Nearly a dozen Tampa Bay Buccaneers players played the role of Santa Claus for 60 underserved families on Tuesday night to deliver happiness and joy just in time for the holidays.
As part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Bucs for a Better Bay initiative, the team's defensive line, along with their coach Jay Hayes, surprised more than 150 Bay-area children and parents in need of support for the fifth annual "D-line Delivers Christmas" event.
In what has become an annual tradition for the defensive unit, the team welcomed dozens of families, selected through United Way Suncoast, to One Buccaneer Place under the guise that they were receiving a special tour of the team's headquarters.
Once gathered inside the Buccaneers' auditorium, the entire defensive line – led by Gerald McCoy – shocked the group with a variety of gifts, including toys, Chevron and Publix gift cards and a Buccaneers stocking, to kick off the festivities.
"We just wanted to adopt some families and do what we can to make all of the people have a special Christmas like we know we can have, because not everyone is as fortunate as we are," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "We just want to make everyone smile on Christmas."
The gift-giving continued along the outdoor practice fields, as the children were grouped near the facility's breezeway. As they toured the team's state-of-the-art facility, the children turned the corner to find a sea of bicycles and helmets awaiting them – one for every child in attendance.
While representatives from the Florida Department of Transportation helped instruct children on how to fit their helmets, laughter, cheers and tears of joy filled the air. The group's excitement reached new levels when the final surprise was announced and large buses pulled up along the curb. Each family would be going on a $425 shopping spree at a local retail store, where the Buccaneers players and staff volunteers would be eagerly awaiting them.
In total, the Buccaneers defensive line and coaches donated more than $40,000 for the holiday surprise, benefiting the most children and families in the program's five-year history. The effort was yet another example of Bucs for a Better Bay – the team's far-reaching commitment to making Tampa Bay better today and for generations to come.
"It's incredible," McCoy said. "It's exciting (for the familiies) just to come and see the state-of-the-art facilities like the Buccaneers' practice facility, but then to find out you're getting gifts, too - it never gets old. You never get used to seeing it. You see parents crying, you see some kids crying. Everything you set out to do, you're seeing it become a reality. There's no better feeling than that."