Long-snapper Sean McDermott has surprisingly won the third tight end job as well
No way is this story true.
No way did a 23-year-old college unknown - a part-time bartender and a one-time walk-on at Kansas - somehow, in the span of three months, transform himself from one of a billion NFL spectators into one of about 1,500 men actually playing in the league.
Spin this fairy tale of perseverance and guts somewhere else, because we ain't buying it.
Well, Sean McDermott has $400 that says it's true.
Actually, feel free to take that bet, because the $400 is already gone. But it was used as effectively as any four bills has ever been spent. It bought McDermott his dream.
Rewind about six months when McDermott still had that money, and not much else besides a litany of odd jobs, a few credits left to finish at Kansas and – here's the key – a belief that he could play in the NFL.
His last year with the Jayhawks was 1999, when he finished four seasons of long-snapping and two as a tight end (with a redshirt in 1998). He had earned the long-snapping job as a freshman walk-on and eventually developed into a pass-catching role.
Still, when his eligibility was up, no NFL teams were calling. He stayed in Lawrence and worked on his degree, raising tuition money as a bartender and a bouncer among other things. However, he still harbored the dream of playing on the next level.
"The whole time, I was working out and I thought I would get a shot," he said. "I really didn't get a chance after my last season, and I thought I should have. I definitely knew I should have. I was watching football last year, and I was watching snappers and tight ends in the league, and I said, 'I can definitely do this.'"
So, after a year of not really pursuing that dream, McDermott went into the Kansas football offices, made his own highlight tape, signed up an agent and got his name out to whatever teams would listen. The Bucs were one of a few teams that took heed.
The Bucs went into the 2001 offseason without a snapper, having decided not to re-sign veteran Morris Unutoa and his accompanying veteran salary. That meant Special Teams Coach Joe Marciano had to find somebody new to get the ball to his excellent punter-kicker tandem, Mark Royals and Martin Gramatica. Perhaps Marciano was a little more open to new ideas because of this situation, though the Bucs' first move to get a new snapper involved a hometown kid, University of South Florida grad Ryan Benjamin.
Enter McDermott's tape.
"Somebody told my agent that Joe Marciano had seen my tape and liked it a lot," said McDermott. "I knew I could do it, but he just needed to see my snap. I'm fast, I'm strong, I can do it all – I just needed to get a look."
But, listen, hundreds of highlight tapes pour into One Buccaneer Place every day during the offseason. There are a lot of talented football players not playing in the National Football League and a lot of tapes stacking up in personnel departments in 31 cities. McDermott knew this.
So one night in Lawrence this past spring he's watching 'Men of Honor,' the Robert De Niro-Cuba Gooding, Jr. vehicle that deals with a Navy enlistee overcoming racism and a crippling injury to realize his dream of becoming a Master Diver, and McDermott suddenly knows what he has to do.
Stick with us. We told you this story was hard to believe.
"I was watching that movie, and nothing would stop that guy, so I said, 'I've got to take off in my car,'" said McDermott, who thought the Bucs were his best shot and wanted them to learn to feel the same way. "They didn't tell me to come down, but I knew if I just sat there, they'd probably stick with the guy they had. So I said, 'Forget it, I'm going to do it.'"
One problem: McDermott had about $400 to his name. He also had a few issues along the lines of, oh, electricity and rent.
"I took my paycheck and, instead of paying my bills, I just took off," he said. "This was the last $400 I had, and I had bills due. Instead of paying them, I took all of that money and came down here to try out.
"Everybody thought I was crazy. They said, 'If this doesn't work out, you're going to be in a load of trouble.' But I said, 'Hey, I'm 23. I've got to take my shot now because it might not ever happen again.'"
So he drives. And drives and drives.
He drives first to Orlando, where a friend lives, about 90 miles from Tampa. Then he drives to the Bay area with the idea of calling One Buc Place and lining up a tryout with Marciano. Only problem is, Marciano happens to be out of town that day.
