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The Rest of the Best: Alstott Greatest Games, Part II

As we continue our countdown into the top five performances in Mike Alstott's pro career, we notice the Vikings showing up quite a bit, from the Pro Bowler's seminal TD run in 1997 to an amazingly prolific game two years later


FB Mike Alstott provided one of the most important moments in Bucs postseason history when he rumbled for a 31-yard TD against Detroit

For Chris Hovan, one of the great benefits of moving from the Minnesota Vikings to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2005 – besides, obviously, the career rejuvenation that has followed – was the opportunity to share a sideline with Mike Alstott.

See, wearing the same colors as Alstott meant never again having to bash heads with the big fullback in the trenches.

Hovan is tough enough to handle a back of any size, of course; look to the first quarter of the Buccaneers' recent playoff game against the New York Giants and jumbo back Brandon Jacobs for a ready example. Still, you couldn't blame the former Viking if he and his teammates cringed just a little when they saw Alstott coming.

Below we continue our countdown of Alstott's greatest NFL outings, and you may notice a common theme. As we move into the upper half of the list, the Vikings just keep popping up. If one were to make a lengthy highlight reel covering Alstott's entire pro career – NFL Films, can this happen, please? – let's just say there would be a lot of purple on the screen.

In fact, if there was any one moment that birthed the legend of Mike Alstott, it was his unforgettable touchdown run in the Metrodome in 1997, his second season in the league. Check out No. 5 below to reminisce.

But first, before we resume our countdown, a quick look at the near misses.

To come up with our top 10, we first created a preliminary list of 32 games that stood out over the course of Alstott's 168 regular season and postseason appearances as a Buccaneer. From there, we narrowed the field to 15 games that stood out above the rest, and that meant we had to eliminate five more to arrive at our final list. That very difficult last step eliminated these five performances:

  • September 10, 2000 – Rushes for 71 yards on 15 carries to help the Bucs crush Chicago, 41-0. Scores on a 20-yard run on which he breaks three tackles and carries a Bears defender with him into the end zone. * September 21, 1997 – Runs for 95 yards on 18 carries and adds 20 yards on four receptions in 31-21 win over Miami. Posts the first two touchdowns of the game on receptions, then runs out the clock at the end of the game with four consecutive runs for a total of 21 yards. * January 12, 2003 – Helps the Bucs pull away from San Francisco in a 31-6 Divisional Playoff Game victory that starts the team's run to the Super Bowl title. Though his numbers are not overwhelming – 87 combined rushing and receiving yards – he gets extra credit for this one thanks to the importance of the game. * December 12, 1999 – Posts an even lower total of 67 combined yards in this one against Detroit, but scores two touchdowns – a one-yard run and a 22-yard reception – within a five-minute span in the fourth quarter to rally the Bucs from 10 points down to a 23-16 victory. Helps push the Bucs past the Lions and into first place en route to the NFC Central title a few weeks later. * November 7, 1999 – Runs 25 times for 117 yards and adds a 15-yard reception, making this the most prolific outing that doesn't make our top-10 list. Turns the final play of the game into a little extra padding on the scoreboard by rushing 25 yards for a touchdown in the 31-16 decision at New Orleans.

Again, those performances did not make the list, not even our run-down of Games 6-10 earlier in the week. When and where did he top those games? Read on.

Mike Alstott's 10 Greatest NFL Games, Part II

5. Buccaneers 28, Vikings 14â€Ã'¦HHH Metrodome, September 14, 1997.

This game was the third of five straight victories to open the Bucs' breakthrough 1997 season and, as mentioned above, it included the famous Alstott run that had Viking linebackers shaking their heads on the sideline after the drive.

On the play, a third-and-goal from the one, Alstott takes a handoff up the middle and tries to dive over the pile. He is met at the top of his leap by a gang of tacklers and stopped well short of the goal line; however, instead of ending up in a heap of bodies at the one, Alstott slid back down the back of the pile and landed on his feet.

