Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Happy Thanksgiving!

Practice must go on, but the Bucs shorten up the day to allow players holiday time with their families

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Head Coach Tony Dungy (right) has reworked the Bucs' Thursday schedule to get the players back to their families sooner

It may be a national holiday on Thursday, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and most of their NFL brethren, had to take their off day on Tuesday.

That's the typical schedule in the National Football League, and even Thanksgiving won't interrupt the Bucs' preparation for the Buffalo Bills this Sunday. However, the team does have an abbreviated work day on Thursday, allowing players to get their tasks done and still spend most of the day with their families. Practice, which usually ends around 4:00 p.m., will wrap up closer to 1:00.

On Tuesday, many of the Bucs' players celebrated Thanksgiving early by using their off days to help out less fortunate folks in the Bay area community. Among those charitable Buccaneers were QB Shaun King, LB Derrick Brooks, WR Keyshawn Johnson, G Randall McDaniel and his wife, Marianne, K Martin Gramatica, LB Shelton Quarles, RB Aaron Stecker, RB Rabih Abdullah, DE John McLaughlin, P Mark Royals, QB Eric Zeier, TE Patrick Hape, S David Gibson, TE Todd Yoder, C/G Todd Washington, S Eric Vance and DT James Cannida.

King joined underprivileged families at the Fair Oaks Park Community Center on Tuesday afternoon to distribute food for the holiday. King served up 100 meals that included turkey, cranberry sauce, green beans, corn, potatoes and dinner rolls.

Brooks engineered a similar scene at the Ponce De Leon and Ybor City Boys & Girls Clubs. Brooks, who has worked extensively with children at those two Boys & Girls Clubs for years, served up the same meals as above to the families of the Clubs' kids.

Johnson spent his Tuesday morning at the Bethune High Rise to brighten the holidays of hundreds of families who receive assistance from the Tampa Housing Authority and the Tampa-Hillsborough Urban League. Johnson provided 400 turkeys to those families.

The other players listed above, along with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders and the Student Advisory Board spent a combined five hours assisting at the Metropolitan Ministries Holiday Food Tent in Tampa. The volunteers stuffed food baskets that will be distributed by Metropolitan Ministries.

On Thursday, once football duties are over, those players will most likely be stuffing themselves. That's the plan, at least, of one Frank Middleton. Middleton, the Buccaneer guard who goes about 330 pounds, suddenly feels light in the face of 330-pound Buffalo nose tackle Ted Washington. His plan of attack for Thanksgiving seemed to have more than one motive.

"Eating," said Middleton. "I'm going to eat. My mom's probably going to start cooking (Wednesday night) and I'm going to start eating in the morning until I pass out at night time. I'll probably bring my plate to practice. I'm going to eat as much as I can. I've got about 50 pounds I need to gain by Sunday to catch up with their big guys."

Middleton was joking (mostly), but the Bucs do appreciate, in more serious moments, what Thanksgiving can mean to their teammates and families.

"It's a time for us to come together as a family, to look back on everything we've been blessed with and give thanks," said LB Jamie Duncan. "It's a coming together time for our families."

It's also a time for a little NFL football in some households, with Detroit and Dallas playing their traditional Thanksgiving Day games. The Cowboys will be playing host to Minnesota, and with both of the teams ahead of Tampa Bay in the NFC Central standings in action, there's likely to be more than a few Buccaneer eyes turned to the set.

"I always like to try to watch a little football on Thanksgiving," admitted Head Coach Tony Dungy, "but the family priorities have to come in there, too. We'll be sneaking a peak in there every now and then."

From the Buccaneers to the team's fans and the entire Bay area community: Happy Thanksgiving!

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