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'A-Train' Alstott hits the daddy track

While holding his daughter Hannah, Mike Alstott waves as he exits the field in 2006 with son Griffin, wife Nicole and Lexie.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times (2006)

While holding his daughter Hannah, Mike Alstott waves as he exits the field in 2006 with son Griffin, wife Nicole and Lexie.

TAMPA — Mike Alstott still rises before dawn and hits the weights, the way he did during the fall and winter for 12 NFL seasons.

But instead of heading to a position meeting and practice, he helps his wife, Nicole, get their three children dressed and off to school. When he would normally be leaving the Bucs' facility, he is racing to a dance recital, gymnastics class or flag football.

"Then it's bedtime," Alstott said. "That's pretty much how my days go.

"It's another chapter in my life that I am enjoying, getting a chance to spend more time with my family and kids and be around some of the events I was talking about. At the same time, I wish I was playing."

He is not alone. At halftime during Sunday night's game against the Seahawks, the Bucs will honor Alstott, arguably the most popular player in franchise history.

He was forced to retire Jan. 24 because of a neck injury he suffered in training camp six months earlier.

At 34, Alstott knew he had to give up the thing he loved doing more than anything else in the world. But the Bucs helped by not making him quit cold turkey. Last season, Alstott was allowed to remain with the team, attending practice, meetings and road games as if he were still part of the game plan.

"It really helped me cope with this year and adapt with the understanding that I'll never be able to play again because of the situation," Alstott said.

His oldest, 9-year-old son Griffin, knows why Alstott isn't playing anymore. His daughters, 6-year-old Hannah and 4-year-old Lexie, are not entirely sure why Daddy is suddenly hanging around all the time. Not that they mind.

"My middle child asks questions about my neck and why I'm not playing anymore," Alstott said. "My other daughter, who's 4 now, it's been a year and a half since I put on the pads; she remembers Daddy is a football player but doesn't ask too many questions. It's a little different Daddy being around a little bit more. Now I don't have to leave them Saturday nights and be gone all day Sunday, then come home late and not see them in some of their events."

Alstott views it as a blessing that he walked away from the game rather than get carried away from it on a stretcher. His departure allows him to devote more time to his various real estate, other business and charitable endeavors, like the Mike Alstott Family Foundation.

But watching pixies in tights is the polar opposite of what the 6-foot-1, 248-pounder did for a living.

He rushed for more than 5,000 yards and with club records in touchdowns scored (71), rushing touchdowns (58) and the most Pro Bowl appearances (six) by an offensive player.

"It was an honor because I got to see him early in his career when he was still running with reckless abandon, banging heads and making great plays," said Warrick Dunn, back for his second stint with the Bucs. "To me, he was one of those guys who when you needed that 1 or 2 yards at crunch time, he was the right guy to call."

But in the real world of carpooling and coaching, this is Alstott's rookie season. When he goes out to restaurants or Home Depot, Alstott still is constantly stopped by adoring Bucs fans.

"I just thank them, and I appreciate their support over the years and tell them it's not possible (to play)," Alstott said. "But I do appreciate them for that and I get a lot of that where I go, that it's not the same and they wish I could be out there."

Right now, Alstott is learning a whole new game plan. He doesn't see himself involved in pro or college sports, but coaching youth or high school football might interest him down the road.

For now, he has to be satisfied with sitting behind home plate during Rays games and following the Bucs from a distant suite or catching them on television. Nothing in his new life can completely replace his old life, but it is wonderful to be a spectator when children are performing.

"It's my kids' time," Alstott said.

"I miss playing the game, I miss being in the locker room, I miss all the stuff that a lot of the people don't understand why being part of a team atmosphere is a dream come true."

How will the A-Train feel when he rolls to a final stop at halftime of Sunday night's game?

"You know how I am," Alstott said. "I'm emotional, and when the moment happens, it's just going to be emotional. That's the way I've always been and always will be and like I said, the support and the way this city has embraced me and this organization has embraced me, it'll always be emotional."

'A-Train' Alstott hits the daddy track 10/15/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 2:39pm]
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