On Thursday, Christmas came early for 30 local families hard on their luck this holiday season.
Invited to One Buccaneer Place under the guise of a behind-the-scenes facility tour, the families were surprised by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' gift-toting defensive linemen, who were holding their first "D-Line Does Christmas" holiday event.
Gathered in the team's auditorium, the guests cheered at the surprise appearance of Buccaneers Michael Bennett, Da'Quan Bowers, Gary Gibson, Corvey Irvin, Lazarius Levingston, Matt Masifilo, Gerald McCoy, Roy Miller, Aaron Morgan, Ernest Owusu, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Dekoda Watson and Markus White, as well as Buccaneers Cheerleaders and Captain Fear. That large group of Buccaneers – in more ways than one – immediately began handing out holiday goodies to each family, including gift cards to Hess and Publix Supermarkets as well as toy helicopters for the children.
That was only the beginning, which became clear when McCoy teased the group with, "But there is more!" The third-year lineman then led the group out to the Buccaneers' practice fields and down the building to the facility's breezeway. Waiting just around the corner were gift bags filled with toys and games for each child.
"I saw a mom, all we told her was that she gets a Publix gift card, and she literally started tearing up," McCoy said. "She probably had no idea how she was going to feed her family. When she saw somebody cared, that was such a huge relief to her."
Even then, the surprises weren't over. Bowers instructed the families to walk towards the front of the building, where giant buses were waiting to transport the families down the road for a shopping spree. The Buccaneer players followed the buses to Target, where team staff waited to assist the children and parents in their shopping endeavors.
"From start to finish, as soon as we got there, it was gifts, gifts, gifts galore," said Samantha Jones, a parent of three. "I'm just really honored for them to have chosen my kids to bring them Christmas."
Though almost speechless from the experience, 14-year-old Kenderek Crawford mustered a few words about the Buccaneers' efforts at the end of the day.
"They seemed like big kids, just outside of their equipment," said Crawford. "Thank you. This is a blessing."