FB Darian Barnes recounts the adventures he had with Flat Stanley in his hometown of Toms River, New Jersey
When you stand six inches tall and weigh less than three ounces, your chances of making an impact on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are about as thin as you are.
But, hey, sometimes the scouts are wrong. Take the case of one Flat Stanley.
Even though his game lacked, well, a certain dimension, Flat Stanley, formerly of Mrs. Beth Fairweather's first-grade class at Bellamy Elementary School, beat the odds and became a big contributor to the Bucs' Super Bowl Championship season last fall.
Just after Tampa Bay's season-opening loss to the New Orleans Saints, Flat Stanley arrived at One Buccaneer Place and quickly earned a place in the hearts of several Buccaneer players and staff members. Just like that, the Bucs rolled off five consecutive victories.
No media guide handy? Here's a quick bio on the Bucs' in-season addition:
Flat Stanley is the title character in a book by Jeff Brown. In the book, Stanley Lambchop is a normal boy until a bulletin board falls on him and flattens him like a pancake. Stanley soon finds out that there are advantages to "squashedness." Expensive plane fare to California, for instance? No problem. Stanley can fit comfortably into a brown paper envelope and take a 37 cent stamp cross country.
Stanley, you see, doesn't let his profile-challenged body stop him from living life fully.
Brown sends Stanley on many adventures in the course of his book, and classrooms around the country have done the same by mailing a cutout of the character to various people and places and asking for Stanley's experiences to be documented. Ms. Fairweather's Stanley found a home in the Bucs' locker room, which soon took him on escapades around the United States.
During Stanley's tenure with the Buccaneers he spent time traveling with the team, bulking up in the weight room, learning about the different jobs at One Buccaneer place and, of course, bringing the Buccaneers some of his good fortune.
"Flat Stanley was a good luck charm for us this year," said linebacker Ryan Nece. "As soon as he came around, we started winning. And in sports you get a little superstitious, so we didn't want to let him go, and then we won the Super Bowl. We may even have to ask if we can have him back for next year."
After traveling with the team and learning about life in the NFL, Flat Stanley has spent a good portion of this off-season hanging out with Nece and teammates Darian Barnes, Jermaine Phillips and Corey Smith. Stanley's travels have corresponded perfectly with Ms. Fairweather's class' school year, and the students who sent him on his journey have shared vicariously in the thin man's thrills.
It got even better on Tuesday when Flat Stanley's four Buccaneer friends showed up in Ms. Fairweather's classroom.
"They were excited just knowing that Flat Stanley was out with the Bucs," said the Bellamy teacher. "They really got into the Buccaneers this year and once they won the Super Bowl this year they went ecstatic. For the team to come and show them that Flat Stanley was a part of it was icing on the cake."
The result was a very interesting geography lesson, as the Buccaneer players had taken Flat Stanley to their various hometowns and other spots around the country since the season ended.
Flat Stanley's adventures began with Barnes, where they spent time relaxing with the fullback's friends in his hometown of Toms River, New Jersey. "We hung out at the IHOP quite a bit," said Barnes. "Stanley likes his Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity breakfast."
Flat Stanley then flew to San Bernardino, California to spend time with Nece. The linebacker took Flat Stanley to Hollywood, where they hung out with Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.
"Flat Stanley knew everybody," said Nece. "I knew some of the stars, but Stanley knew everybody and everybody knew him. He is one of the most famous guys on the planet."
Following his Hollywood escapade, Stanley flew back across America to spend some time in the Peach State with Phillips. In Georgia, Phillips and Flat Stanley had several adventures, visiting Six Flags, dining at Chuck E. Cheese's and seeing the hit movie "Daddy Day Care".
After an adventurous few days with Phillips, Stanley needed some relaxation. His trip to Virginia to visit Smith was just what the doctor ordered.
"We went and saw the Richmond Braves play some baseball and then we just hung out at the beach," said Smith. "At the beach we did some body-boarding, but mostly we just relaxed."
As the tale of Flat Stanley's offseason adventures came to a close, Ms. Fairweather's students clamored to know what Stanley did during the Super Bowl.
The visiting Bucs explained that, while Stanley would normally spend game days with mascot Captain Fear, his Super Bowl itinerary was somewhat different.
"I had breakfast with Flat Stanley the morning of the Super Bowl," said Nece. "I asked him if we were going to win and he told me, 'I have a good feeling', and then we went out and won. It was a great day."
As the Buccaneers fielded the students' queries, they also emphasized the importance of education and used a map of the United States to show all of the cities they had played in during the 2002 season.
"They explained to the students that they need to stay in school, do their homework and listen to their teachers, and that was more than we could have hoped for," said Mrs. Fairweather. "I thought it was awesome and that they all did an excellent job."
The Bucs then returned Flat Stanley to its home at Bellamy along with a pennant and poster for each student. The class erupted in cheers and showed their appreciation with a well-synchronized "Thank You!"
Before the Buccaneers had to leave they joined the first graders in a couple of elementary school staples.
Phillips and Nece also joined the students in a little fun, participating (poorly) in a hula hoop contest and joining in a spirited round of 'Old MacDonald.' They left, however, on a serious note.
"School is very important," Nece reminded the class. "It's where you learn about discipline and how to work with others. All of the knowledge you gain in school you can transfer to the football field. Football is important, but not as important as your education."
Quarles: "Dream Big"
Also on Tuesday, Pro Bowl linebacker Shelton Quarles attended the graduation of the first class to spend its sixth, seventh and eighth grade years at Memorial Middle School, joining in the school's 2003 Promotion Ceremony. Quarles was the featured guest speaker.
"It's an honor and a privilege for me to be here," Quarles told the graduates. "But I'm here to talk to you today about dreaming big."
Quarles then told the story of his own very premature birth. He entered the world just a bit over four pounds but, a fighter even then, overcame his disadvantage and survived. Quarles also struggled a bit early in his educational career before correcting himself.
"When I was little, I didn't take school as seriously as I should have," he said. "As I got into high school, I began to take my education more seriously and realized how important it actually was."
As his grades improved, Quarles turned his attention to football. The one-time four-pounder grew into a powerful, 6-1, 225-pound player, and with his schoolwork matching his playing potential, the Whites Creek High School graduate earned a scholarship to Vanderbilt University.
While at Vanderbilt, Quarles excelled both on the field and in the classroom, becoming a four-year starter and All-SEC performer on the gridiron and earning his bachelor's degree in Organizational and Human Development. Quarles originally joined the NFL as a free agent with the Miami Dolphins but, as he explained, "things didn't work out so well."
After recounting his long journey through the CFL to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, eventually, to a Pro Bowl nod and a Super Bowl Championship, Quarles had some final messages for the soon-to-be high school students.
"Dream big," said Quarles. "If you believe in yourself and continue to follow your dreams, anything can happen. A lot of people never thought I'd be where I am today, but if you dream big, tomorrow you can reach your goals."