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A-Train makes one more stop for fans

TAMPA — One of the two framed No. 40 jerseys the Glazer family presented Sunday evening to the most revered wrecking ball in Tampa Bay history was the creamsicle one he wore in his inaugural game.

It remains in mint, misspelled condition.

The first "T" still is missing from the A-Train's last name.

"Honestly, I didn't realize it until after I put it on and I was playing," Mike Alstott recalled moments after Sunday's halftime tribute, where his status as arguably the most beloved player in franchise history seemed reaffirmed. "Being the young rookie, you're thinking about other things."

By contrast, nothing was missing from Sunday night's organized adoration, held nine months after Alstott, 34, was forced to retire due to a neck injury sustained in training camp six months earlier. On a clear, crisp evening, every other "T" was included — and crossed.

Dressed in jeans and his red jersey, the man who willed his way to 5,018 rushing yards received seemingly as many embraces as he walked the sideline before kickoff. The ovation he got during pregame introductions might have been audible from the Trop.

"Pads on or pads off, I get emotional every time," he said.

Prerecorded tributes from a smorgasbord of celebrities — current Bucs, Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Dungy, NASCAR drivers, even Dr. Phil — popped up on the video screens throughout the evening.

"You're the ultimate Buccaneer," Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek said.

Then there was the profusion of No. 40 jerseys. Anyone who didn't know about the tribute might have suspected they had been handed out to the first 30,000 fans.

"Undescribable," said Alstott, noticeably trimmer and, he says, devoid of neck pain.

"Going back to the old days, the fans have embraced me with such support and love and it's just an unbelievable feeling to have 60,000-plus people out there. … I loved playing in front of them when we were at home."

The love was reciprocated during the halftime ceremony, where Alstott, his wife and three kids walked a red carpet to a small podium at the 50-yard line. Upon stepping to it, Alstott couldn't complete his first sentence before the throng of 64,811 began chanting his name.

It ended with longtime Bucs radio play-by-play man Gene Deckerhoff issuing his trademark A-Train call: Alstott up the gut. Touchdown, Tampa Bay!

"My whole career has been nothing but textbook," he said. "I couldn't ask for anything more."

A-Train makes one more stop for fans 10/19/08 [Last modified: Sunday, October 26, 2008 12:53pm]
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