Just one corner of the rehab area at the new facility, which is itself just one small part of the overall training area
The physician's room attached to the training area at One Buccaneer Place was the size of a closet.
"And not a walk-in closet," said Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Athletic Trainer Todd Toriscelli. "Just a regular closet."
Actually, to be exact, there was no physician's room at the Buccaneers' old home. What was pressed into this duty was, in fact, a closet. It jutted off the back of the tiny office that housed Toriscelli…and Director of Rehabilitation Shannon Merrick…and Assistant Athletic Trainer Pat Jernigan…and any interns the department happened to have at the time.
Toriscelli, Merrick and Jernigan literally sat back-to-back-to-back in that 9.5'-by-14' office, coordinating when they would back up their chairs so as not to run each other over. The fourth wall held a filing cabinet and a chair for visitors. And in the back was that "physician's office," also known as a medicine storage closet. To consult with a player in private, Team Physician Joe Diaco would sometimes take him into that thin space and close the door.
"I'd have to have him turn around just so I could examine all his extremities," said Diaco, who has been healing Buccaneer players for 27 years.
Well, stretch out, Doc. Those days are a thing of the past. The Buccaneers' football operations have moved into the team's brand new, state-of-the-art facility, and the Toriscelli, Diaco and all the professionals involved in maintaining the players' health suddenly have all the space and all the tools they could possibly need. Toriscelli, the Bucs' head trainer since 1997, and Diaco are very experienced veterans in their fields, and each insists that the team's new medical area is the best in the NFL by a long shot.
"My overall impression is that no one in the NFL – and there are a lot of nice medical set-ups in the NFL – quite has what we have," said Toriscelli, whose new office is his alone, is at least twice the size of his old room and has a ground floor view of the practice fields. "Some teams have a great hydro room, some teams have a great rehab area, some teams have a good doctor's room. We have great everything – great space, great equipment, great design in terms of how this fits in to the rest of the building. It seems in the NFL that whoever has built the newest facility has the nicest facility, but this is different. This is going to be the best in the league, in my opinion, for a long time. Not just the training room but the whole thing."
Take the physician's room. Most importantly, there is one now. And it's huge. Now when Diaco and the team's other attending physicians visit, they can see a player privately, examine him as thoroughly as necessary and provide treatment in a space that, alone, is as big as the entire training area at One Buccaneer Place. And that's only a small corner of the new facility's medical footprint.
"I can't believe this place," said Diaco. "I must have said 'unbelievable' 20 times already in the last two days. I can't think of another word.
"Before, we were 'making do.' Now, I don't mind coming here every day. We have all the advantages we need to keep the morale up. It was hard working in those cramped quarters, and it wasn't right. There are privacy issues. Now we can treat a player, take his blood pressure, whatever, without jumping through hoops. Privacy is a big factor. I'm really happy about this place, everything about it."
Toriscelli can tell that Diaco is impressed, and it's not necessarily easy to impress this longtime NFL vet.
"They're just blown away by it," said Toriscelli of the team's physicians. "Now they walk into that area and they can't believe it. That's the biggest physician's office in the NFL, and it's not even close. We'll do IVs in there; there are three examination tables; we're set up for X-ray in there; there's a bathroom in there. It's just a heavily-used room that we just made extra big here because that will help us so much."
The physician's room is off to the right of Toriscelli's office, next to the expansive rehab area, which looks like a slightly miniaturized version of the facility's already legendary weight room. That, too, is something completely new for the training staff. At One Buccaneer Place, the rehab area was also known as "the weight room." Now, says Toriscelli, the medical staff is completely self-contained in terms of the equipment it needs to return injured players to health.
"We don't share rehab equipment with the weight room, and that's pretty unique relative to the rest of the NFL," he said. "Most teams have a small rehab area, but when they transition guys to the upper level of rehab they have to go to the weight room. We don't ever have to do that. We literally have everything we need here."
