Bucs rookie LB Stanakeane Gibbs named after one of the men who saved his father's life.
It is easy to forgive him. But when the father looks at his son, he does not see a free-agent linebacker. He sees Lawrence Taylor.
He does not see the boy who used to come home crying from kindergarten because children made fun of the name he had been given.
When the father looks at Stanakeane Gibbs, he sees so much more. He sees the flash of an explosion, the blood running out his body and the ghosts of two men who risked their lives to save his.
"That's how Stan got his name," Charles Gibbs said. "Every time I call him or speak to him or his brother, it reminds me of my two buddies in Vietnam."
Charles Gibbs was 19 and one of 6,000 Marines sent to fight in Khe Sanh, one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War, lasting 77 days in the winter and spring of 1968.
On hill No. 861, Gibbs and his platoon were attacked _ rocket, mortar and artillery fire.
"We were pinned down," said Gibbs, 50. "I was scared to death. They bombarded us with everything they had."
Gibbs heard the explosion and felt the burning shrapnel tear into his body, critically wounding him in the knee, ear, back, jaw and leg. Two Marines who had befriended him when he first was sent into combat yelled to Gibbs above the explosions in reassuring voices.
Between rounds of artillery fire, the men dragged Charles Gibbs to the safety of a rocket crater until they could help evacuate him.
Of the 35 Marines fighting to hold hill 861, only 12 survived. Gibbs was relieved to find that the men who saved his life _ whom he only knew by their first names, Sturdevon and Stanakeane _ were among them.
"I always said if got back to America, to the States, and had two sons, I would name them after those men who saved my life," Gibbs said. "And God blessed me that I was able to come back alive and intact. He also blessed me with two healthy boys. I kept that promise. That's how my first son became Sturdevon and Stan was named Stanakeane."
By the time Gibbs was returned to combat after spending several weeks in a hospital in Japan, he learned that his heroes were among the 500 Marines and airmen killed before the siege ended in Khe Sanh.
Stanakeane, 24, never grew tired of hearing that story on drives from New Jersey to Syracuse, where he played outside linebacker for the Orangemen. He recorded a career-high 93 tackles as a senior last season.
Sturdevon, a 27-year-old hairstylist in New Jersey, sometimes goes by "Stur." Teachers used to butcher Stanakeane's name so badly in kindergarten that he had it shortened a couple times.
"When I was a young kid in kindergarten and we were learning how to spell our names, the kids used to laugh at my name and say it sounded like a girl's name, so I used to come home crying to my momasking her why did she have to name me that," Stanakeane said. "She dropped the "e' off. It made the end Stanakean. I was happy for a little while. Then when I got up in age a little bit more, once I got to junior high, they were still making fun of the name. I had a football coach he shortened it down to Stan the Man. I've always gone by Stan."
The Bucs identified Gibbs as a player with the right tools to fit into their defensive system.
At 5-11, 230, he is reminiscent of the Bucs' other undersized linebackers who have utilized speed and aggressiveness to hunt ball carriers. He is working at strong-side linebacker behind Jeff Gooch and Alshermond Singleton.
"Even in school, I used to always watch films on the Bucs or tape their games," Gibbs said. "What they do here, I kind of fit into their scheme a lot."
Two factors work in Gibbs' favor. Last season, the Bucs kept 10 players who signed as undrafted college free agents. He also excelled on special teams at Syracuse, and Tampa Bay has to find a way to replace kick coverage specialists Jerry Ellison, Tony Bouie and Robb Thomas.
"He really is one of those guys you look at and you don't know what other teams were thinking, but he's an outstanding special-teams player at Syracuse," coach Tony Dungy said. "That's where he kind of first caught our eye. Then, he is the same style, physique, physical skills of guys we've had success with. We were happy to sign him, and he's done well. He's a hard worker, the kind of guy we've had success with."
Naturally, Charles Gibbs likes his son's chances. Even though Stanakeane was not drafted, he knew there would be a place for him in the NFL.
"He reminds me a lot of Lawrence Taylor," Charles Gibbs said. "He has a nose for the ball, he's smart and has a lot of quickness. This has always been his dream. I told him, "If you don't play in the league, then there is no football.' "
So Gibbs is trying to make a name for himself.
"I've always remembered thinking, from a very, very young age, I was going to one day give my son that name also," Stanakeane said. "I like it."