So he drives back to Orlando, then back to Tampa a few days later. This time, he sees the Bucs' coach, but Marciano wants to see him snap at the same time as Benjamin. McDermott heads back towards Disney World and waits four days to come to Tampa once more.
"I was here for 13 days, and finally they saw me," he said. "They thought I looked good enough that they wanted me to come out to mini-camp."
The next trip is back to Kansas where he waits for the Bucs to call and confirm that they want him at camp. McDermott's tape had also drawn some interest at the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans' offices, but he scrapped a plan to drive to those two places as well and instead hung his hopes on Tampa Bay.
"Instead of even looking at those teams, I just drove all the way back," he said. "I had a really good feeling about the Bucs, so I just went back and kept in shape, got ready for the mini-camp."
The Bucs did call, two weeks later, and invited McDermott to the team's voluntary workouts in Tampa. This time, with the team footing the bill, McDermott mercifully got to fly.
He was signed to the Bucs' roster on the fourth of June and began three days of head-to-head snapping against Benjamin. Benjamin was released on the seventh (and later caught on with New England). The Bucs never did call Unutoa back to the team, nor any other long-snapping candidate. McDermott got the job and held onto it.
"I beat out the other guy and I've been here ever since," shortly before the Bucs regular season opener, in which he executed seven snaps without incident. "And now I'm getting a chance to be the third string tight end, too."
Oh, yes, skeptics, this story is getting even better. Over the course of about a week at the end of the preseason, Tampa Bay released four tight ends, leaving the team with only two: holdovers Dave Moore and Todd Yoder.
As soon as training camp began, Tight Ends Coach Ricky Thomas grabbed McDermott and involved him in all of the tight end drills. He came to Tampa solely on his snapping ability, but he showed enough in those camp sessions for the Bucs to feel comfortable with McDermott as their third tight end.
McDermott says he can do it. That might sound like a long shot, but are you going to argue with this man that is literally driven to succeed?
"I've been working at training camp and I played two years of tight end in the Big 12," he said. "Obviously, it's a big step up to the NFL, but I feel confident that I can get the job done if I'm called upon.
"I always knew I could play tight end, and I think I'm just going to get better and better. It's really good, because I'm getting to practice against the best defense in the league. I've been out of football for a year and only had two years of tight end in college, so I'm getting better every day. It's a great situation for me as a tight end, going up against Marcus Jones and Simeon Rice and Steve White and all these really good players. Even if I don't even see the field this year, I'll feel really good about getting the reps in practice.
"This is a perfect situation: great coaches, great players, a chance to snap, which I can do, and a chance to develop as a tight end. All my prayers have been answered."
That's what we've been trying to tell you all along, you skeptics. Still don't believe this was meant to be? Then explain this.
The Bucs first stop of the regular season, McDermott's debut as a pro, was in Dallas. Before this season, the team hadn't traveled to Dallas in over a decade. McDermott – can you see this coming? – is from the Dallas area, Fort Worth to be exact.
"I'm really excited," he said, somewhat unnecessarily. "That's my hometown, so I'm going to have a lot of friends and family there."
But, really, this isn't a fairy tale. This is a tale of perseverance, and it isn't over. It would seem that McDermott has cleared the biggest hurdle, earning an NFL job, but he sees his task as just beginning.
"Now I just feel a great responsibility to the team to do my job on every snap," he said. "Don't worry about anything else – just do my job and get it done. If I don't, I won't be here. That's how it is for the snapper – one bad snap can cost the team 40 or 50 yards. It's a big responsibility and I'm going to take care of it.
"Like my tight ends coach says, 'Every play, your reputation is on the line. It doesn't matter what you did before.'"
Every decision McDermott made this spring mattered in the pursuit of his dream, however, particularly the $400 bet weighing his bills against his beliefs. Even if others forget what it took for him to arrive in the NFL, he will remember.
"In practices and games I remember one thing: I want to stay here," said McDermott. "I know what it's like to bartend and do knick-knack jobs while I'm trying to finish school. I'm going to work as hard as I possibly can to stay here."