QB Shaun King (center), a St. Petersburg native, accepts a Key to the City from City Council President Ernest Williams (left) and Mayor Rick Baker
Nearly three weeks have passed since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego, but Buccaneer players and fans are still basking in the warm glow given off by a freshly-minted Lombardi Trophy.
On Thursday, that glow emanated from City Hall in downtown St. Petersburg. Mayor Rick Baker and the distinguished members of the St. Petersburg City Council chose to recognize the Buccaneer players that either grew up or currently reside in their beautiful city by presenting them with Keys to the City. On hand to receive the prestigious tribute were FB Mike Alstott, C Jeff Christy, QB Shaun King, T Cornell Green and TE Todd Yoder.
"It's great to have some of the Bucs players that grew up in St. Pete come back so we can honor them and honor the folks that live in St. Pete as well," said Baker. "Everybody is very excited about celebrating the Buc victory."
It was, indeed, a celebration.
The normally business-like City Hall and council chambers was awash in Buccaneer paraphernalia. In the reception area that held the visiting players before the event, Buc-themed balloons and hard hats brightened up the walls, and a large cake featured the icing inscription, "St. Petersburg's 2003 NFL Super Bowl Heroes." Mayor Baker and several of the council members traded in their usual business attire for Buc hats and t-shirts to show their support for the hometown team.
Inside the council chambers, it was a sea of red and pewter. Buccaneer flags, banners and signs were in every corner and a large 'Buccaneers Super Bowl XXXVII Championship' blanket hung behind the center of the chamber bench.
"It's unbelievable," said Christy. "It all comes with a Super Bowl victory and we have a lot of fan support out there and we're just trying to give back what we can and show our appreciation."
The Bucs entered the chamber to a rousing ovation by council members and City Hall employees. Before presenting the players with their gifts, Mayor Baker read a proclamation designating Thursday, February 13, 2003, as Tampa Bay Buccaneers Day in St. Petersburg.
"It makes it special because I know how much people really love the Buccaneers," said King, who grew up in St. Petersburg rooting for the Buccaneers. "The community has followed this franchise and they've suffered through a lot of heartbreaks and this was a special season."
Following the proclamation, Mayor Baker and City Council President Ernest Williams read a proclamation for each of the Buccaneers and presented each with a Key to the City, calling the players 2003 Super Bowl Heroes.
"When I was growing up my mom always said, 'It takes a whole village to raise a child,'" said King. "And I think myself and Cornell are living examples of the fact that St. Pete is doing an excellent job of giving kids the opportunity to achieve and succeed in life. It wasn't just the Bucs that won the Super Bowl, it was the whole community."
After the presentation of the keys, each of the city council members took time to say what they felt the Buccaneers meant to the citizens of St. Petersburg and how the team had galvanized the city. As a poignant demonstration, the city council members then led the Buccaneers down to the front steps of City Hall, where at least 100 fans were gathered to greet their local heroes. As the cheers held, the Buccaneers made their way to the bottom of the steps, signed autographs and met their well-wishers.
"This is a great honor and achievement," said Green, another St. Petersburg native. "A lot of people don't get to reach their goals in their hometown and I've just been blessed. This is a great moment for me."
Finally, the Buccaneers headed home, each with a special reminder of what they had accomplished and a new perspective on what being a Tampa Bay Buccaneers means to the community.
"This is the first time I've received anything like this," said Alstott. "To live in St. Pete and be presented with a Key to the City is an honor and I'm honored to be here.