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Gaines Adams: So much good went unseen

I'm guessing you would have liked Gaines Adams if he had not been the No. 4 pick in the 2007 draft.

You would have liked him if he had not walked in the door on the same day the Buccaneers told Simeon Rice to walk out, or if he had not been handed a $15 million signing bonus before he ever played a down in the NFL.

I'm guessing you would have liked Gaines Adams if you had ever met him.

For in the end, he was a better man than he was a football player. He was a quiet, decent, unassuming guy who would display pictures of his children in his locker, and disguise the frustrations of his job behind a wide grin.

And so the tragedy of Adams' passing at age 26 on Sunday should not be lessened by the disappointment of his career in Tampa Bay. That he did not turn out to be the player the Bucs once envisioned is mildly irritating. That he will not be around any longer to see his son and daughter laugh, grow and play is absolutely heartbreaking.

"He was one of the most genuine people I've ever met," said defensive tackle Chris Hovan, who had a locker beside Adams at One Buc Place. "He was this gentle, free spirit. He could be friends with anybody. He was always happy, always grateful for his life."

Adams was nothing like what we have come to expect from our elite athletes. He was humble. He was shy. He was so honest and deferential, he was the rare kid who answered truthfully when NFL scouts asked if he had ever smoked marijuana in college.

The problem is he was here for such a short time, and felt so comfortable in the shadows, that most of our memories of Adams are from his performance on the field. And that, of course, is not ideal. Nor is it fair.

It was not Adams' fault that he was taken with the fourth pick in the draft. And it wasn't his fault that Vikings star Adrian Peterson was still on the board, and the Bucs went with Adams instead. Yet it was the size of the expectations that made his fall weigh heavier.

Perhaps you could fault Adams for failing to live up to his potential, but no one in the Bucs locker room ever felt it was from a lack of dedication. He cared. And he worked. He just never seemed to tap into that undefinable quality that pushes the very best players.

He seemed almost too gentle. Too easygoing. Traits that would be envious almost anywhere but a huddle.

You could practically see it on the field. In college, they whispered that he was lazy. That he would take plays off. But it wasn't that. It was that it was not in his nature to be aggressive. To be angry or mean.

And it showed up once he reached the NFL and was facing bigger, stronger and more cutthroat competition. He looked utterly hopeless the first six weeks of his career, and would go to Hovan and Kevin Carter to seek some form of solace in the locker room.

"We talked about it a number of times. I always told him the expectations were set high. When you're the fourth pick in the draft, you're going to be the face of the franchise. Whether it's media or the community, they're expecting you to be the now," Hovan said. "It was tough on him at first because he was so young. But he understood. And he came out with the mind-set that he was going to get better."

Adams showed flashes in the second half of his rookie season. But 2008 was a disappointment. And by the time new Bucs coach Raheem Morris challenged him early in 2009, it seemed as if all the confidence had been beaten out of Adams.

And so the hope was that Adams would find himself in Chicago after the Bucs traded him there in October for a second-round pick. That maybe some time with Rod Marinelli, the Svengali of defensive line coaches, would transform Adams into something new.

That will never happen now, and that's sad. But it's not nearly as sad as the thought of parents burying a too-young son. Or of children not understanding that Daddy will never again walk through the front door.

For the longest time, folks in Tampa Bay felt like they never got to see the best of Adams. That perhaps there was something more to this lanky kid from the Carolinas than what was showing up on the field on Sundays.

And I guess, in a way, we were right. Because there was more to Gaines Adams.

There was so much more.

John Romano can be reached at (727) 893-8811.

fast facts

Before the Bucs

Born: June 8, 1983

High school: Attended Cambridge Academy In Greenwood, S.C., where he was two-time all-state.

College: Named All-American and ACC defensive player of the year in 2006 at Clemson, where he tied the school record for sacks (28) in a career.

Adams career

YrGTSFf

2007163862

2008163861/20

2009 (Bucs)51010

2009 (Bears)10701

Totals4793131/23

Note: In 2008, Adams had two interceptions, returning one 45 yards for a touchdown against the Bears.

Source: NFL.com

Gaines Adams: So much good went unseen 01/17/10 [Last modified: Monday, January 18, 2010 8:00am]
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