As part of yet another holiday tradition carried out by the organization, Tampa Bay's defensive line teamed up with UnitedHealthcare and Buccaneers staff members to surprise more than 70 children and their parents for the annual "D-Line Delivers Christmas."
"One thing we try and do every year is give back, and we're just so fortunate," said All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. "I think people lose sight of how blessed we really are just to play this game, and then we get blessed financially in a different way. I think it's awesome to be able to give back, but more important than financially, one thing we do is give our time, how we interact, and showing that you really care. That's a lot of fun."
The families, selected by local nonprofit agencies, were invited to One Buccaneer Place under the impression that they were receiving a special tour of the team's headquarters. Led by McCoy and Buccaneers Director of Community Relations Eileen Sweeney, defensive players Da'Quan Bowers, Adrian Clayborn, Larry English, T.J. Fatinikun, William Gholston, Michael Johnson, Clinton McDonald, George Uko, and Jacquies Smith, as well as Buccaneers Cheerleaders and Captain Fear, revealed the true reason behind their visit during a surprise assembly in the team's auditorium.
There, a series of holiday surprises ensued – including a special appearance by Head Coach Lovie Smith – where the Buccaneers group handed every child a Hess toy truck, and presented each of the families with a Publix Super Markets gift card and the ultimate family game night package. The bundle of games, distributed in a large laundry basket with a big red bow, included 15 classic games such as Candy Land, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Monopoly, and Twister, as well as a Buccaneers throw blanket to help the families stay warm during the winter nights.
"This is awesome," said Michael Robbins, whose seven-year-old daughter Samantha and 12-year-old son Ryan grinned from ear-to-ear during the event. "It's great for these kids. They see these guys on the weekend playing football and all that, but for them to take the time to do all this is great.'
Following the gift-giving in the auditorium, the group was escorted outside to gather alongside the practice fields, where it was explained that another surprise awaited just around the corner.
Forty families hard on their luck this holiday season experienced the spirit of giving Tuesday night thanks to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
At McCoy's signal, the children sprinted down the breezeway, separating the main building from the weightlifting facilities, where a brand new bicycle – recently built and assembled by UnitedHealthcare and Buccaneers staff – was specially-marked and awaiting each child.
"Seeing the kids get the bikes and run for the bikes, it was a stampede to get to those bikes," said McCoy. "Everybody was so excited and yelling and screaming – I even had a little girl run up to me and give me a hug. It's great."
While many of the evening's guests were still in shock from the gifts they had received, the families were unprepared for what was still to come.
As McCoy attempted to quiet the crowd, three large coach buses pulled up to the sidewalk as he announced their last surprise of the evening: a $250 shopping spree for each family with the players, cheerleaders and staff at a local retail store.
"It's truly been a blessing," said Ylaquesha White, a mother of two. "This is amazing. This is just something that you would see on TV, but I never thought we'd be able to experience it. This is such a blessing."
Less than 30 minutes after leaving One Buccaneer Place, nine-year-old Michael and seven-year-old Jaomano were scanning the toy aisles, slowly but surely filling up the shopping cart behind them. White could hardly put the experience into words.
"The things that I wanted to be able to get them, they're able to walk in the store and they're able to get it," she added. "This is just phenomenal, they're having such a great time. They're having so much fun, they don't even know what to choose, there's so much to pick. This is amazing."
And for a mother trying to plan for one holiday, the "D-Line Delivers Christmas" proved to be the perfect gift as she celebrated another.
"This whole day has been great," White added. "On top of that, it's my birthday, so it makes it even better to see the kids happy. Just seeing the smiles on their face, it's perfect. I couldn't ask for anything better."