CB Phillip Buchanon enjoyed the movie on Tuesday, as much as he enjoyed connecting with local youth
Like all of his fellow Tampa Bay Buccaneers players and coaches, cornerback Phillip Buchanon spends countless hours each week watching film in preparation for the team's upcoming opponent.
On Tuesday evening, a player's day off, Buchanon kicked back and watched a few hours' worth of film that was more enjoyable and relaxing, complete with soda and popcorn.
The Bucs' starting corner brought more than 200 local youngsters to a private screening of "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" on an IMAX Screen at the AMC Veterans Expressway 24 in Tampa.
The children in attendance were from two Tampa Bay Pop Warner Youth Football League teams, the Carrollwood Hurricanes and East Tampa Bandits, and the NFL Youth Education Town Center in Tampa. Buchanon greeted them as they entered the theater, handed them coupons for free sodas and popcorn, and then escorted them into the large theater.
Standing in front of the enormous IMAX screen, Buchanon addressed the kids before the film began. A former Pop Warner player himself, Buchanon urged the kids to continue to work hard, stay in school and respect their parents, coaches and teammates.
"I'm definitely a big fan of Pop Warner football," Buchanon said after the movie. "Pop Warner football has helped me a lot. It definitely helped me to become the person that I am today. I genuinely love watching Pop Warner football and I genuinely loved playing Pop Warner football. Pop Warner football has shown me a way and it gave me the dream to possibly play in the NFL."
After Buchanon's speech, it was time for the flick.
The sequel to the original "Madagascar," "Escape 2 Africa" returned the original group of animated animals on the larger-than-life screen. Featuring the voices of such big-name stars as Ben Stiller and Chris Rock, the movie elicited loads of laughter out of the crowd in attendance.
Raymond Fernandez, 11, a member of the Carrollwood Hurricanes, had seen the original "Madagascar," so he thoroughly enjoyed the second installment of the animated comedy.
"It was really funny and I had a lot of fun," Fernandez said.
What made the experience even more memorable was watching the movie with an NFL player, even if Fernandez didn't recognize Buchanon at first.
"At first I thought it was No. 23 [Jermaine Phillips]," Fernandez said with a sheepish grin. "And I told him that. But it was really fun."
Buchanon, a bit of a movie buff himself, also enjoyed his trip to the theater.
"The movie was good," Buchanon said. "I actually saw the first one, so I was kind of stalling to see the second one. Once the opportunity came for me to see this movie with the kids, I decided to do it. Basically I waited for the movie 'til now."
As fun as the day at the movies was, the message Buchanon tried to get across to the children was the most important thing, and the main reason Buchanon came up with the idea for the event in the first place.
"This thing came about when I was sitting at my house one day talking to some of my friends, some of my close friends that know I like to do stuff," Buchanon said. "They said, 'Why don't you try to do something with a Pop Warner league or something with kids and go to a movie?' It was a good idea, so we made it happen. I didn't know it was going to happen like this, but it happened."
And Melissa Fernandez, Raymond's mother, said Buchanon's efforts to be a visible mentor to the impressionable youngsters were certainly well-received.
"I think it's really good for the kids to be with a Buccaneer and know that he's out making himself public," Fernandez said. "I think it's great that the Bucs do this. The kids all look up to the players, so I think it's a really good thing."