A day at practice left these young Buc fans hopeful about the team's future and theirs
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions were the only two National Football League teams practicing on Tuesday, but they weren't the only ones making news. Tuesday is typically a day of rest and relaxation for pro football players – the Thursday night Bucs-Lions game has warped the schedule for those two teams – but this week was reserved for a special community service program involving all 31 NFL teams.
Each year, the NFL and longtime community partner United Way team up for a nationwide program called the 'Hometown Huddle'. On one Tuesday during the football season, all 31 league teams join with their local United Way organizations for a day of community giving. Players, coaches and team executives give of their time and money to support local programs initiated by the United Way in every city inhabited by the NFL.
The Buccaneers weren't able to venture out into the community on Tuesday due to practice, so they brought a piece of the community to them. Together with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, a United Way agency, the Bucs hosted approximately 30 young children at practice, providing lunch, attention and a chance to meet team players and coaches.
The children invited are currently on the waiting list to receive a Big Brother or Big Sister. Players and coaches, including FB Mike Alstott, C Jeff Christy, G Randall McDaniel, WR Keyshawn Johnson, T Jerry Wunsch and Head Coach Tony Dungy, came straight off the practice field and into the crowd of kids after practice. Dungy spoke with the group about keeping positive attitudes, respecting their peers and making good grades in school.
Several Buccaneers, including WR Karl Williams, LB Shelton Quarles, and tight ends coach Ricky Thomas are Big Brothers. Head coach Tony Dungy and Williams host kids from Big Brothers/Big Sisters at Buccaneer home games through their respective ticket programs.
Dungy hopes that this type of interaction between his team and these young boys and girls looking for mentors can be a source of inspiration for the visitors. "Hopefully, it can be," he said. "They get a chance to see some of their heroes and realize that they're just ordinary guys, too."
They can also learn a valuable lesson from the two hours of practice they witnessed.
"I think it's important to let the kids see that teamwork is how you win in anything, in football or whatever you choose to do," said Dungy.
In addition to the team's involvement with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, LB Derrick Brooks has been the United Way's NFC spokesman for the past two years. The Buccaneers, like the rest of the NFL, are strong supporters of United Way's programs, and Dungy knows that events such as these are just as pleasurable for the members of his team as it is for the visiting boys and girls.
"It's nice," he said. "It's something that our organization really likes to do and our players like to do. And it's great for these kids to have an opportunity to do something that most of them really enjoy."