The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are currently in the middle of their 2012 training camp, trying to determine the best way to turn a 90-man preseason roster into the best possible team of 53. It's a process 36 previous Buccaneer teams have done in summers just like this one.
Year after year, players emerge from the hard work of the offseason and training camp to join the elite group that is the NFL, and in particular, the Buccaneers. Whether their time with the team ends up being brief or they become household names in the Bay area, they are all forever part of the Buccaneer family.
And a family it is.
That was the opinion shared by all at the Bucs' training camp practice on Monday morning, which also served as Alumni Day at One Buccaneer Place. Roughly three dozen former Tampa Bay players representing every era in franchise history gathered to watch the current team prepare for its season and to get reacquainted with each other.
"It's like a family reunion," said Horace Copeland, the popular back-flipping receiver from the mid-90s known as 'Hi-C.' "I get to see some of the old guys like Chidi Ahanotu and some of the other guys I played with. Some guys, we haven't seen each other in a while, and we get an opportunity to see them again, chit-chat, reminisce about things that happened in the past, the good and the bad. It's a great opportunity to see the guys you haven't seen in a while."
Richard "Batman" Wood, the iconic insider linebacker from the Bucs' earliest days (and now a linebackers coach at nearby Tampa Catholic High School), called it a "blessing" to be back among his teammates and some of the players from different eras. Quarterback Shaun King, who helped take the Bucs to the NFC Championship Game as a rookie in 1999 could feel a sense of urgency that reminded him of his own early years with the team.
"It's exciting to come back," said King. "It's good to see the progress, and it gives you a good feeling to know that you were a part of the group that made all of this possible. It's exciting – a new head coach, a lot of new players, a lot of excitement and enthusiasm, which is refreshing for all of us. We're just hoping we can sustain it and go out and get some victories."
On hand were at least one player from each of the first 31 seasons in franchise history, from 1976-2006 (still-active cornerback Ronde Barber can bridge the gap to 2012). Buccaneer fans would certainly recognize the likes of Ring of Honor member Jimmie Giles as well as Chidi Ahanotu, Mark Cotney, Randy Grimes, Kevin House, Cecil Johnson, David Lewis, Anthony McFarland, Greg Roberts, Mark Robinson and many others.
Head Coach Greg Schiano, who has obviously impressed the team's alumni with his intensity and attention to detail, was thrilled to see so much of the history of his new team come alive. He, too, felt like their visit contributed to the family atmosphere at One Buc Place.
"We have some rich tradition here, and this community's a tight community," said Schiano. "Those guys that have stuck around, that's important to me. I would like our players to do that, make this their home. The more you invest in something, in all ways, the harder it is to surrender. I think it's neat that they're out and I'd like them to stay a part of this program as long as they can."
Strong families offer an internal network of support to all of their members, and the team's alumni certainly support the current players and coaches. Like most of those former players on hand, Wood saw a young team on Monday that he thinks can bring more glory to the franchise.
"I can tell you this: It's [a matter of] hard work," said Wood, who helped the 1979 team reach the NFC Championship Game in just its fourth year of existence. "Greg has them doing that, and the intensity level has definitely changed, you can see that. They're going to continue to work as best as possible and the coach is going to keep a fine eye on them. What they're doing now that helped get the victory against Miami, they have to continue you that. You've got to be consistent, and I think it's going to get done."