The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have relocated their football operations to South Florida this week, a process that began on Tuesday as the team monitored the anticipated path of Hurricane Ian. The goal was to allow coaches and players to focus on football, which was largely achieved by letting them bring their families along, but it's impossible not to think about what may be going on in the Bay area and other parts of Florida's west coast.
"First of all, our thoughts and hearts go out to everybody in Tampa that's still there, hoping that they recover well and it doesn't hit them very hard," said Head Coach Todd Bowles. "That's the biggest thing. What we do is really small entertainment for people that go through a lot of rough things, and hopefully we can provide that. It's bigger than just a football team, number one. Number two, it's just making sure the players' families are safe and the coaches' families are safe and everybody on the staff is safe so they can concentrate on football. So we brought a lot of them down here. Everybody that wanted to come could come, family-wise and otherwise, including pets. We're going to make sure those people are fine first because you really can't concentrate on football without taking care of your family."
Of course, the sudden relocation of an NFL team to a different city, a different venue for meetings and a different facility for practice isn't easy to accomplish and it has involved a variety of trucks, buses and chartered planes. In addition, any players or coaches who chose to do so was allowed to drive down to Miami, which helped with family and pet accommodations. It happened fast, but inside linebacker Devin White says it went smoothly.
"It's been a good process," he said. "I think the team helped make it easier for us as far as the transition on coming down and kind of having us ahead of the schedule, allowing us to know what the plans were going to be so we can get things in play for our families and for pets or whatever the case may be. I think it was a great transition; I don't think it got nobody out of whack."
Running back Leonard Fournette encountered hurricanes before ever coming to Florida and has memories of when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the surrounding area in 2005. He also thinks the Bucs made the right decision with their relocation and executed it well.
"I've been through Katrina as a kid and I know how severe and serious it is," said Fournette. "I think the Bucs did a great job with evacuating everyone, making sure everybody's families are okay. I just know how it is, and I just thank God that we got out there and I'm praying for the families up there in Tampa."
The Buccaneers also considered going to West Virginia for the week but found the logistics of keeping everyone's families safe and nearby to be better in South Florida, which wasn't expected to be in Ian's path. Meetings take place in the team hotel and practices have been scheduled at the Miami Dolphins' facility, with the Dolphins currently in Cincinnati ahead of Thursday night's game. Bowles and his staff are strive for an environment of as much normalcy as possible.
"From a preparation standpoint, we're still preparing," said Bowles. "We've got practice this afternoon and we're meeting, as usual, as normal, trying to see what happens [with the game]. We're still waiting from the league as far as that's concerned, or where we would play. Hopefully it's still Tampa. Right now it is. That's what we're preparing to do, and we're going to try to go about business as usual. It's a little different but everybody's family is safe so hopefully we can concentrate.
"Obviously when you're not in your building at home things are a little different as far as meeting places and meeting spaces, and busing over to practice and doing those things. Tweaking that part, it's almost like being away for training camp, really. But you have your whole family with you, so you kind of do double duty and make sure everybody is taking care of, especially the small kids. So it alters a little bit that way, but what we do from a practice and game-plan standpoint, that's kind of the same, just different meeting places."
The Bucs generally practice in the late morning on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays but will start this week with a 3:15 field session on Wednesday. The schedules for the next two days are closer to the norm. Bowles called the week "very different," but the Bucs know they have to get good work in somehow this week with a challenging opponent waiting on Sunday night. The Buccaneers are playing the Kansas City Chiefs, a rematch of Super Bowl LV that will hopefully be played in the same place that historic game was conducted, Raymond James Stadium.
Even if the Buccaneers succeed in Bowles' attempt to make things 'business as usual,' this is obviously an unusual week for everyone. It may not be the ideal way to prepare for a game, but Fournette has found at least one silver lining in the situation.
"It's cool seeing a lot of our colleague's families around with their kids and things like that, because you only really experience and see them while they're at work by themselves. It's kind of cool seeing them first-hand as fathers, coming around and speaking to their kids and stuff like that. It's just showing that, outside of football, these guys are great fathers."