The emotions felt by coach Todd Bowles and Bucs players alternated between agony and empathy Wednesday.
When they weren’t preparing for practice or meetings at their relocated headquarters in south Florida, they were closely following the track of Hurricane Ian.
“When I’m chiling with my wife, I’m most definitely looking at the weather,” linebacker Shaquil Barrett said. “I’m looking at the cameras to see if there’s flooding on the street or anything going on. So I’m locked in what’s going on during my down time for sure.
“Hopefully, it’s not as bad as it’s supposed to be, but I know that’s probably not going to happen.”
On Tuesday, the Bucs boarded two chartered flights from Tampa to Miami International. They not only made arrangements for players, coaches and support staff, but they also invited any family members ― including pets ― to join them while they prepare for Sunday night’s game against the Chiefs.
The location of that game still isn’t 100 percent. It could be Raymond James Stadium or as far away as US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Jeff Miller, the NFL senior vice president for health and safety, said on a conference call that the league didn’t want to do anything “to negatively impact public safety efforts in the affected areas.”
As for a timeline, there is none. “It’s literally a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour consideration and conversation with all the affected parties, state and local authorities, disaster relief agencies and the participating clubs, as well as the Vikings,” he said.
But the feeling of the organization and the Glazer family, who own the Bucs, is that the more they could do to ensure the safety of everyone’s families, the easier it would be for players to focus on practice and meetings. The team considered the Greenbriar Resort in West Virginia, where teams have practiced between road games.
But the Dolphins, who play Thursday night at Cincinnati, offered use of their practice fields and weight room. The proximity to Tampa made it easier for some players to drive there before the storm really threatened the coast.
“First of all, our thoughts and hearts go out to everybody in Tampa that’s still there and hoping that they recover well and it doesn’t hit them very hard,” Bowles said on a Zoom call with media. “What we do is really small entertainment for people that go through a lot of rough things and hopefully we can provide that.
“It’s bigger than just the football team, No. 1. No. 2 is just making sure the players’ families are safe and the coaches’ families are safe, and everybody on the staff is safe so they can concentrate on football.”
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Perhaps no player understands the impact of a storm such as Ian as much as running back Leonard Fournette. He was 10 years old and living near New Orleans when Katrina struck that city and surrounding areas as a Category 5 hurricane.
“I’ve been through Katrina as a kid. I know how serious it is,” Fournette said. “I think the Bucs did a great job of evacuating everyone, making sure everyone’s families were ok, too. I just know how it is and I thank God we got out of there and we’re just praying for those guys up there in Tampa.”
Linebacker Devin White, whose Get Live Stables houses three of his 16 horses, had to secure those animals before heading to Miami.
“I guess you’ve just got to pray,” White said. “My barn is more expensive than my house so I think my barn is built for these types of things; hopefully nothing comes too close. I’ve just been watching the cameras and I have somebody working at the barn.”
Bowles said he would like for Sunday’s game to be played at Raymond James if only for the sake of the fans, but his team will be prepared either way.
“It’s big for the fans because we’ve been away for six weeks (including the preseason),” Bowles said. “Only to have one home game and then play away again, that’s tough for them. We’ve learned as a team and as a coaching staff and players, if you have to play anywhere, you have to get it done.
“The field is still only 100 yards for us no matter where we play. We won the first two on the road so we’ve definitely shown we can do that. We just have to focus in and play.”
At the very minimum, Bucs players hope that they can eventually give some of those displaced by Hurricane Ian a few hours of diversion and perhaps joy Sunday night.
“The game of football (doesn’t) really matter when you’re talking about people’s lives and people in the community being affected by something like this,” White said.
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