The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have reshaped their roster quite extensively over the last two seasons, but one thing has not changed a bit during that time.
The best bowlers on the team still reside in the running backs meeting room.
You could say that's fitting. After all, who should be better at exploiting a lane than a running back, or at bowling over any obstacles that happen to be in that lane? But it doesn't seem particularly important in terms of football, beyond the hyper-competitiveness that permeates that meeting room between the likes of Cadillac Williams, Earnest Graham, Clifton Smith and Derrick Ward. Those backs regularly follow practice days at One Buc Place with outings at the bowling alley. It's just something they do; the receivers might play video games; the linemen might have a weekly dinner.
About once a year, however, the backs' bowling prowess takes center stage, and that was the case on Wednesday as the Buccaneers wrapped up their 2010 offseason program with what has become a traditional "team-building" exercise.
That exercise has frequently meant a trip to the lanes. Last year, the Bucs enjoyed themselves tremendously at a paintball field, and truth be told Williams and Graham and their mates were pretty good at that pastime, too. This year, however, the Bucs returned to the joys of air conditioning and catering to spend their final offseason day together at Splitsville in Channelside in downtown Tampa.
That played right into the hands of Graham and company.
"They put me and Cadillac on the same team, so it might not be as competitive in there because we're trying to win together as a team," said Graham. "We go bowling quite a bit as a group, so this is normal for us."
So let's cut through the suspense: The team that included both Williams and Graham did indeed post the morning's highest score. That was true despite the fact that neither back got anywhere near their usual individual scores. In fact, the top-scoring individual wasn't even a running back, it was cornerback Elbert Mack, who rolled a 198. That is almost certainly the lowest high-score in the history of the Bucs' team-building outings.
Perhaps the lower scores were the result of divided attention. The atmosphere and the food at Splitsville were excellent, and some of the team's 80 players were just as happy to shoot a little pool or just hang out and discuss their plans for the next five weeks. There was also the welcome distraction of the U.S.-Algeria World Cup soccer match on every monitor in Splitsville. That game ended beautifully, as did the Bucs' 2010 offseason.
"This is all about team-building," said Head Coach Raheem Morris. "It's about these guys forming continuity together outside of football. It's about these guys learning to play for each other. This is about team sports. This is everything that the Buccaneers are about. This is what we do - we're one family. We're a band of men but at the same time we want to be a band that bonds together and does things off the field as well."
To the players, especially veterans like Graham, the off-site event was something of a pivot between the offseason and the upcoming season. Teammates could reflect on what they had accomplished over the last four months and look forward to the challenges that lie ahead.
"We're going to be off for the next five weeks, so this is a chance to look back on what we've done the entire offseason," said Graham. "We've had OTAs, we've had offseason workouts and the turnout was great, so it's great to throw us a bone and give us a chance to hang out together before we go our respective ways.
"You work hard all offseason and this is the last day of the offseason program, so this is a chance to hang out and kind of celebrate the offseason."