FB Mike Alstott didn't let a neck injury keep him off the field...or make him shy about contact
In an emotional press conference on Oct. 8, 2003, Mike Alstott made one thing perfectly clear:
"I am going to be back in uniform playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers."
Exactly 17 months later, Alstott was in Baltimore, accepting his 2004 Ed Block Courage Award. He was there, in large part, because he was true to his word.
Alstott's return to the playing field in 2004 was no simple matter. That 2003 press conference came on the heels of the announcement that he would go to injured reserve due to a significant neck injury. Alstott had first hurt his neck earlier in the season, and after a head-first collision in a game against the Indianapolis Colts he had experienced a few frightening moments of weakness in his arms and legs.
Alstott was diagnosed with a herniated disc, and surgery was prescribed. He certainly wasn't the first person to undergo such a procedure, but most people don't make their living by lowering their heads and pounding through would-be tacklers. Some wondered if he really could return to the field, and if he did, whether he could play with the same hard-nosed abandon.
Well, Alstott did it, and it took courage. He was on the field for the 2004 opener at Washington, and he recorded his first carry seven minutes into the first quarter. That one was for no gain, but he caught a six-yard pass on third-and-three on the very next snap.
Alstott went on to play in 14 games with 11 starts, contributing 230 rushing yards, 29 receptions, two touchdowns and hundreds of lead blocks. He missed two games with a knee injury, but returned from that ailment ahead of schedule, too.
And, at the end of the season, his teammates overwhelmingly chose him as their 2004 recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award. Each year, players on each NFL team cast secret ballots for the award, and the 32 winners gather in the offseason at a banquet to honor their commitment and dedication to their teams and their sport. Alstott attended that banquet in Baltimore on Tuesday, March 8, and was honored to be the Buccaneers' representative.
"One of the things that helped me through my rehab was my desire to get back out there with my teammates," said Alstott. "I've been through a lot with those guys and I wanted to be out there helping them win games. For them to choose me for this award means a lot to me. There are a lot of guys on our team who easily could have been there in my place."
In addition to being one of the most popular players in franchise history, Alstott has always been recognized as the consummate team player. That idea was reinforced a week before the Ed Block banquet when Alstott agreed to a restructured deal in order to finish his career as a Buccaneer.
Alstott will play in his 10th Buccaneer season in 2005. He is the club's all-time leader in touchdowns with 61 and stands second in career rushing yards (4,837) and tied for sixth in career receptions (259). He has been to six Pro Bowls, the most ever by a Tampa Bay offensive player.
The Ed Block Courage Awards, named for a long-time trainer with the Baltimore Ravens whose passion was helping children at risk, have been in existence for 27 years. Men are honored for exemplifying sportsmanship and courage, and the awards often go to players who have overcome significant obstacles such as injury or personal crisis. Recent Buccaneer winners include Joe Jurevicius, John Lynch and Jerry Wunsch.
Courage Award winners are also identified as community role models, and they are enlisted into support of the Courage House National Support Network. The annual banquet is the primary fundraising source for the network, which focuses on improving the lives of abused and neglected children in all NFL cities. Many NFL communities also have Courage Houses, facilities that provide support and quality care for children and their families.