Buccaneer QB Brad Johnson compared the Bucs' preparation to the students' efforts in school
For the past seven years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been a good football team. In 2002, they were great.
In 2003, the Buccaneers are trying to go where few teams have gone and repeat as Super Bowl champions. To be sure, there have been some early-season stumbles, and a few injuries that will make the road ahead more difficult, but the Buccaneers still believe that hard work and attention to detail can get them to their goal. Thus, they will continue to prepare the way they always have, and they will not worry about what others have to say about them.
This was the message that Buccaneer quarterback Brad Johnson had for a group of 25 eighth graders from Orange Grove Middle School and 25 first graders from Lockhart Elementary on Tuesday morning in the Orange Grove media center. He hoped the students could apply the same lesson to their own lives.
Tuesday's event was a component of the continued partnership between the Glazer Family Foundation and the Friends of the Library. Specifically, Johnson was on hand to help celebrate the success of the September National Library Card Sign-Up Month. Through the program, students receive a free Brad Johnson bookmark when they sign up for a library card at their schools or check out a book this fall. The program will distribute 100,000 bookmarks to public schools and libraries throughout Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Polk, Hernando, Manatee and Sarasota Counties.
A total of 500,000 bookmarks have been distributed through this program, Make Reading Your Goal. The Foundation will also make a donation to the Friends of the Library to purchase books for the Ybor City Library.
Johnson spent the early hours of the Buccaneers' off day speaking to the students about the importance of education and reading. The Florida State University graduate related his own educational experiences as a child, explained that, without the skills he picked up as an avid reader during his childhood, he wouldn't be able to understand Jon Gruden's playbook now.
"Knowledge is your power," said Johnson. "No matter what happens to you on or off the athletic fields, you can always succeed in the classroom. No one can take your education and knowledge from you."
Johnson compared his own preparation for a Sunday game to the students' work getting ready for a test. The Buccaneer passer even quoted the United States' 16th President, Abraham Lincoln: "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail."
Johnson shared his favorite book as a child - Curious George Rides A Bike - and told the students he now enjoys reading biographies of successful people. He challenged the students of the two schools to collectively read one million pages before the end of the school year. It's a lofty goal, but one Orange Grove Principal Anthony Perrone believes his students can reach.
"It's a lot of pages," said Perrone. "But with Lockhart and Orange Grove, hopefully we can reach that by Valentine's Day. With Brad's encouragement I think our students will be very excited to try and reach that goal as soon as possible."
Johnson left the students with their million-page challenge, plus a round of juice and cookies, then reflected on the day's main message.
"The big thing is to have goals, to set goals, to stay with them, to believe in them, to believe in yourself, to surround yourself with great friends," he said. "We all have a time when we're going to have to overcome some obstacles along the way and you have trust yourself and believe in yourself that if you stay the course you can achieve your goals."
Words fit for veteran Buccaneers and 10-year-old students alike.
Howell, Whittle Visit All Children's Hospital
Later on the afternoon of the same Buccaneer off day, safety John Howell and guard Jason Whittle visited patients at All Children's Hospital.
Whittle has had his own experience at All Children's Hospital, having spent his first two days in Tampa there with his daughter. He was more than happy to give back to the hospital for his positive experience, and he was excited for the opportunity to surprise some young patients.
"You do it for the kids," said Whittle. "To see the kids and see the smiles on their face. They're in here struggling every day and to be able to see them smile and see their parents happy is the best."
The patients, ranging in age from two to 18 and clad in everything from Spiderman pajamas to Buccaneers t-shirts, certainly delivered their fair share of smiles.
The players spent several minutes with every patient and visited with brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers and even a few grandparents. They talked about the past games and the upcoming weekend. They took photos and signed autographs. Watched Rugrats and played with stuffed animals. They even visited one patient on his 16th birthday.
"It means so much to the kids," said Joel Momberg, Executive Vice-President of All Children's Hospital. "The kids that are here at the hospital are going through so much stress on a day-to-day basis trying to figure everything out. We try to get them out but many are stuck in their beds due to their situations. To see celebrities and sports heroes, like the Bucs, means so much to them. It means a lot in getting them out of the hospital sooner, as a matter of fact. The better they feel, the faster they heal. It's a very special thing."