchise’s all-time scoring list.
His eight field goals and 26 points in a 2007 game are NFL records.
— London Titan 💙🇺🇦 (@LondonTitan) September 20, 2020
Regrettably, Rob Bironas’s nine-year tenure with the Titans ended in the spring of 2014. Tennessee released him in March of that year after the team thought he had missed several field goals that were well within his range.
First-year Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt also reportedly wanted fresh faces in the lineup in 2014. A team source also told Sports Illustrated Bironas’s salary cap hit was too high for the Titans’ liking. Ironically, Tennessee’s higher-ups never dangled a pay cut.
Bironas’s friends remembered him being upset after the Titans waived him. At the time of his release, he was just 28 points short of Al Greco’s franchise scoring record.
Rob Bironas had aspirations of kicking for another NFL team in the 2014 NFL season. Alas, unspeakable tragedy cut his life short several months after he played in his final down in the National Football League.
Rob Bironas’s Tragic and Untimely Death
Sadly, Rob Bironas passed away in a fatal car crash on September 21, 2014. He was 36 years old.
According to police reports The Tennessean‘s Jim Wyatt obtained (via Courier-Journal.com), Bironas’s vehicle crashed in the Battery Lane area of Nashville, TN. The accident occurred at 11 p.m. EST.
Bironas was speeding and veered his SUV off the road, struck several trees, and wound up upside down in a drainage culvert, per Wyatt.
Emergency responders took Bironas to Vanderbilt University Center but he had already succumbed to his injuries.
Prior to the accident, Bironas had tried out for a spot on the Detroit Lions and Tampa Buccaneers rosters.
The Tennessee Titans, the team Bironas had represented for nine seasons from 2005 to 2013, issued a statement in the aftermath of his tragic death.
“We are deeply saddened to hear the tragic news from last night about Rob Bironas,” the statement read. “Rob made a significant impact as a player in his nine years with the team and more importantly touched many lives in the Nashville community off the field.”
Bironas left behind his wife, Rachel, and a son from a previous relationship, London. Rachel is the daughter of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw. The couple married just three months before Rob’s tragic accident in the fall of 2014.
Bradshaw, a renowned football analyst, was not on the FOX NFL Sunday pregame show. He flew to Nashville, TN to comfort his daughter.
A Wife’s Heartbreak
Rachel Bironas, a country singer, reported her husband missing on the night of the accident. She told authorities she thought he was already sleeping but was surprised to find out he was not home, per The Tennesseean (via ESPN).
Rachel tried to call Rob, to no avail. She thought it was strange for him to leave without letting her know. The couple had not argued on the night Rob disappeared. Rob, Rachel, and a friend watched movies at the couple’s residence on that fateful night.
In Wyatt’s October 3, 2014 article, he reported Bironas had a blood alcohol level of .218. It was nearly three times Tennessee’s legal limit of .08.
“It’s a sad story. He drank too much and got in the car and it cost him his life,” Bironas’s father Larry told The Tennesseean in the fall of 2014. “Rob knew better—he knew not to get in the car while drinking. It should have never happened.”
Rob’s drinking baffled his father. The younger Bironas’s inner circle told him he never wanted to drive in an intoxicated state. Rob had also stayed away from the party scene for years prior to the accident.
Rachel Bironas told investigators although her husband had drank a beer on the night he disappeared, she claimed he was not drunk.
The autopsy report Wyatt obtained indicated Rob Bironas died to due blunt force trauma stemming from the auto accident. The toxicology report also indicated Bironas’s body had a minuscule amount of valium, a medication prescribed for anxiety.
Two individuals called 911 and claimed Bironas displayed road rage and confronted them prior to wrecking his SUV.
Connor Fraley, a 20-year-old student, told a 911 operator he was a passenger of a car Bironas had tried to run off the road.
Another 911 caller told an operator Bironas allegedly had a road rage encounter with her and her husband that same evening.
The woman described Bironas as a dangerous and intoxicated individual who tried to instigate a fight with them, per Sports Illustrated.
Nashville Symphony CEO and president Alan Valentine told The Tennessean that hardly resembled the Rob Bironas he knew.
Ex-Titans punter Craig Hentrich also thought the public’s perception of Bironas as a madman in the moments leading up to his death was completely false.
“He’s being portrayed as some kind of madman and he was the opposite,” Hentrich told Sports Illustrated in the fall of 2014. “That’s why it’s all so frustrating.”
Rachel Bironas went to Texas in the aftermath of her husband’s tragic death. Her father-in-law, Larry, told Wyatt she had not eaten in four or five days.
Members of the Tennessee Titans organization attended Bironas’s funeral and paid their respects several days later.
A Tribute from Teammates
Titans punter Brett Kern, Bironas’s road roommate, and long snapper Beau Brinkley dressed up as their fallen teammate whenever they flew for away games. They wore blazers, blue jeans, and Chuck Taylor shoes in Bironas’s honor.
Brinkley, who also entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent like Bironas, played for the Titans from 2012 to 2020.
He credited Bironas with helping him get his pro football career off the ground. He also told The Tennessean that Bironas was a special part of his family.
For his part, Kern recalled his last conversation with Bironas. The two former teammates had spoken the day before Bironas’s death.
Bironas told Kern he was excited about his Detroit Lions workout exceeding expectations. Kern told him he was proud of him. He told The Tennessean Bironas was thrilled about the prospect of playing for a new team.
Bironas and Kern met that offseason. The latter remembered Bironas installing a new kicking net in his backyard that helped him stay sharp in the months leading up to the regular season.
At the time of Bironas’s death, his career stat of 85.7% field-goal accuracy (239 of 279 field goals made) ranked him fourth in NFL history.
Only Philadelphia Eagles Pro Bowl kicker David Akers’s 247 field goals surpassed Bironas’s total between 2005 and 2013.
Bironas’s 1,032 career points also ranked him second on the Titans’ all-time scoring list.
Rob Bironas became a member of the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame in the spring of 2012.