Weighing a combined 580 pounds and standing at 6-1 and 6-5, respectively, Tampa Bay Buccaneer rookies Roy Miller and Kyle Moore can be intimidating without even trying. When they do try, say by adding a menacing skeleton mask and a Darth Maul costume, the duo can be downright terrifying.
In a good way, of course.
On Tuesday night the two Buccaneer linemen took a little time off from haunting opposing backfields to bring a little extra terror to patrons of the haunted houses at Lowry Park's "Zoo Boo."
Miller and Moore's efforts were part of a full night of fun created by the second annual Halloween Celebration hosted by the Buccaneers and Publix. The two were joined by a large group of fellow Buc rookies, including cornerbacks Brandon Anderson and E.J. Biggers, center Jonathan Compas, tackle Demar Dotson, quarterback Josh Freeman, running back Kareem Huggins, tight end Ryan Purvis and wide receiver Sammie Stroughter. The Bucs gathered at Lowry Park to celebrate the Halloween season with a large group of kids from around the Bay area.
Tampa Bay players always enjoy the opportunity to help out at community-building events, but this featured an added bonus.
"Any time I get a chance to come out here and give back and scare a couple people, it's great," said Moore with one of his big smiles. "This is a fun event; the kids are always going to remember this. Where else are you going to see a 6-5, 270-pound man walking around trying to scare you? It's my first time doing something like this so it's pretty cool."
With the help of the United Way, Buccaneer staff members, cheerleaders, players and team mascot Captain Fear welcomed more than 650 underprivileged children to Lowry Park to enjoy animal exhibits, arts and crafts, costume contests, haunted houses and more. The private event provided local youth with a special chance to celebrate Halloween a couple weeks early with their favorite NFL team.
'I'm very blessed and I thank the Lord every day that I have this opportunity," said Stroughter, who favored arts and crafts over the haunted houses. "[Before tonight] I didn't even know Tampa had a zoo, but I came on out here and had fun with the kids. I carved some pumpkins with some kids and it was a lot of fun. They showed their imagination, so it helped me out a lot and I met a lot of people."
Pumpkin decorating captured the attention of Stroughter, Biggers, Compas, Huggins and Purvis, who set up shop at the arts and crafts station outside the zoo's Grub & Grog restaurant. While players showed off their artistic talents, they also took time to sign autographs and pose for pictures with admiring fans.
"I thought the most exciting part was meeting the Bucs and having them sign some of my things," said Mayla Montoya, who was enjoying the event with her younger brother Nickson. "Meeting the Bucs was my favorite part. I would do it again next year."
After lending his creative touch at arts and crafts, Biggers gathered up kids outside the Koala exhibit for the evening's costume contests. Categories included scariest, funniest and most creative costumes, with entries ranging from Darth Vader and Spiderman to young princesses, butterflies and – winner of most creative – an ostrich.
"[This] means everything," said Biggers. "I went out every Halloween with my parents, so just to have something to do – it's not Halloween yet – but just to have something to do for this holiday for kids, it's the time to go have fun and get a lot of candy and just have a good time. To have guys like this right here to help you out, it's a great opportunity."
While Biggers, Stroughter and co. were awarding the best dressed of the evening, a separate group of Buccaneers could be found hiding throughout Shipwrecked!, the zoo's haunted island, and Unearthed!, a creepy museum with surprises around every turn. While groups of children entered confidently, screams and shouts became a regular occurrence thanks to Anderson, Miller, Moore and Freeman, who surprised some of the guests when they least expected it.
"Everybody was scared…actually, we stopped everybody from coming through, we scared everybody so much," joked Miller. "People were just running out of there wild and stuff. But just being able to come out here and spend time with the kids, they had a really good time. That's the reason why you come out here, to put a smile on these kids' faces."
As the two groups of rookies shared smiles and screams, it was the efforts of Dotson that likely left the biggest impression on the youngsters. Sporting a ghoulish mask and dressed head-to-toe in a black robe, the 6-9 tackle wandered alone throughout the crowd for much of the evening, garnering much attention from intrigued partygoers. The giant ghost proved to be so frightening to some that he was forced to remove his mask and reveal his ear-to-ear grin.
At the conclusion of the fun and frightful evening, it was evident that players and patrons alike had embraced the Halloween spirit and contributed to a successful event for all.
"The players were getting into it, acting like big kids which is what it's all about, what Halloween is all about," noted Tony Laforgia, corporate relations manager for the zoo. "They were really into it which is good for them because it shows that the Buccaneers are invested in this community. The players came out not only to be visible but to also be here for the kids as well who look up to them as their role models, so that's what it's all about."