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Bucs’ Gerald McCoy: You’re going to miss me when I’m gone

Gerald McCoy enters his ninth NFL season having already played for the Bucs as long as Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp.  [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Times]
Gerald McCoy enters his ninth NFL season having already played for the Bucs as long as Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times]
Published Aug. 31, 2018|Updated Aug. 31, 2018

The meals on big wheels began arriving before the team buses. Gerald McCoy arranged for the cargo of barbecue, macaroni and cheese and hot wings to be waiting at the Nashville Airport Marriott when teammates, coaches and front office personnel arrived from practice one day before a preseason game against the Titans.

He did the same thing a year ago when the Bucs were sequestered for several days in Jacksonville for joint practices.

On the last day of minicamp every year, he hires a Kona Ice truck to wait with frozen treats at one end of the practice field. At Christmas he roams One Buc Place, passing out gift cards to expensive restaurants to equipment managers, trainers, media relations staff, secretaries and cafeteria workers. He plays Santa Claus to 40 families selected by Metropolitan Ministries, personalizing gifts to match the children's wish lists. In the summer he pays for 500 kids to attend his youth football camp.

He's buys out movie theaters and extends open invitations to watch Marvel movies with him.

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He is a man of faith married to his high school sweetheart, Ebony, with four beautiful children, including twins and a baby on the way.

Only two active defensive tackles have more sacks. He's played in Tampa Bay as long as Warren Sapp and his next Pro Bowl will be his seventh in a row, tying the first ballot Hall of Famer. He still has the quickest first step of any defensive lineman in the league and is the highest-paid player in club history. One day the name Gerald McCoy will hang from Raymond James Stadium in the Ring of Honor.

So why can't a guy who orders trucks of food get a spoonful of appreciation from some fans?

"I've never said this before, but I'm going to say it now: I think once I'm gone, people will understand," McCoy said.

"I really do. Because there's a lot that I do that people don't see. And it's just you get to a point where you don't know because you're so used to seeing it, and when it's not there, it's like, well what happened with …?"

McCoy thinks about his father, who used to tell him not to take things for granted.

"My dad would always tell me, 'When it's gone, you're going to see.' And I would."

• • •

Entering his ninth NFL season, McCoy has become the face of franchise futility. He has been associated with mostly losing football teams. Only twice in his career have the Bucs had a winning record and for the former No. 3 overall pick in 2010, the postseason is something to be watched on TV.

But this year, at least for the league's worst defense, is supposed to be different. The Bucs finally invested some resources to surround McCoy with talent, trading for Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, signing Beau Allen and Vinny Curry from the Super Bowl champion Eagles and using a first-round pick on Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea.

Reporters started calling it "help for McCoy," as if it would be a cure-all for the Bucs' league-worst 22 sacks.

"That's why I said in an interview a while back, 'stop saying Gerald got help,' " McCoy said. "Don't expect the impossible out of nowhere. It takes time for these things to jell. You don't take a bunch of great players and, boom, all of a sudden it's great."

Even so, McCoy is impressed with his new line mates. Historically, the Bucs D has been the most important component in the franchise's DNA, and the fact it hasn't had a player with at least 10 sacks in a season since Simeon Rice in 2005 is absurd.

Already, McCoy has developed his own scouting report for newcomers to the defensive line.

Allen: "Beau is extremely intelligent. We were in the meetings yesterday and coach put up a slide. …  Usually people aren't able to write down everything. I looked at Beau's paper, he had written down the formation, the whole play, all the checks, DBs, LBs, everybody's stuff."

Curry: "Vinny is an I-need-to-know-why-I'm-doing-what-I'm-doing guy. Because once he knows why he's doing, he can go all out."

Vea: "It took the first day of training camp to realize he's 6-5, 6-6, 350 pounds. He would put his hands on people and he would just hold them in place."

Pierre-Paul: "He did an interview and somebody asked him what he learned after his (hand) injury, he said that he learned that he's unstoppable. That dude, man, he is unstoppable."

McCoy draws inspiration from many sources, most recently Pierre-Paul — whose right hand was mostly mangled by a fireworks accident on July 4, 2015.

"A lot of my mind-set of not taking this game for granted comes from JPP. He said, "This game almost got taken from him and it changed his perspective on the game. … I've always been a fan of his," McCoy said.

"I have a (Microsoft) Surface and I watch sacks by him all the time. To get him and see him, man, that dude is really good and really gifted."

