Sunday, April 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Best part of Bucs win displayed after game: Unity

TAMPA

The best 79 seconds of the Bucs' 23-20 overtime win over the Falcons on Sunday did not occur between the white lines, but rather played out behind the closed doors of the celebratory visitor's locker room at the Georgia Dome.

A video released by the team, which was picked up ESPN, NBC and all the alphabet cartels before going viral on social media, captures all that is right about the National Football League, football and maybe team sports in general.

"I thought what you saw in that locker room is what was real," coach Lovie Smith said. "Unscripted."

After Smith, circled by players, praised his team for its preparation and persistence in winning a tough division game on the road, he called on Logan Mankins, 33, a six-time Pro Bowl guard in his 11th season, to address the team.

Mankins walked directly to linebacker Kwon Alexander, a 21-year-old rookie who had played the game of his life despite a heavy heart. Alexander had 11 tackles, forced and recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass, just two days after learning his teenage brother had been shot to death during a fight in their Alabama hometown.

Mankins put his left arm around Alexander's shoulder and his right hand on his shoulder pad as the former LSU star sobbed into a towel. "What this guy did here today guys, that's something special," Mankins said, as teammates clapped. "Here's the game ball.'

"To play under those circumstances, my hat's off. And to play the way you did. Two turnovers, man, I got a lot of respect for what you did today."

"We all do!' Smith said. Teammates pulled Alexander in a circle, embraced him and rubbed his head. "Proud of you Kwon. We love you!' they said.

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston shouted, "We're a family. One team! One heartbeat!"

Smith continued: "Hey guys. Remember this feeling men! Remember this feeling! This is the way is supposed to be after every game. We're going to start streaking now. Another good one coming up next week."

Then Mankins, wiping his eyes and still holding onto Alexander, added, "That's the commitment we need from everyone."

There are a lot of troubling things about the NFL — the debilitating injuries, a small percentage of players who make headlines for being charged with domestic abuse, DUIs and other embarrassments to the NFL shield.

But what is it about the game that enables a young linebacker from Alabama feel like the brother of a veteran offensive lineman from northern California after knowing each other only six months?

"When you're part of a team, we talk about being part of a tribe where you're really connected," Smith said. "And when you go through some of the things, the different emotions, if you're not part of the team, the games move on, you're upset if we don't win, if we win you're excited.

"That picture of the sideline afterward. When you're invested that much in the group, it is a drug in a way, that you need and you want the rest of your life."

Football is a grind, more pain than pleasure. It's torn knee ligaments, painkilling shots, dropped balls and thrown interceptions, vomiting at summer training camp workouts under an unforgiving sun. Yet there is the thrill of running out of the tunnel of a sold-out stadium, the deafening roar of the crowd on autumn Sundays when touchdowns are scored and quarterbacks sacked.

But it's also living with the fear that there might never be anything in life to equal the intoxication of playing a kid's game for a living. Above all else, it's a brotherhood. You mess with one man, you've got us all. The boys of fall.

"The offensive linemen and linebackers don't hang out and go to dinner each night or anything. But sometimes when you go through something like Kwon is going through, for him to find out just how much he really means to the group and Logan asked me if he could do that," Smith explained. "And it just wasn't Logan, of course, he handed the ball to him. But all of his teammates were feeling for him the entire game."

Smith was asked if Alexander's performance, and his teammates' support during a family tragedy, might galvanize the players.

"Before any of this happened, it was a close team and the team doesn't need anything else to bring them closer," Smith said. "Just sometimes as a man, you don't let it out how you feel about someone always. It's no more than that. I don't think this team can get any closer. They like each other. They know there's a responsibility you feel to do your job for your teammate. So I think we're already there."

Having peeled back the curtain, it's on tape for all to see.

Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] and listen from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs.

Comments
Shaquem Griffin: ‘I’m not just a feel-good story’

Shaquem Griffin: ‘I’m not just a feel-good story’

TAMPA — Shaquem Griffin wakes up knowing each day will be better than the last and barely able to wait until tomorrow."It's just a whirlwind,'' Griffin said.On Thursday, he will walk the red carpet with his family, including his twin brother, S...
Published: 04/21/18
Bucs not listening to outsiders, but expectations remain high for 2018

Bucs not listening to outsiders, but expectations remain high for 2018

TAMPA —Wait 'til this year seems to be the refrain at One Buc Place, even though the team was strangled by expectations in 2017. But a solid offseason that has already brought a rebuilt defensive line, new center and place-kicker has renewed th...
Published: 04/21/18
NFL draft confessions: The Bucs set the trap, and I took the cheese on Johnny Manziel

NFL draft confessions: The Bucs set the trap, and I took the cheese on Johnny Manziel

TAMPA — The NFL draft is one big game of Liar's Poker. Deal me out.Even the guys with a seat at the table don't know when someone is bluffing.Bucs general manager Jason Licht knows that the team's No. 7 overall pick this year will be affected b...
Published: 04/20/18
Bucs’ Jameis Winston, Mike Evans catch Miami Heat game from courtside

Bucs’ Jameis Winston, Mike Evans catch Miami Heat game from courtside

We've seen Jameis Winston and Mike Evans bonding this offseason, going to Texas A&M pro day together, among other events. The two Bucs stars and their significant others double-dated Thursday night, getting courtside seats to watch the Miami Heat in ...
Published: 04/20/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Bucs have a tough start to their schedule

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Bucs have a tough start to their schedule

The NFL did the Bucs no favors with their 2018 schedule, Rick Stroud says, making them open at New Orleans, followed by home games against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Plus, linebacker Kendall Beckwith had surgery to repair a broken ankle, p...
Published: 04/20/18
Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

TAMPA — How good can the Bucs be in 2018? Fans will get a good sense in the first three weeks, as Tampa Bay opens the year with three of its toughest games, all against reigning division champions. The Bucs open 2018 in New Orleans on Sept. 9 ...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith fractured ankle in car accident

Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith fractured ankle in car accident

TAMPA – Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith had surgery to repair a broken ankle he suffered in a car accident in Louisiana last week, putting his status for the start of the season in question.Beckwith was passenger in car driven by former L...
Published: 04/19/18
Bucs’ home schedule leaked: Hosting Eagles in Week 2

Bucs’ home schedule leaked: Hosting Eagles in Week 2

The 2018 NFL schedule won't be released until 8 p.m. tonight, but the Bucs' eight home games were posted early — and presumably accidentally — on the team's site, showing what would be a daunting start to the upcoming season.Multiple outl...
Published: 04/19/18
Is Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick a first-round fit for the Bucs?

Is Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick a first-round fit for the Bucs?

Minkah FitzpatrickPosition: SafetyCollege: AlabamaHeight/Weight: 6-1, 201Draft projection: First roundWhy Fitzpatrick makes sense for the BucsOne of the Bucs' biggest needs is to improve their secondary. Fitzpatrick is a playmaker, arguably the best ...
Published: 04/17/18
Jameis Winston set to make $21 million in 2019 as Bucs pick up his option

Jameis Winston set to make $21 million in 2019 as Bucs pick up his option

TAMPA — Jameis Winston is headed for a big pay day after this season, whether he gets a contract extension or not.The Bucs on Tuesday picked up the fifth-year option on Winston's rookie contract worth $20.9 million for 2019. The deal is not gua...
Published: 04/17/18