Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In Hot Pursuit

FB Mike Alstott is close to forever securing his place in Buccaneer annals

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FB Mike Alstott's knack for finding the end zone has him in close proximity to one of the team's most impressive records

The joy in watching Tampa Bay fullback Mike Alstott has always been rooted in the here and now. You've seen the Bucs back, both tank-like and nimble, do some remarkable things near the goal line. You've seen him go to great lengths to get in the end zone and, as you watch Tampa Bay once again inside their opponent's 10-yard line, you wonder if there is any way Alstott can top his previous highlight reel runs.

Then he does it.

Alstott, 26, is in the prime of his career and certainly has a limitless supply of crowd-pleasing runs left. But it may be time, already, to begin looking at this remarkable player from a historical standpoint.

Why do we say this? Because Alstott's assault on some of the most hallowed corners of the team record book is picking up steam.

This Sunday, against the Jets, Alstott could very easily finish the day as the second-leading rusher in team annals, in the process leapfrogging two very significant names in Buccaneer history. Alstott has 3,030 career rushing yards. Ricky Bell has 3,057; Reggie Cobb has 3,061. Alstott might not even have a chance to celebrate surpassing Bell before he has put Cobb in his rearview mirror as well.

"I saw that on the handout sheet that we got, and it's really unbelievable," said Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy. "To have gotten there in less than five years speaks to his durability and to how well he's played for us."

The top spot in the team's record book is quite a bit farther ahead, but no longer seeming inconceivable, for the reasons mentioned by Dungy above. It belongs to James Wilder, who ran for 5,957 yards for Tampa Bay from 1981 to 1989. That's 745 yards per season for Wilder; Alstott averaged 709 per campaign through his first four years and is on pace for 1,024 this season.

Alstott actually has almost the same rushing total at this stage of his career that Wilder did at the same point in his. Three games into his fifth season, as Wilder was hitting his prime, the Bucs' workhorse of the '80s had 3,271 yards.

Alstott has developed into the Bucs' new workhorse, and that leads Dungy to believe that his back might eventually catch Wilder. "I think he can," said Dungy. "Really, the first year that he was here, we didn't run him that much. He's working on, really, three-and-a-half years of work, so I think he can do it. Hopefully he stays healthy and continues on that quest."

Interestingly, Wilder also started his career as a fullback before being moved into the tailback slot and really taking off. Alstott hasn't officially changed positions, but he has clearly become much more of a featured runner in the Bucs' attack. Wilder had 370 rushing yards as a rookie; Alstott had 377. And lest you think Alstott will get challenge Wilder by sheer longevity, consider this: Alstott's career 3.9 yards per rush average is better than that of Wilder (3.8), Cobb (3.5), Bell (3.7) or, for that matter any other running back in the team's top 20 save for teammate Warrick Dunn (3.92).

Perhaps even more impressively, Alstott is closing in on Wilder's once unassailable team mark for career touchdowns. Before Alstott came along to scale the mountain, no one had gotten within shouting distance of Wilder's 46 TDs. Most recently, RB Errict Rhett had a nose for the end zone for a few seasons but finished his Buc career just over halfway to Wilder, at 25. Jimmie Giles (34) and Kevin House (31) are somewhat close in the record books, but each finished their career before Wilder did.

Alstott has 38 touchdowns heading into the Jets and the number seems to grow every week. Actually, it has grown every week since the regular season began as Alstott scored twice in the season opener and once each against Chicago and Detroit. He is clearly the team's number-one option when the goalposts are casting a shadow on the line of scrimmage.

That leaves him only eight shy of Wilder's mark. Through Alstott's first four seasons, he had 34 touchdowns. Wilder had 28, and that included a single-season Buccaneer record of 13 in 1984. Obviously, Alstott is on pace to challenge that mark, as well.

"I'd like to see him get that!" said Dungy with a laugh, knowing that Alstott touchdowns generally lead to Buccaneer wins. Tampa Bay is 27-4, all-time, in games in which Alstott finds the end zone. That, of course, is what the team is focusing on now. It just doesn't hurt to take a look ahead now and again.

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