Have the St. Louis Cardinals trademarked their new "Happy Flight!" slogan? If not, it would serve the Tampa Bay Buccaneers well as Week Six transitions into Week Seven in the NFL.
The MLB's Cardinals chanted their unofficial motto on the pitchers' mound at Miller Park on Sunday night after clinching the National League pennant with a 12-6 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, knowing that yet another flight out of town would come on the heels of a win. That Game Six victory in the NLCS wrapped up about five hours after the Buccaneers finished off their own exciting win over the rival New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium.
Tampa Bay's 26-20 victory over the Saints pulled the Buccaneers back into a first-place tie in the NFC South and also sent them off to London in a very good frame of mind. The Bucs will take on the Chicago Bears at Wembley Stadium next Sunday in the latest International Series game, marking the second time in the last three years they have been chosen for that prominent stage.
Of course, the Cardinals' flight is headed straight to the World Series, while the Buccaneers still have a long path ahead in their quest to return to the playoffs. In a way, the two trips are comparable, however, because the international setting for the Bucs-Bears matchup definitely lends Week Seven a postseason feel.
"It's great, man – big-game exposure and an opportunity to put our team out in the forefront of everything," said Head Coach Raheem Morris. "To get our guys in the International game, people love the game over there. It's a lot of fun for us to travel over there – it creates a little excitement, creates a nice little buzz. It's a Super Bowl-like atmosphere, so it's a bunch of fun for us."
The Buccaneers had fun on their seven-hour flight over the Atlantic, thanks to both the comfortable Virgin Atlantic plane and the lingering excitement over the previous day's win. Tampa Bay's defense intercepted Saints quarterback Drew Brees three times and also forced a fumble in a shootout that featured 873 combined yards between the two teams. Linebacker Quincy Black clinched the win with an interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter.
"It's definitely a better flight after a win," agreed Morris. "It was a great night last night. We got a chance to celebrate last night and now we get back to work."
The Bucs were on buses headed to the airport roughly 12 hours after leaving Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, the accelerated schedule designed to preserve as much in-season normalcy as possible. Two years ago, the team conducted most of its preparation in Tampa before heading to London on Friday. A whirlwind three days included a 35-7 loss to the New England Patriots. This time around, the idea is to transport the entire work week across the pond and arrive at next Sunday's game more acclimated to the surroundings.
That means a day of planning by the coaching staff on Tuesday, regular practice hours on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and a Saturday that combines the usual walk-through and an NFL rally in London's Trafalgar Square. There will be a few sight-seeing opportunities for the players along the way, but they won't get in the way of football work.
"It will be the exact same," said Morris of the weekly schedule. "That's why we're going out there for a week, so we can get our whole week of work in. We'll get a chance to get out there, do our stuff and get it all in on time.
"The coaches don't have anything fun planned. We'll get in there Tuesday and put in a day of work, go back to practice on Wednesday, get ready for Thursday, get a chance to get our half-day on Friday and maybe see a little bit of London on Friday night. Then we'll go back to work on Saturday and be ready for the game on Sunday."
The Bucs will hopefully create yet another "Happy Flight" – apologies to the Cardinals – a week from Monday by taking down the Bears and staying at least tied for first place in the highly-competitive NFC South. At the same time, they can introduce one of the NFL's most promising young teams to an even bigger audience than usual.
"It's awesome," said Morris of once again taking his team to London. "It creates a great experience for us, a great experience for our organization. To get a chance to be out on the stage is nice."
RB Spann Added to Practice Squad
Rookie running back Chad Spann landed in London on Monday and was probably still wondering how he got there.
Spann had the fortuitous timing to be signed by the Buccaneers to their practice squad just before the team took off on its trip across the Atlantic. The team waived rookie linebacker Derrell Smith to make room for Spann on that eight-man crew.
The Buccaneers brought all of their practice squad players with them to the United Kingdom for two reasons. One, obviously, the team is going to be practicing all week, just as if they were back at One Buccaneer Place, and that's where practice squad players contribute every week. And, two, if any unexpected injuries occur and the team wants to activate a practice squad player to the 53-man roster, it's a simpler process if that player is on hand.
The Buccaneers needed some practice depth at the running back position after rookie running back Allen Bradford was waived last week and then claimed off waivers by the Seattle Seahawks. The Bucs had released Bradford to make room for safety Tanard Jackson's activation from the exempt list.
Spann played four seasons at Northern Illinois University, racking up 2,916 rushing yards and a remarkable 48 touchdowns on 536 carries. As a senior in 2010, he was named the MAC Offensive Player of the Year after establishing a new school record with 22 touchdowns to go with his 1,388 rushing yards.
Spann played his high school football in Indianapolis and, perhaps not coincidentally, began his NFL career by signing with the Colts as an undrafted free agent in July.