TAMPA – Bucs training-camp regulars Onida Fountain and her daughter, Courtney, waited behind the rope line after practice. Onida held a gift bag of sweets. She waited on her friend, the gentle giant, the cookie monster, the sweetest Buc.
“Dot loves chocolate chips,” Onida said.
Bucs right tackle Demar Dotson, immensely large, immensely friendly, ambled over. The 6-foot-9, 315-pound Dotson swallowed Onida in a hug. That is how Dot rolls.
Onida is the younger sister of iconic Bucs fan Jackie Riles, the legendary “Pillow Lady,” who has knitted pillows for Bucs for decades.
“These are our people, we got to remember that,” Dotson said.
Dotson, entering his 11th NFL season, is the longest-tenured Bucs player. He was the longest tenured even before Gerald McCoy left.
“To me, it means God gave me a little more grace,” Dotson said. “When I came here in 2009, God made a way for me, left the door open for me, and it never really closed.”
Dotson is: a survivor. He’s an Easter Island statue on a windswept isle of losing. His Bucs career began in 2009. The Bucs last made the playoffs in 2007.
Bruce Arians is Dotson’s fifth Bucs head coach. He played under Club Raheem Morris, toed the line for Shawshank Greg Schiano, sang along with Auld Lang Lovie Smith and tried to stay loose under uptight Dirk Koetter. Now comes Arians and the promise he brings.
“I think time will tell,” Dotson said. “Every head coach comes in and tries to impart their mentality of a team. It’s up to the players to buy in. One thing I like about B.A. is that he’s willing to take care of guys. For example, he gave me a day off yesterday. He’s going to take care of you, he’s going to get you to the dance. That makes you appreciate a guy, it makes you go hard out for that guy."
Dotson, who turns 34 in October, joined he Bucs in 2009 as a college free agent from Southern Mississippi. He has played in 115 games for the Bucs, 91 as a starter. Every time someone tries to move Dotson out of his job, he has moved back in.
“I don’t know if it’s anything special about me,” Dotson said. “They’ve stayed with me. I don’t believe I’m a terrible tackle, because if you’re a terrible tackle you can’t stay around. Every year I’ve been a starter, since 2012, I’ve heard it. But the talk doesn’t matter.”
No one is going to confuse Dotson with Forrest Gregg. There are a lot of right tackles who are better. And the Bucs don’t exactly have blocks of granite up front. In fact, Dotson and his aging body, especially from the knees down, are prime suspects on a suspect right side of the line.
And yet every time you see Dotson, you smile. He is there for media, for fans, despite the fact that nobody knows the trouble he’s seen. Or the false hopes, like 10-6 in 2010 under Raheem, like 6-4 in 2012 to start Schiano’s first season, like last year’s 2-0 start before Koetter tuned to dust.
“I can’t really say we had a bad head coach around here,” Dotson said. “What I can say is we’ve had teams that just didn’t buy in. If the players don’t buy in, you’re not going to win.
“I’m not a wolf, I don’t howl at the moon, but it does get frustrating. I’m getting older. I want to have that playoffs feeling. You don’t want to play all these years and have nothing to show for it. You want to have something to show your kids, hey, we did this.”
Demar Dotson plows on. He’s the kind of guy you pull for, the kind you one day hope to talk to in the bedlam of a playoff-bound celebration.
Jackie Riles’ husband died a few years ago, Dotson attended the memorial, along with Gerald McCoy. No one who was there forgets that.
“I’d be happy for the whole team if they win, but Dot is one of my favorites,” Onida Fountain said.
Jackie Riles isn’t feeling so great these days. Demar Dotson, Bucs lifer, took his bag of chocolate chip cookie into the locker room. He soon emerged with a note for Jackie, all folded up. He pressed it in Onida’s hand.
What did it say?
“That’s between him and her,” Onida said.
Contact Martin Fennelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly