The Tampa and St. Petersburg Chambers of Commerce got to hear encouraging words from Buc players (from left) Maurice Stovall, Barrett Ruud and Aqib Talib
First-round cornerback Aqib Talib hasn't yet had a chance to pull of any on-field theft for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he certainly stole the show Friday afternoon. Talib was one of a handful of high-profile Buccaneers who took part in the annual Chalk Talk breakfast and luncheon with the Greater Tampa and St. Petersburg Chambers of Commerce, and he certainly made a lively first impression on the Bay area.
The breakfast, held at the Innisbrook Resort in St. Petersburg, and the luncheon, convened at the Hyatt Regency Downtown in Tampa, gave chamber members a chance to meet and ask questions of a trio of Buc players as well as Head Coach Jon Gruden and General Manager Bruce Allen.
Talib was joined by a pair of veteran teammates, wide receiver Maurice Stovall and linebacker Barrett Ruud. At the luncheon, after an introduction from Stacie Schaible of News Channel 8 and a snazzy highlight video detailing the Bucs' successful 2007 campaign, Gruden took the podium first.
"Thank you for your support," Gruden said. "Our football team, our players, we're nothing without our fans. I know a lot you personally and I really appreciate your support. Those clips right there fire me up. We are the defending NFC South champions. I don't care what anybody says; we just are. With that being said, we feel like we've improved our football team."
Allen then took his turn on stage, echoing many of the same hopeful sentiments for an even more productive 2008 season.
"Thank you for coming. This does invigorate this football team. I know it does with Coach and I to feel this support," Allen said. "As Coach said, we have 90 players that are participating right now to get better for this season. I see a filled room here in Tampa, and that makes us feel great, so we thank you for being here.
"We're excited about the opportunities we're given today. We're excited about the opportunity we're going to be given this season. As you get to know these players and get to know these coaches as we do on a day-to-day basis, you will find that their desire to be great – not good, but great – is very inspirational in everything we do. I want you to know they are working 24 hours a day trying to deliver a good team for you all, so thank you for coming."
Then the fun began.
The five Bucs took part in a Q&A session, discussing everything from the quarterback situation, Stovall's dancing skills and the best and worst-dressed members of the team to what kind of cars the players drove, their most embarrassing football moments and their favorite movies…and everything else in between.
With an ear-to-ear grin, witty comments and a sharp sense of humor, Talib showed no fear of the spotlight as he fielded questions from the hundreds of businesspeople-slash-Buc-fans in attendance.
For instance, after discussing the sporty new Mercedes Benz he recently bought, Talib drew a hearty laugh from the crowd when Gruden teased him about the purchase by asking him what model the car was.
"The same one as yours, Coach!" Talib joked.
Jokes aside, the event truly did give the chamber members in attendance some insight into the upcoming season. Gruden, Allen and all three players in attendance spoke to the air of excitement surrounding the team as it prepares for the upcoming campaign, and Allen said the fans' anticipation only amps the club up even more.
"We always take questions from the audience and it's really about the excitement about the upcoming season," Allen said. "It's a great thing about this area that you can be excited about football in the middle of June.
"We get to meet a lot of people; we get to meet a lot of young children who don't get the access to Coach Gruden and some of our players. It invigorates us that people are this excited in June about football. This is a joy."
Talib later admitted that he wasn't immediately comfortable on stage Friday, though you never would've guessed it based on the ease with which he handled the attention.
"It was very fun out there. I started off nervous, but I had a real good time out there today," Talib said. "I started it off with butterflies, but Mo [Stovall] kind of calmed me down with a couple laughs. I think I'm getting it."
And while his first game as a Buccaneer still awaits, Talib agreed with Allen that all the talk about the upcoming season made him that much more excited.
"A lot of fans got a chance to see me with no helmet on and meet me for the first time, so I think it was a good thing," Talib said. "Everyone sounded pretty excited for the upcoming season. They've got me pumped up."