Head Coach Raheem Morris said the Chalk Talk events gave Buc fans a different perspective on the team and its players
Josh Freeman's favorite color, at least insomuch as he claimed in front of a packed ballroom at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Tampa last week, is pewter.
Whether the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' rookie has always felt this way or just recently grew an affinity for the color — say, April 25, the day the Bucs picked Freeman in the first round of the NFL Draft — is not known. It is a unique choice, but one that Freeman stated emphatically at the annual Chalk Talk luncheon hosted by the Tampa Chamber of Commerce.
The luncheon, part of a morning-and-afternoon series of gatherings organized by the St. Petersburg and Tampa Chambers, brought together Buccaneers representatives and local community members for an unofficial kickoff to Tampa Bay's promising 2009 campaign.
As has become the tradition for this event series, the day began with a breakfast in St. Petersburg, this time at the St. Petersburg Marriott Pinellas Park. Freeman and safety Jermaine Phillips represented Buccaneer players and were joined by General Manager Mark Dominik and Head Coach Raheem Morris. Later, Hovan joined Freeman, Dominik and Morris for the afternoon luncheon in Tampa.
Now in its 12th year, the Chalk Talk series has become a highly-anticipated opportunity for local fans to meet prominent Buc representatives and ask them questions about the upcoming season. This year was particularly interesting for those Bay area residents in attendance as it was their first chance to pose questions to the franchise's new general manager, head coach and franchise quarterback, as well as key veterans Hovan and Phillips.
The Bucs' new leadership enjoyed the open exchange, too, as it is one of their goals to be accessible to the team's supporters.
"Raheem and I really want to be an honest organization with a group of people sitting there and not being afraid to say why we make the decisions we do," said Dominik. "It's a collective assessment when we do make decisions… and we make decisions on what we think is best for the organization - not only just for 2009 but for 2010 and beyond."
More than 100 breakfast attendees solicited the panel's opinions on a variety of issues, including changes to the offense and defense, offseason personnel moves, and even the best/worst dressed on the team — a question that garnered more than a few chuckles from the crowd. The successful morning concluded with a raffle and brief autograph session for all in attendance.
"Everybody has an immediate perception of everybody," said Morris. "But when they get a chance to actually ask the questions and sit there and listen to you answer, and they know it's coming directly from your heart and how you're concerned about everything, they get a better feeling."
Following the morning festivities, Dominik, Freeman and Morris stopped briefly at team headquarters before making their way to downtown Tampa, where Hovan rounded out the featured group for the Friday luncheon, sponsored by the Tampa Tribune and WFLA News Channel 8.
In front of over 350 Bucs fans, WFLA anchor Gayle Sierens welcomed the crowd and kicked off the event, which followed a similar format to the morning's proceedings.
"My role today is to navigate this fun luncheon, to let our community find out a little bit more about the Bucs, and to meet the coach up close and personal, hear from the general manager and hear from some of the players," said Sierens. "Basically, we are [letting the audience] know what the Bucs are getting ready to do this season."
Following a Buccaneers highlight film and introductions, Morris and Dominik addressed the crowd for a few minutes before answering questions alongside Freeman and Hovan. As with the morning Q&A, the questions were wide-ranging and thoughtful, providing an entertaining forum for all to enjoy.
"It's really great to hear the passion in the Buccaneer fans that we have," noted Dominik. "People are really excited about the direction we're headed as a franchise and they continue to say, â€˜We're here, we're behind you, we're supporting you.' That's better than anything I could ask for in terms of autographs. It's just great to hear the community really rallying around our football team."
To make the day even more special, 11-year-old James Prosper had his request granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Buccaneers when he and his family were invited to Friday's luncheon to meet Dominik, Freeman, Hovan and Morris.
"It was beautiful meeting James today," Morris said. "Anytime you get a chance to be a part of somebody's dreams and help their dreams come true, you always look forward to that. It's an awesome feeling."