TAMPA — They starred on Hard Knocks. They got through Irma. They hope, as Jameis Winston said, that Sunday's belated season-opener produces something more than a football game.
"A lot of people in this city have some troubling times right now," Winston said. "It's exciting that hopefully this team can hopefully be the giddy-up for people who were affected by the storm."
Now they just have to go out and win.
The NFL season is finally here for the Bucs. They're a week behind. Everything seems a little off-kilter as they take the field at Raymond James Stadium against Chicago.
Or at least it could be, with former Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon thrown in for good measure.
The Bucs come into 2017 with high expectations. Hard Knocks didn't seem to be a distraction, but we don't know yet, do we? Irma postponed the season-opener at Miami. The delay will squeeze this season into 16 consecutive weeks of football, no bye. Eight Bucs starters Sunday will not have played football in a month.
There have been distractions. There could be excuses.
Only there can't be excuses.
"None at all," Winston said.
"We're pros," Bucs receiver Mike Evans said. "The captains and the leaders on this team are going to be on the guys, but I don't see there being a problem. We're professionals and we've been waiting to play, so we want to go play."
They're professionals with a job to do — to start this season the right way.
You go and win.
You go and win because a tone needs to be set. You go and win because it would speak to focus and leadership. We saw all kinds of leadership on Hard Knocks — Winston, Gerald McCoy, Dirk Koetter. This is the test. All that waiting, all the possible distractions, all the possible excuses.
You go and win because the Bears went 3-13 last season, though they played Atlanta tough last Sunday. You stop enough of the Chicago run game and you put Glennon in third and long and you make him beat you. And you don't let him. Not to start this season.
Yes, openers tend to be overrated. The Falcons lost to the Bucs in Atlanta in the season-opener last season, but still went to the Super Bowl. The 2002 Bucs lost their season-opener, but still won the Super Bowl. The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots just lost their opener.
The Houston Texans came into their season-opener with all sorts of emotions after Harvey hit. J.J. Watt hit the field in his stadium waving the Texas state flag. What an emotional moment. Then the Texans got pounded by the Jaguars.
But the Bucs need this opener, maybe for the community, but mostly for themselves. There has been so much talk about this team taking those next steps.
Sunday is that first step. You don't lose this game.
Sunday will mark 22 days since most of the Bucs starters, who skipped the preseason finale, will have played football. And there are 16 straight games dead ahead.
"It's probably going to be hard on them, but I don't think anybody is going to be feeling sorry for us," Koetter said. "I know the Bears aren't going to feel sorry for us. If you look around the league, there a lot of teams that have issues. ... Jacksonville couldn't get back from their game. Miami had to go to California a week early. There are issues for every team."
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"If we go out there Sunday and don't perform, y'all going to write the Bucs didn't do well," McCoy said. "You're not going to say, 'Oh, they didn't do well because ...' You're going to say they just didn't do well. Nobody cares, so we don't care."
Yes, everything all feels a little off-kilter. And will there be a Hard Knocks hangover?
It begins Sunday for the Bucs.
Contact Martin Fennelly at email@example.com or (813) 731-8029