QB Chris Simms, who always enjoyed Halloween as a kid, has attended the party at The Children's Home for three years running
The children scrambled from the picnic tables toward the patch of pumpkins, hoping to be quick enough to grab the gourd that would make the perfect jack-o-lantern.
Waiting back at the tables, ready to transform the chosen pumpkins into the perfect Halloween greetings, was a group of smiling Tampa Bay Buccaneers: tackle Chris Colmer, linebacker Matt Grootegoed, safety Donte Nicholson, safety Claudius Osei, cornerback James Patrick, fullback Rick Razzano, linebacker Barrett Ruud, quarterback Chris Simms, tight end Alex Smith and wide receiver Paris Warren.
Those 10 were welcome guests at The Halloween Party at The Children's Home, which has become an annual event for Buccaneer players, among the favorites on the calendar each fall. The event, which features trick-or-treat bag designing and face painting in addition to the pumpkin-carving contest, gives the players a chance to celebrate Halloween while putting smiles on the faces of a group of kids ranging in age from six to 18.
"I always liked Halloween as a kid, and it's just a fun activity to be a part of," said Simms. "Carving pumpkins gets you in the Halloween state of mind."
Also, in what has become something of an unofficial tradition, the Halloween party always seems to be the first time at least one Buccaneer has tried to carve a pumpkin. The results are often hilarious. This year, the rookie carver was in fact a rookie: Warren, the first-year wide receiver.
"It's kind of sticky," said Warren. "The kids were hitting me from all directions with pumpkin seeds, but I enjoyed it."
For Simms, the event has become a tradition. Though it is technically a Rookie Club function intended for first-year players, he has attended The Children's Home Halloween party every year since his own rookie campaign in 2003.
Some of the kids who have befriended Simms in the past were happy to see him return to celebrate another Halloween this week.
"I have definitely built a few relationships with some of the kids here," Simms said. "They remember me and we've had some good laughs over the years."
Many of the kids at The Children's Home have attended Buccaneers games as part of different players' youth ticket programs. John Rutledge, program manager for The Children's Home, noted how much it means to the kids to get to spend time with some of those players in their home environment.
"To meet the guys face-to-face and for these guys to take time out of their season to come out here really means a lot to the kids," said Rutledge.
The children obviously enjoyed the chance to spend time with some of their favorite Buccaneers. The players had a blast, too, seeing the kids get excited about the upcoming holiday.
"I just remember how important the holidays were to me as a kid, so anything I can do to make their day happier makes me happy," said Simms.