T Jeremy Trueblood (left) and G Davin Joseph load a Thanksgiving feast into the car of a waiting family
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive line is a bunch of turkeys.
That may sound harsh, but there was indisputable visual evidence on display Tuesday evening. There was, for instance, the grinning turkey in the #75 jersey, with dreads spilling out the back of his helmet. The turkey in the #69 jersey had a prominent gold tooth protruding from its beak. And the turkey wearing #65 had a wattle that looked suspiciously like a lengthy chin-beard.
If that sounds a bit bizarre, it was actually one artist's witty take on a very generous idea cooked up by those Buccaneer O-linemen. The uniform-clad turkeys graced a sign planted in the front lawn of One Buccaneer Place on Tuesday, a sign that cleverly announced "Turkey Time with the O-Line."
Just a few feet away, the real Buccaneer linemen, also wearing big smiles and their bright red jerseys, were handing out turkeys to hundreds of families that needed a little extra help during the holidays. A double-line of cars snaked out of the One Buc Place entrance and down a long road emptying out near the stadium. As the cars approached a row of tables loaded with turkeys and all the other trimmings needed for a Thanksgiving feast, the Buccaneer players opened the car doors and personally placed the food inside. They also handed out autographs, holiday greetings and team posters.
This was Turkey Time with the O-Line, a first-time event dreamed up a few weeks ago in the Buccaneers' locker room by guard Davin Joseph (#75) and tackle Jeremy Trueblood (#65). Joseph was inspired by some charitable events he had seen back in his hometown of Hallandale, Florida, and Trueblood was simply eager to lend his assistance to something meaningful during the holidays.
By teaming with Publix Super Markets and the rest of their offensive linemates, including #69 Anthony Davis, Joseph and Trueblood pulled off an event that helped feed 400 families, and did so very efficiently in the shadow of the Buccaneers' new state-of-the-art headquarters.
"We wanted to get out in the community, reach out our hands and help as many people as we possibly could," said Trueblood. "It feels good to be here actually witnessing people's reactions. You can interact with them, see their faces and see how they're feeling, which is more rewarding than just donating money."
Joseph was originally trying to dream up a program for his hometown, but then Trueblood got involved and the rest of the offensive line eagerly jumped on board, and the players decided to give back right here in the Bay area. With the help of the Buccaneers' community relations department, the specifics of the plan were hammered out, beginning with a few phone calls to local charitable organizations. A list of families in need was formulated, with a particular emphasis on families with children.
On Tuesday, those families simply drove up to the Bucs' doorstep and saw their meals hand-delivered by some of the biggest grocers you would ever care to see. Aided by staffers from the Buccaneers and Publix – and an early decision to split the single-file line of cars into two lanes – all of the cars made it through the line in about 90 minutes.
"Thanksgiving is a time to get together with your family, have a good meal and watch a little football," said Joseph. "But it's also the holiday season, so it's time for gift-giving, for giving back and appreciating the people around you.
"A lot of the people who came through the line are big Bucs fans, so they really seemed to be enjoying this. It was a long line, but it's fun. The guys were really into it."
One such vanload of Buc fans included Josette Valdez and her nephew and niece, Brandon and Celeste. Valdez's family has suffered a few losses recently, but was still looking forward to gathering again for the holidays.
"Thanksgiving is traditionally time for all of us to get together as a family," she said. "We were scattered for awhile, but now everybody's back in town, so we can get together and reconnect, love each other and have a great meal together."
That last part of the puzzle fell into place Tuesday thanks to the offensive line and Publix, a Buccaneers Pewter Partner.
"We don't ask for things like this very often, but this came up at just the right time," she said. "It was a big surprise to be invited out here. We're Tampa natives and we watched the new One Buccaneer Place being built. It means a lot to us to come out here."
Shannon Patten, media and community relations manager for Publix, said the family-minded company was thrilled when the Buccaneers approached them with the idea of becoming involved in Turkey Time. Patten was among the dozens of volunteers who helped Tuesday's event run smoothly, and she was delighted by the manner in which the evening unfolded.
"A lot of the people in line were happy to get their turkey, but most of them were happy to have a Bucs player open the door," said Patten. "They were snapping pictures with their camera phones, kids were hanging out of the windows asking for autographs…the electricity here was awesome."
For awhile, Bill Muir stood behind the hustling group of linemen and volunteers, quietly soaking in the scene like a proud father. Muir, the Buccaneers' offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, was extremely impressed with the event his charges had cooked up, though not surprised by their generosity.
"This is a heck of a deal," said Muir. "It's great that they care enough to contribute to the welfare of the community. They're digging into their own pockets. You see a lot of stories in the press about the negative things that happen with players around the league, but these guys are doing something very positive. There are a lot more guys doing things like this in the league than there are ones causing problems. You can see that here today."
Most of all, you could see 10 large men in red jerseys hustling from table to car, delivering hundreds of turkeys to some very gratified Buccaneer fans. On second thought, forget that sign in the grass – these guys are definitely not turkeys.