Mike Alstott, one of the most popular players ever to don a Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey, has made the Bay area his home and raised a family in the community that embraced him. Alstott was Chicago-born and raised, however, and that implies a certain ethos of toughness and passion, particularly on the football field.
Danny Vitale, the Buccaneers' rookie tight end, grew up idolizing Alstott and totally buying into that Chicago ethos. On Tuesday, Vitale and Alstott met for the first time and, unsurprisingly, made an instant connection.
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"We just kind of talked in general," said Vitale, who had lunch with Alstott at team headquarters during a break in the Bucs' rookie transition program. "He's a great guy and it was really comfortable just sitting down and talking to him. We talked high school football all the way through big-time college football.
"We're two Big Ten guys. That's how we play football. That's Chicago, as well. Being in that Chicagoland area, we like the tough football guys, and that's something that I try to carry in my style of play, and the way I carry myself on and off the field."
Alstott played his prep ball at Joliet Catholic High School, where he was a Parade All-American and a Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year. A generation later, Vitale starred at Wheaton-Warrenville South High School, played against Alstott's old alma mater and earned first-team all-area honors from the Sun-Times. Alstott went to Purdue to play his college ball, while Vitale chose Northwestern. Exactly 20 years after taking Alstott in the second round of the NFL draft, the Buccaneers nabbed Vitale in the sixth round this past spring.
Alstott played his entire NFL career in Tampa, going to six Pro Bowls, setting the team's career record for touchdowns, inspiring fans with his second and third-effort runs and ending up in the Bucs' Ring of Honor. Vitale, of course, has not yet played an NFL game, but Dirk Koetter and the Bucs' offensive staff like the versatility he can bring to the offense and likely have big plans for him. After just one meeting, Alstott thinks Vitale can be an NFL success.
"What a great kid," said the former Buc great. "He has a lot of similar traits to me when I was growing up, his work ethic and his passion. You can just tell in the first 10 minutes of talking to him what kind of guy he is, how blessed he feels to be here and what he's going to do to make the team. He knows he needs to do everything he can on special teams, and he knows he needs to pick the brains of the veterans."
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Alstott swung by One Buccaneer Place after learning on Twitter that Vitale had grown up watching his exploits on television. Alstott, whose son Griffin committed to play quarterback at Purdue this spring, finds it almost hard to believe that a young man who wasn't even born when Alstott was playing high school ball is now entering the NFL.
"I've been a huge fan my whole life," said Vitale. "I remember playing the video game NFL Street and he was always the first guy I would pick. It was really cool to finally get to meet him. His biggest piece of advice was just work as hard as you can every single day. The rest will take care of itself."
In essence, those words might fall more under the category of reinforcement than advice. As was immediately clear to Alstott, his fellow Chicagoan already has the right approach to the game.
"You have to earn your way on special teams first, and at the same time learn your position and do whatever it takes," said Alstott, recounting his words to Vitale. "Early mornings, late nights. Be on time. He understands all that already. He is very passionate, and if you have that, you've got half the battle won."