High-Ranking Official: FB Mike Alstott is first in Buc history in TDs, second in rushing yards and sixth in receptions
Mike Alstott wanted to remain a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. Any obstacle to that goal had to be treated like a Minnesota Viking linebacker standing between him and the end zone.
As he has done countless times during a career that has made him one of the most popular Buccaneers ever, Alstott leveled that obstacle on Monday, signing a new contract to remain with the team. The team typically does not announce new contracts that do not include additional years, but it was willing to confirm reports of Alstott's signing on Tuesday.
The new deal means that Alstott, the consummate team player during his nine years in Tampa, could very well finish his career as a Buccaneer. That's an outcome that has to please Alstott as well as the Bucs and their fans, particularly as the team contemplates possible moves to get in compliance with the 2005 salary cap on Tuesday.
"I'm a Buc, I'll be a Buc for ever and I wanted to end my career as a Buc," said Alstott. "Both sides think it was a fair deal, and we're both happy. Everything came together pretty well. If you want to play one or two more years, it's not worth going somewhere else, especially when you've worked so hard to help something come about and be a part of it.
"My loyalty to the fans here is important to me. They've supported me over the years and done so much for my career. It would be hard to even consider going to another club and putting on another uniform."
Though there still may be some cuts on the very near horizon, the Buccaneers' first few steps towards managing their cap overrun have been encouraging. Alstott and quarterback Brian Griese, two important pieces to the offense, have been retained rather than released, and both deals likely eased the cap burden, estimated at $17 million over the limit as of last week.
Cap numbers aside, the Buccaneers have kept one of the top performers in team history in the fold. A six-time Pro Bowler, Alstott has been to the most all-star games of any Buccaneer offensive player, and only Derrick Brooks (eight) and Warren Sapp (seven) have been to more among all players. Alstott is also a three-time first-team AP All-Pro choice (1997-99) and the team's 2001 Most Valuable Player, as chosen by fan vote.
Though he rarely seems concerned about individual statistics, Alstott's return will allow him to continue his climb up several all-time Buccaneer charts. For instance, he ranks second on the team's career rushing list with 4,837 yards, 1,120 yards behind James Wilder's final total (5,957). Alstott is also tied with Warrick Dunn for sixth place on Tampa Bay's career receptions chart – both players have 259 catches as a Buccaneer – and he is reasonably within striking range of the players ranked fifth through second: Jimmie Giles (279), Kevin House (286), Keyshawn Johnson (298) and Mark Carrier (321). Wilder is the Bucs' all-time receptions leader with 430.
Alstott is already the leading touchdown producer in team history by a comfortable margin, as his total of 61 scores is well ahead of Wilder's 46. He is also the fourth-leading scorer in team history and the leader among all non-kickers with 370 points. Five more touchdowns would make Alstott the fourth 400-point scorer in franchise annals. He is pleased that he now has the opportunity to build on his personal success and the team's fortunes in Tampa.
"There's no question you want to go out on top and turn a couple loose ends into a very successful season for the team," said Alstott. "And, yes, there are some individual goals. I would love to go to the Pro Bowl one more time, I'd love to win another Super Bowl with my teammates and there's that Cinderella story about going out on top. That's our goal as a team as we go into the offseason."
Alstott's popularity among Buccaneer fans may have as much to do with how he racks up yards and points as with how many he records. A second-round draft pick out of Purdue in 1996, he quickly became known for his second and third-effort runs, often breaking tackles and extending plays long after other backs would have been on the ground. Perhaps his most famous run was a one-yard touchdown at Minnesota in 1997 in which he first tried to dive over the middle, then landed on his feet, juked past one defender, got spun halfway around and still backed through another Viking into the end zone.
Such plays became his signature. During the Buccaneers' Super Bowl run in 2002 – a season in which he ran for 548 yards and caught 35 passes – Alstott punctuated a 126-yard rushing game against Cleveland with a 19-yard run in which he ran over or bounced off six different Browns defenders.
The follow-up to that championship season was a tough one for Alstott, as he sustained a significant neck injury that ended his campaign after just four games. The veteran back had surgery to repair the damage and vowed to return in 2004, but there was some concern about his career, given the location of the injury.
Alstott erased those concerns by returning with the same hard-nosed style in 2004, though he had the lowest combined rushing and receiving yardage total of his career (2003 excluded), with 432. That was partly due to a knee injury that kept him out of two games and limited him for much of November. As he had in a similar situation in 2000, however, Alstott returned from the injury faster than expected.
Alstott's return to the team on Monday may have been unexpected in some circles, too. However, with both sides motivated to keep the popular and productive fullback in red and pewter, any potential obstacles were overcome.