FB Mike Alstott will cherish the relationships he forged during his years as a Buccaneer more than the stats he compiled
On January 24, 2008, the day Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans knew was coming but didn't want to contemplate arrived. After a second neck injury that made it impossible for Mike Alstott to continue playing the game he loved, the six-time Pro Bowl fullback retired from the NFL. Mike Alstott said farewell to the game of football that day, though he is sure to remain a Buccaneer for life and a valuable resource for the franchise. This Sunday, he will return to Raymond James Stadium, the site of so many of his unforgettable exploits, to connect one more time with the fans who made him, arguably, the most popular player in franchise history. Prior to that much-anticipated evening, this throwback player who helped usher in a new era for the Buccaneers franchise, sat down to talk about his transition to retirement, his fondest memories and how he would like to be remembered as a player.
You're 10 months into your retirement from the NFL. It was an emotional decision at the time for you to retire. How is retirement treating you now, and do you find yourself missing the game? "It's going well. Everything is really going well. I'm just getting a grip on life after football, which is a lot different than my life in football – and I've been playing football for as long as I can remember. Now, I'm really concentrating on our foundation, the Mike Alstott Family Foundation [see page 28], which we just started last year. I'm working on some other business opportunities, too, but I've mainly been spending my time on the foundation recently. Do I miss the game? There's no question. I would love to be out there, but I'm at ease with the situation. I was able to make the transition in 2007, when I was still on the team and still involved but I wasn't able to play. That has made 2008 go a lot more smoothly for me than it could have been. I miss it, of course, but have I accepted it? Yes, I have. I realize what the situation is with my health, and I know what's important. I'm enjoying more family time now, getting more involved in what our kids are doing. That part is great."
The Buccaneers organization, the only NFL team you ever played for, is giving the fans another opportunity to cheer for you tonight and recognize your career. Do you think it's going to be an emotional evening for you? "Yeah, it's going to be very emotional, I'm sure. Other than my family, football was pretty much my whole life for a long time. It's what I did for my entire life until earlier this year. To have a chance to get recognized for that again, to walk on that field again and hear the crowd and the chants, to feel the support from this community that has always been given to me through the years – yeah, I'm sure that's going to be an emotional experience. But it's exciting, too, and I'm looking forward to it."
Thanks to a second neck injury, you didn't get to choose the exact moment that your playing days would come to an end. Other than that, are you completely satisfied with your NFL career? "There's nothing that I regret from my career, nothing at all. I look back on it and I see that I helped take an organization where it wanted to go. We won a Super Bowl, and we helped a team and an organization become one of the elite teams in the NFL. To do it the way we did it, from the ground up, with the guys that did it together…no, I couldn't ask for anything more."
Most Buccaneer fans have a favorite moment from your career, a key touchdown or a run where it seemed like you just refused to go down. Looking back on your career now from a little bit of a distance, what are your fondest memories from those years? "I think I would say just the overall factor of being with a part of the main core of guys for this franchise for so many years, guys that were able to evolve a team from the bottom to the top. I'll always remember not just winning a Super Bowl, but winning it with those guys, the teammates who bought into what we needed to get done on a daily basis to achieve one common goal. That's a difficult task, but it's an amazing thing to be a part of. You could talk about the touchdowns and the highlight runs – and those were a lot of fun – but I think what I'll remember most fondly is just what we accomplished overall as a team. We grew up in this league together and we experienced a lot with each other."
For so many years you were part of that insular locker room and, as you said, a piece of the core group that helped turn the team around. Now that your daily life has diverged a bit from those of the men still playing, do you follow the teams ups and downs closely? Are you enjoying being a fan? "I follow it, yeah, because I have formed an interest in the development of the team over the years. Even though I'm not a part of it right now, there are a lot of players and coaches there that I was a part of their lives, at least their football lives. So it still matters to be. But it is a little bit hard to follow the team this way; it's different; it's weird. Do I get up every morning and read the papers and follow everything really closely? No, not really. I talk to the coaches and players when I can and get their perspective on things. I'm always going to follow this team, and I hope those guys can succeed and go all the way."
This team and this community obviously have a lot of affection for you. How do you hope they will remember you five, 10 or 20 years down the road? "Wow, that's a tough question because I've never really thought about it that way. I guess I'd like to be remembered as a guy that just went out there on the field and tried to make a difference, a player who contributed in whatever way I possibly could. I had a lot of different roles down through the years, but the overall goal for me was always to come up with a "W." I believe we had a lot of players like that, guys that weren't selfish and just wanted to win, guys that didn't care about their individual statistics. We wanted to win as a team. When you experience that feeling, and when you then go on to win the Super Bowl that way, you understand how important and special that is, how great it is. I always wanted to do well for yourself, but within our team goals. I guess I would like to be remembered as a guy who gave his all, contributed, played hard and worked hard. There was nothing really special about my skills; I just went out there every day and worked to get better."