TAMPA — His job, house and class schedule either gone or in shambles, Reese Collins hopped in his silver 2012 Camry on Sunday and headed north on Interstate 75, eager to flee reality for one night.
When the week dawned, Collins was a 26-year-old bartender living with a buddy in a rented home on a Fort Myers lake, completing his degree in communications and public relations at nearby Florida Gulf Coast University. By Thursday, his beachside place of employment — Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille — had been leveled by Hurricane Ian, and the water was still rising in his house.
“There’s no Fort Myers Beach anymore,” Collins said via cell phone as he drove with his girlfriend Sunday afternoon. “It’s a mess; it’s worse than it looks, to be honest with you. Everything’s just dead around the area.”
Momentary escape lurked two hours north. After days of horrific breaks, Collins finally caught a couple of good ones, scoring Bucs-Chiefs tickets and a nearby Airbnb for reasonable rates. So he sped from the damage and toward the diversion.
“Tonight,” Collins said, “means a lot.”
Even as some continued leveling audacity allegations against the Bucs and the NFL, for staging a game days after a hurricane ravaged a nearby region, Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes delivered a relief effort of their own. The service they offered wasn’t as essential as water, hot food or electricity, but nourishing and replenishing in its own way.
For one evening, many impacted by Ian — at least those with power or tickets — could chart down and distance instead of hurricane trajectory.
“Football cures everything, doesn’t it? Especially Chiefs football,” said Tracy Keller, who drove 2½ hours with husband Kerry from their home in Ponce Inlet — south of Daytona Beach — to see their favorite team.
The Kellers, both Iowa natives, lost power for more than 36 hours — from about 7 a.m. Thursday until roughly midnight Friday — and watched nearby piers and jetty walkways crumble under Ian’s strain. But having weathered the storm, they headed west for relief.
Sunday night was their first Chiefs game since Kansas City opened the 2018 season at Jacksonville.
“It’s a great way to escape all the news about destruction,” said Keller, a marketing consultant for an East Coast-based communications company. “Our beach alone is horrible. We were afraid that this game would be moved to Minnesota, and we’re glad it wasn’t. We’ve had these tickets for months and a hotel room booked for months.”
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The Bucs made a point to intersperse support for Ian victims into the pregame pageantry.
The franchise’s initiatives included donating its share of the traditional 50/50 game-day raffle to relief efforts, and selling “Florida Strong” T-shirts, with proceeds going to Ian relief. Prior to the national anthem, a poignant tribute video honored those affected by the hurricane, and first responders.
Player messages were broadcast throughout the stadium, urging those who can help victims to do so.
Upon returning to Fort Myers, Collins, 26, must find a new job and doesn’t mind manual labor. His landlord is giving him a break on rent, and will pay him and roommate James Dowling if they help repair the place, but his college graduation — set for May — now could be postponed.
But for one cloudless Sunday night, the Bucs allowed for decompression.
“Me and my dad are big Buccaneer fans,” Collins said. “So to go the Bucs game tonight, I can kind of just escape it for a little bit, relax, enjoy myself, watch the Bucs play. So it means a lot to me, to be honest.”
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
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