NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth wanted to express his appreciation to Tennessee Titans fans for supporting him and helping him reach the first Pro Bowl of his six-year career. So he invited them to come out and meet him Thursday afternoon.
No gimmicks. No charge except for those who wanted to buy a football card costing $5 with the money going to the March of Dimes. Fans had to wait outside the Italian restaurant in the frigid cold waiting for the chance to shake his hand and have a photograph taken with him.
``It's been awesome,'' Haynesworth said, before the doors even opened.
``And not even the last few months, actually the last year, year and a half or so. I mean, it's a long time coming. But for me to finally say, I guess, thank you for everything and getting me into the Pro Bowl and all that stuff. This is something small that I can do.''
The timing is pretty masterful for the six-year veteran coming off the best season of his career with the Tennessee Titans. They're trying to decide if he's worth the risk of a long-term contract or if they should slap him with the franchise tag for a year.
Fan David Close of Nashville, who waited outside in below-freezing temperatures for nearly an hour to meet Haynesworth, doesn't care what the Titans do as long as they keep the 6-foot-6, 320-pound-or-so tackle.
``We don't want to be playing against him,'' Close said.
Not after what Haynesworth did in 2007.
He had a career-high six sacks with 23 quarterback pressures, six tackles for loss and 69 tackles. He helped the Titans to a 6-2 start, and his absence with a strained right hamstring was obvious in a three-game losing skid.
His play wound up being part of a massive turnaround in Haynesworth's image as well.
This is the guy people wanted thrown out of the NFL after Oct. 1, 2006, when he raked his cleated foot across the unprotected face of Dallas center Andre Gurode in a fit of anger.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Haynesworth for five games, a punishment that was three games worse than the previous penalty for an on-field act.
But Haynesworth never hid.
He waited for the game to end so he could tell reporters he was sorry. He apologized to Gurode and went through anger management counseling. He spent the five Sundays he couldn't play with at-risk children eating pizza and trying to explain why he messed up.
A fan carrying a Titans helmet said people are forgiving.
``He regretted it, and I think he was truly sorrowful,'' said the man who identified himself only as C. Johnson of Franklin. ``He's too quality of a guy. He just lost it there for a moment.''
Teams can use the franchise tag between Feb. 7 and 21. There have been preliminary talks, and the tackle said he hopes to stay in Tennessee.
``I've been in Tennessee since 1999, and if you ask me, I consider myself a Tennessean so of course I'd like to stay here in the state that I call home right now,'' said Haynesworth, who played at the University of Tennessee.
The Titans haven't used the franchise tag since slapping it on safety Blaine Bishop in 1997 just before the franchise relocated to Tennessee from Houston. They labeled punter Craig Hentrich as a transition player in 2003, but removed it after a week before a long-term deal was signed.
Haynesworth, who is taking his position coach Jim Washburn and his wife with him to Hawaii next week for the Pro Bowl, is optimistic. He's also busy setting his sights on his next goal of repeating as a Pro Bowler and All-Pro.
``This is the first chapter of a new life of Albert Haynesworth in the NFL. I think it's a great first step,'' he said. ``It's going to be better, better than ever next year. If you think this year was good, wait till next year.''

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