KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As the Bucs' locker room celebrated a huge 19-17 win Sunday over the Chiefs, the live postgame radio broadcast was set to interview rookie tight end Alan Cross about his first NFL touchdown when the shout came from all sides: "HONCHO!"
Cross is the kind of hard-working longshot every locker room needs: cartoonishly country, every bit as humble and as likeable as he is unlikely to be there. His red beard earned him the nickname "Mike Honcho," a random if perfect nod to the male-model pseudonym of the sidekick in the Will Ferrell comedy Talladega Nights.
"I couldn't be more proud. You talk about the American dream," said Justin Fuente, who first coached Cross as a walk-on long snapper at Memphis and saw him set a school record for tight ends with 14 touchdowns. "Everybody likes him. He's a country kid from west Tennessee, but he's as genuine a person as you could ever find, and a pretty darn good football player. I take a tremendous amount of pleasure in watching him have success."
Cross, who beat the odds to make the Bucs' roster as an undrafted rookie this summer, had Tampa Bay's lone touchdown in a hard-fought win at Arrowhead Stadium, where the Chiefs had won 10 straight. The Bucs went in expecting as loud a crowd as they could possibly hope to silence.
"All week, Coach (Dirk Koetter) was saying this was the loudest stadium ever, and they put it all over the scoreboard," Cross said after the game. "I read it. It was 142 DP (decibels), whatever that is."
Cross lined up as a fullback on the play, sprinted uncovered to the right side — similar to a play called "Pig" he scored on at Memphis — and caught the pass from Jameis Winston to put the Bucs up nine points in the fourth quarter with what would be the deciding score in the game.
"He's one of those guys that is always overlooked, but then when you go back and watch the tape, you say, 'That guy is doing what he's supposed to do,' " Koetter said after the game. "We've been trying to get him a little more involved."
The Bucs liked Cross enough to keep him on the roster instead of draft pick Danny Vitale, who is now with the Browns. Fuente, now head coach at Virginia Tech, remembers only one time he ever got mad at Cross: At the end of his junior year, he'd taken to head-butting teammates at Memphis without his helmet on before games.
"I had a talk with him about how that was not smart and we weren't going to do that anymore," Fuente said. "And I'll be darned if before the first game of his senior year, we're getting ready to go out and start the game and he's laid out on a stretcher, getting stitched up because he did it again. I (chewed him out) pretty good for that."
Cross took joy Sunday in the fact that NFL players can get away with a little more in celebrating touchdowns, though he opted for a simple spike as fellow tight end Cameron Brate has perfected this season.
"It's like you never left college, really. You score a touchdown and everybody comes," he said of just the second catch of his young career. "I had to spike a little bit, because Cam does it."
Cross didn't have long to celebrate his touchdown, as he's also part of the kickoff coverage team, so he was hustling back on the field for the next play. Such is the life of a backup tight end, enjoying those first moments and quickly getting back to work.
"You've got to wipe it clean and keep playing football," he said.