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Bucs' Bryant stands tall after son's death

TAMPA — It was long enough. The most meaningful kick of Matt Bryant's life, however, will not be remembered for its distance.

It was straight enough. But the most important field goal Bryant has ever kicked will not be remembered for its accuracy, either.

The ball went through the uprights, and it turned a deficit into a lead, and it helped a football team win a pivotal game. On other days, with other kicks, those might have seemed like the important details.

This time, the measurements that counted were about a man, about a moment, about a memory.

This time, the kick was for Tryson.

The rest of the day, too.

Matt Bryant, grieving father, stood on the right hashmark Sunday afternoon and watched solemnly as his 24-yard field goal sailed through the uprights. Then holder Josh Bidwell wrapped his arms around Bryant, and the two stood motionless for the longest time, one friend trying to lessen the pain of another. Then one by one, the rest of the Bucs field goal team began to embrace Bryant in a quiet, understated celebration.

Then Bryant kissed his fingers twice and reached toward the sky as he had done after his first two field goals Sunday.

And again, as he had felt all day, his son was still with him.

Bryant has kicked longer field goals, and he has kicked more of them. And still, this was the most impressive performance of his career. One day after burying his 3½-month-old son Tryson, Bryant had willed himself into a football uniform and taken the field.

Why? "Because I wanted to honor Tryson's name," he said after Sunday's 30-21 win, his voice cracking with emotion.

How can a man do this? How can he gather himself and block out his grief? How can he manage to do something as relatively trivial as kick a football toward a goal post? How can he swallow the pain and stand up for his teammates?

No one would have blamed Bryant if he had taken a bereavement day. No one would have said a word if he had merely shaken his head and stayed home with his family. And still, Bryant played. He made three field goals in three tries. He kicked three extra points. He made a tackle.

Somehow.

"I didn't think it was fair for his life to end so short," Bryant said, slowly, quietly, like a man plucking the proper words out of the pain. "This is the best way I could get out and honor him. I miss him. I wish he was here. He was here. Without a doubt.

"Today was his day. It was all about him for me."

Throughout the game, Bryant said, he had conversations with Tryson. Not out loud, but internally, so just he and his son could hear.

"I wanted to remind him that he's my baby boy and he is with me all of the time," said Bryant, 33.

Even at 3½ months, children have their own personalities. Tryson, his father says, was a happy baby.

"He would always smile," Bryant said. "All you had to do was talk to him softly. The only bad thing … he didn't like the cannons too much in his first game here. So I tried to assure him that it was all right.

"As long as you talked softly, with no sudden noises, he was a happy baby."

Then came Wednesday. Bryant had already left for One Buc Place when Melissa, his wife, tried unsuccessfully to wake Tryson. Bryant immediately turned around to go home.

They are a large, caring family, the Bryants. Melissa had four children when the two got married, and Matt and Melissa have had two together. Tryson was the one Bryant referred to as "my baby boy."

On Saturday morning, in a small church called the Agape Fellowship Church in Groves, Texas, the Bryants held a funeral for their son. The Glazers, owners of the Bucs, had supplied the Bryants with a chartered plane for the service.

Both Matt and Melissa talked about Tryson at the funeral. According to Bucs chaplain Doug Gilcrease, Matt left the crowd of 75 or so with a simple thought.

"Tryson doesn't like loud noises," he said. "So when you see him in heaven, walk quietly and speak softly."

For a while, Bryant said he considered not playing. Melissa told him that it was up to him. He returned to the team Saturday night, and a team meeting was immediately filled with emotions.

Then came Sunday, and a room filled with strong men found themselves moved by a placekicker's strength.

"I try to think what it would be like," running back Earnest Graham said, "and I don't have a clue."

"It's an unimaginable situation," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "You never think it's going to happen to you until it happens to you."

And still, despite the gaping hole in his soul, Bryant lined up for a go-ahead kick with 2:26 left to play. His kick was perfect, and despite a tacked-on touchdown shortly afterward, the game was decided.

Afterward, someone asked him about the pressure of the kick.

"It didn't matter," he said. "I wasn't going to let anything screw up the day when I had a chance to acknowledge him again."

The grief is a long way from over, of course. You could see that in the hollowed eyes and the slumped shoulders as Bryant moved down the concrete corridor of Raymond James Stadium. A game ball was stuffed under his left arm.

Oh, and there was one other thing.

In his heart, there was a 3½-month-old son named Tryson. From this point on, he will never leave.

Bucs' Bryant stands tall after son's death 09/28/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 1, 2008 11:28am]
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