Buccaneers management has long called its current coaching staff and football support staff one of its greatest assets. Now, with the new facility, the team has given those accomplished professionals a chance to really shine. Merrick, the rehab director, is just one of many valued staffers who now has everything he needs to do his job to the best of his ability.
"Before, we had to make do with what we had," said Merrick. "We were very limited over at One Buc just because we didn't have access to all the equipment that we do now. Even the players will tell you that. Before, they would sometimes have to go to other facilities just because of the equipment they had that we didn't have. Now we can do everything we want in-house without having to worry about sending them out anywhere."
Toriscelli tells a very relevant story of having to take a player off site, one that underscores how this new training area will have a direct effect on the team's success on the field.
Last season, eventual Rookie of the Year Cadillac Williams, suffered a foot injury in the opening month that eventually cost him a good chunk of the middle of the campaign. In an effort to help Williams get back on the field, Toriscelli wanted to conduct some aquatic rehab – that is, he wanted to put the player underwater so that he could run without putting any weight on the foot.
There was nowhere to accomplish this at One Buccaneer Place, so Toriscelli went to Williams' home and the two got the rehab work done in the rookie's own pool.
At One Buc, the team had three tubs – not hot tubs but literal metal tubs that could be filled with hot or cold water and was big enough to hold one player. "Now," said Toriscelli, "we have everything."
The next player who needs aquatic rehab can do it right on site, in the already very popular hydro room. The team has gone from three metal tubs to three large pools – one for cold soaks, one for hot soaks and one for aquatic rehab. This pool is deep enough to submerge a player chest deep and it is equipped with underwater rails and a floor that rolls like a treadmill.
"It's unreal," said Merrick. "The underwater treadmill – we can put guys in there and we don't have to worry about waiting until they are halfway recovered. We can stick them in the water right away without having any issues to worry about, which will speed up their rehab in some cases."
After many practices, Toriscelli urges certain groups of players to spend some time in the cold tub, but that was often a problem at One Buc Place. A line five or six players deep would form for the one-person tub, and those at the back of the line would often give up and go home without getting the treatment their head trainer wanted them to have. Now, each pool in the hydro room is big enough to easily accommodate a dozen players.
Said Toriscelli: "I think for our players, that's what they appreciate most, the hydro room."
The hydro room is to the left of Toriscelli's office, past additional large offices for Merrick and Jernigan. In the middle of all of this is the main training area, with – at the moment – nine large taping tables and all sorts of equipment. The old training area at One Buc could fit into this middle space several times over. At the moment, eight players are getting taped for practice, but no one is waiting in line, no one is on top of anyone else and the whole place has a quiet, professional atmosphere.
For Toriscelli, efficient scenes such as this simply make him appreciate his job and his employers even more. He and his staff have built a strong reputation around the league over nine years at One Buccaneer Place, but they were always in danger of falling behind, professionally, due to a lack of updated equipment. As Diaco pointed out, that lack of equipment wasn't due to the team's unwillingness to provide it – there simply wasn't anywhere for it to go.
Now, it's a whole new world for Toriscelli and the Buccaneers' medical staff. He says the new facility makes them all feel as if they are suddenly at the top of their profession.
"If you do what I do, this just gives you so many more options," he said. "You have an entirely different range of treatments you can do with guys. With the equipment that we have, no one has it better than we do."
Toriscelli knows his own office will have advantages, too. He can speak to a player or coach in private on sensitive matters without asking everyone else to leave the room. The doctors can do the same in the physician's room.
It was while he was outside of his office, though, that everything began to sink in with Toriscelli on Monday. He was on the practice field, looking back at the rear of the building, where the training offices are located in the bottom east corner. He glanced over his left shoulder and saw Raymond James Stadium looming just to the west. He repeated Diaco's mantra – "unbelievable" – one more time.
"It's hard to believe," said Toriscelli. "You can't believe you work here. It's just an incredible thing for us and for our players. Like I said, the reason you appreciate this is because of One Buc and what that was. People who came from that building will always appreciate this even more."