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Bucs-Panthers: It’s the Gerald McCoy reunion, Part I

Martin Fennelly: With the Bucs set to face their former defensive star Thursday in Charlotte, do not dismiss the power of haunting.
Los Angeles Rams center Austin Blythe (66) and Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) run during a play in the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn) [MIKE MCCARN  |  AP]
Los Angeles Rams center Austin Blythe (66) and Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) run during a play in the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn) [MIKE MCCARN | AP]
Published Sep. 10, 2019

TAMPA – The Gerald McCoy Game is here, the first of two this season, the Bucs facing their former standout all-pro defensive tackle.

At least Buc fans don’t have to watch McCoy pray at midfield in Raymond James Stadium. Good deal, that London game.

McCoy will kneel Thursday in Charlotte, where the Bucs play the Panthers in a desperate matchup for a pair of 0-1 teams. By the way, the NFC South narrowly avoided an 0-4 start to the season when the Saints won their Monday night opener over Texas on a 58-yard field goal as time expired by Wil Lutz, who, by the way, was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2016, the same year the Bucs drafted Roberto Aguayo in the second round.

Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

It would serve the Bucs right if they were haunted by McCoy on Thursday, if Jameis Winston ends up in a heap under McCoy, as if the mysterious Bucs quarterback needs to be buried further.

It’s reunion time, just as it was last Sunday, when former Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander came to town with the 49ers to play his old team, at least for a while.

"It’s about the same as it was for Kwon,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “Hopefully, he doesn’t get thrown out of the game too."

Look, I had no problem with the Bucs and McCoy parting ways. It was just how it went done, as in not during last season, when the Bucs could have got something for the perennial Pro Bowler, but after, when McCoy simply walked away.

The Bucs got nothing in return. It was classic Bucs comedy.

By the way, not to make Jason Licht of it, but did it crack anyone else up when the Patriots picked up Antonio Brown? Not that the Bucs need Brown headaches, but doesn’t it say something when the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots have more cap space than the Bucs?

I’m just saying.

I’m also saying that McCoy had just one tackle in Carolina’s loss to the Rams, and that his replacement here, Ndamukong Suh, had two tackles and two assists against the 49ers, whatever that means.

What it probably means is that the McCoy storyline probably won’t be a big factor Thursday. Nor should it be. I don’t expect McCoy to stir things up before the game. Hugs and handshakes. That’s who the dude is. He was a very good Buc, and he was very good in this community. There can’t possibly be hard feelings Thursday.

But feel free, Gerald. Anything that could spice up this game would be a bonus.

And you never know when it comes to haunting the Bucs. A big game from McCoy wouldn’t rank with the all-timers, like Doug Williams, Steve Young and Trent Dilfer. But on a smaller scale, a big night from McCoy would put the Bucs in their place two weeks into the season.

Do not count McCoy out. Maybe something will fuel him Thursday, a slight, like Suh immediately being handed McCoy’s No. 93 upon his arrival in Tampa Bay. Or maybe it won’t.

Bucs players talked about their former teammate and leader Monday. Among them was defensive tackle Vita Vea, who was a rookie last season and who has now taken over for McCoy in the middle of the defensive line.

“I think it’ll be good to see Gerald,” Vea said. “We learned a lot from him. I learned a lot about work ethic. Just coming in as a young guy, watching him, knowing how many years he’s played. That’s what it’s going to take to be someone like he was.”

Vea caught himself and grinned.

“I mean like he still is.”

“Obviously you come in with guys and you’re teammates with them for years” Bucs offensive lineman Donovan Smith said. “Everybody has got to do what they do it’s a business.”

Thursday won’t be for sideshows.

It’ll be business. McCoy against his old team. The Bucs and Panthers are both 0-1. There is no time for mini-drama. They need to win a game. Bucs offensive lineman Alex Cappa, who’ll probably be across the way from McCoy when they two men lines up, knows only two things.

One, "Gerald is a great guy,” Cappa said.

He added, “And he’ll be coming.”

And not for old times’ sake.

I wonder if he’ll get to Bucs fans. I wonder if he’ll get to Winston. It could be worse. He could intercept him.

It’s the Bucs.

Never underestimate the power of haunting.

A Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan wears a Gerald McCoy jersey before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the San Francisco 49ers at Raymond James Stadium on September 8, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly









A fan wears a Gerald McCoy jersey before the Buccaneers game against San Francisco 49ers Sunday. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly

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