As a player who has had 13 NFL defensive line coaches, McCoy feels fortunate that his newest position coach, Brentson Buckner, came aboard when he did. Buckner played 12 seasons, appearing in Super Bowls with the Steelers and Panthers.

Buckner coaches everyone hard, including McCoy.

"I read that Buck said something about the mental part of my game," McCoy said. "That's what he's been working with me to give me the tools to put myself ahead of what I'm facing. The offense knows what they're running, but he's trying to get me to where I know what they're running, too."

• • •

McCoy has four years remaining on the six-year, $95.2 million contract he signed in 2014. But after this season, the Bucs could walk away from the remaining years with no impact on the salary cap.

It's hard to believe McCoy has played as many seasons in Tampa Bay as Sapp, who played four more with the Raiders.

Three things have contributed to the perception by some Bucs fans that McCoy isn't the player the rest of the NFL believes he is.

He's chasing a ghost. Maybe the GOAT. Sapp was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on his first try. He finished his career with 96.5 career sacks, a Defensive Player of the Year award and a Super Bowl ring. He made two All-Decades teams. Following a player at that position in Tampa Bay was always going to be difficult.

Sapp played for Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden in Tampa. McCoy has had four head coaches. From a temperament standpoint, they are polar opposites. Sapp would skip through opponent's warmups. McCoy helps fallen players up. This became a criticism of him on sports radio.

McCoy is the highest-paid player in team history. If he plays out his entire contract, he will earn more than $148.5 million. To whom much is given, much will be expected.

McCoy is an easy target for criticism. When you're the highest paid, most accomplished anything on a losing team, you wear it. Only tackle Demar Dotson has been with the Bucs as long as McCoy and he was undrafted.

"I play to please God only," McCoy said. "But sometimes, just because I know that's who I am, doesn't mean I'm perfect. And sometimes, when people are saying things about me, it's almost to my character and how I am.

"And I know all those countless hours and those times I didn't feel like going and I went but not only did I go, I did extra. I know me having to deal with my family missing their dad because I'm all the way on the west coast preparing myself for a season. Or the times I'm missing with my wife because I'm at work training for two and three hours, alone by myself. …

"So when people are attacking my character and how I am and how I approach the game — people say I'm not tough or not mean enough or I'm soft — a lot of times if it bothers me, it's because there's a lot they don't see."

How much longer does he want to play?

"Sapp is like a measuring stick for me," McCoy said. "Sapp played 13 years so I will get to double digit years in my career and go from there.

"This is nine. This is when I'll know when I'm done: If I can do anything and make a mistake football-wise and I'm like, 'Hmmm, whatever,' I know it's time to go."

When that day comes and McCoy is gone, Bucs fans will know what they had.

Great moments in McCoy

A look at the most unique moments of Gerald McCoy's Bucs career:

April 22, 2010

Bucs select McCoy out of Oklahoma. An emotional McCoy hugs NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, beginning a tradition that Goodell and first-round picks have followed ever since.

July 24, 2014

McCoy arrives to training camp in a bathrobe with fuzzy slippers.

October 25, 2014

McCoy signs a seven-year extension worth $98 million, including $51.5 million guaranteed.

July 31, 2015

McCoy reports to training camp with a bright red streak in his hair.

July 26, 2016

Upon reporting to training camp, McCoy announces that QB Jameis Winston is the face of the franchise. "You guys are used to seeing me do things a certain way. That's going to change because the face of the franchise came to me and said, 'Hey, listen. If we're going to win, we need you to do this, okay?' Our quarterback said this is what he needs, so this is what I'm going to do."

April 17, 2017

McCoy, in a news conference during the first day of organized team activities, says he hasn't done enough to lead his team. "This team goes to the next level … as much as you need a franchise quarterback — and those things are great – this organization, this team, winning a Super Bowl is built on defense. The guy in the middle is what makes everything roll."

July 28, 2017

With Hard Knocks cameras rolling, McCoy reports to training camp wearing a kimono, an ensemble he says was inspired by his trip to Japan.

Sept. 24, 2017

McCoy challenges "social media tough guys" to meet him at One Buc Place. "There's a bunch of people out there that say a lot of terrible things that I know they wouldn't say to our face. These social media tough guys, I would love to meet them. Just being honest … I would love to meet you. I work at One Buccaneer Place if you would like to talk to me."

July 18, 2018

McCoy shows off his Batman-themed Rolls Royce, which he drove to training camp the next week.

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLStroud.

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