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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Ship Mates

Shaun King made a friend for life on Wednesday when a special gift helped turn a terrible experience into a wonderful moment for a local boy


QB Shaun King presents a signed pirate ship to Alex Mark, replacing a treasured item lost during a Christmas house fire

Sometimes, life's greatest moments are rooted in tragedy. On Wednesday, March 20, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Shaun King provided one of those great moments for Alex Mark, a plucky eight-year-old whose family recently experienced a devastating event.

December 25, 2001, started like any other Christmas Day for the Mark family, with the sharing of presents and good times. Later in the day, Alex's mother, Karoline, began preparing the Christmas roast while Alex, seven at the time, and his sister, Jessica, were playing in the house. Alex's father, Brian, was taking a shower. Suddenly, that calm Christmas afternoon was gone.

After taking the roast out of the oven, Karoline turned and saw flames shooting up and smoke billowing from the carport.

"I came out of the shower and the fire was already beyond control," said Brian, who helped get his family out of the house unharmed. "I saved some pictures and was able to save some other things as well, but we basically lost everything."

At times like these, most people fall back to the same question, and the Marks were no different.

"You think 'Why us?' and wonder how something like this can happen to you," said Brian on Wednesday. "It's a very surreal feeling. But the time has gone by pretty fast and I can hardly believe that it's been three months already."

The Mark family has used those three months to begin putting their lives back together. However, one item lost in the fire has troubled Alex terribly – the pirate ship he built with the help of Buccaneers players on October 20, 2001 at the Buccaneers Home Depot Safety Fest.

"Out of all the things we've lost the thing that Alex missed the most was that ship," said his father. "He was really disappointed about that."

That was until Alex was unexpectedly brought to One Buccaneer Place.

At Buc headquarters, King, Alex's favorite Buccaneers player, presented Alex with a replacement pirate ship from the Buccaneers Home Depot Safety Fest. Even better, the ship was autographed by all the Buccaneers that were at the Safety Fest.

"His allergies were acting up today, so I took him out of school early and told him that after we picked Grandma up from the airport we would stop by One Buc Place and see if we could find any of the players," said Brian. "He had no idea what to expect. Jessica knew, but she kept the secret."

The secret was waiting behind a conference room door at One Buccaneer Place, along with King himself.

After waiting for several minutes in the lobby and checking out the pictures and model of the stadium, Alex and his dad, sister and grandma were all escorted into the conference room where King was waiting with the replacement ship. As Alex entered the room and noticed who was there, his eyes became as wide as a full moon. King, broke the ice, shaking Alex's hand and saying, "It's a pleasure to meet you."

Alex, still stunned, nodded and managed just a meek hello, but King quickly loosened up the atmosphere by talking about school, recess, being eight years old and how wearing sandals lets your toes breathe. Both King and Alex were wearing sandals.

Once Alex came out of his shell, King presented him with the ship that was signed by all of the players at the Home Depot Safety Fest, plus King himself. Alex, who just happened to be wearing a Shaun King jersey, also received several other special gifts, including another #10 jersey autographed by King, a Buccaneers hat and pennant signed by King and a Buccaneers duffel bag.

Following the presentation of the ship, Alex and his family took some pictures with King and chatted with him about his time with the Buccaneers. Eight year-old Alex let his opinion be known about who he would like to see under center for Tampa Bay.

"I would have to say the quarterback should be Shaun King!" shouted Alex.

Happy for the support, King responded, "Man, you just made a friend for life."

Brian agreed with Alex's assessment of King's on-field potential, but was even more impressed with the quarterback's caring for the community

"Shaun is an awesome guy and what he did here for us today is unbelievable," said Mr. Mark. "It's great that Alex can get something back that he lost and cherished so much."

King thought the presentation was an important step in helping Alex move on with his life.

"For a kid, when something tragic happens, it can either be a motivating or destructive factor," said King. "Hopefully we made this experience into a motivating factor today."

Judging from the look on Alex's face when he walked through that conference room door, King has definitely helped turn this tragedy into a great moment in one young man's life.

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