After the game, then-Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula admitted that he had looked down to his play sheet for the next call as soon as he saw Alstott stopped. Fortunately, however, the officials hadn't signaled the play dead, so he took off to his left, looking for another way in. By the time Shula looked back up, Alstott had juked one Viking defender and in the process ended up with his back to the goal line.

Former Buccaneer linebacker Jeff Brady met Alstott at that point, but the big back simply kept his legs churning and was able to back Brady and another Viking into the end zone. The NFL Films crew on hand caught Brady explaining to Jack Del Rio on the sideline that he had simply come around the corner to see what had happened on the other side of the pile, only to have the still-steamrolling fullback already on top of him. Alstott wouldn't be denied and the Bucs had a 13-3 lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Statistically, this game stands as the lowest level of output for Alstott on the entire list. He ran for just 29 yards in the game and added two receptions for nine yards while Warrick Dunn ran for 101 yards, including a critical, 52-yard touchdown. But, together, the two backs were a force, and this game was the beginning of their Thunder and Lightning reputation. Because both the one-yard TD run and the game itself are so memorable, this one makes Alstott's top-10 list despite the unassuming numbers.

4. Buccaneers 36, Redskins 35â€Ã'¦Raymond James Stadium, November 13, 2005.

According to Bruce Allen, Alstott's favorite play was one on which he didn't even get the football. The play, said Allen, was a play-action pass, and it pleased Alstott because he knew the fake to him would free Joey Galloway for a long pass downfield.

Of course, that play worked precisely because Alstott usually did get the ball at the most obvious moments. Never was that fact more vividly illustrated than on the afternoon of November 13, 2005.

After two losing seasons, the Bucs burst out of the gate in 2004, winning their first four contests behind the incredibly hot start of rookie running back Cadillac Williams. However, they followed that with three losses in four games, capped by a painful 34-14 home loss to division rival Carolina in Week Nine.

In Week 10, Washington came to town, and the Redskins were just starting to round into shape after five straight non-winning seasons. They would go on to win their last five games and earn a surprise Wild Card berthâ€Ã'¦bringing them to Tampa, where they upset the NFC South-winning Buccaneers.

In November, however, it was the Buccaneers that came out on top in a wild, back-and-forth affair. And, despite a stunning touchdown catch by wide receiver Edell Shepherd in the final minute, it was Alstott who produced the game's most important moments.

First, there were his two first-half touchdown runs that helped the Bucs build a 14-3 lead. On both occasions, the play was supposed to be a power run through the line but Alstott instinctively chose to leap over the pile. Both jumps were majestic, and successful.

Overall, the Bucs were only mildly successful on the ground, gaining 61 yards on 27 carries. Like the game above, this one doesn't floor you with big numbers for Alstott – he gained just 21 yards on nine carries and 18 yards on one reception. If those two flying TDs weren't enough, however, Alstott made one of the gutsiest play calls in franchise history look like genius.

After Shepherd's diving TD catch of 30 yards with 58 seconds left, the Bucs lined up for the extra point that would tie the game at 35-35. Washington took an extremely aggressive approach to their attempts to block the game-tying PAT, twice jumping offsides and the second time actually getting a hand on the ball thanks to that early start.

After the first penalty, the Bucs left the ball where it was and choose to accept the five-yard infraction the ensuing kickoff. However, when Washington jump offside a second time, Head Coach Jon Gruden decided enough was enough. He let the ball be moved halfway closer to the goal line, then he sent in a jumbo rushing package. With Mike Alstott as the tailback.

Just about everybody on the sideline was thrilled by the play call.

"We're at home, we have Alstott in the backfield – you couldn't ask for a better situation to go for two," said wide receiver Joey Galloway. "Alstott had one of his better games since I've been here, so to have an opportunity to let him carry it across the goal line and win for us, you can't ask for a better situation than that."

Indeed, Alstott went off right guard and just barely got the football over the line. The blocking on the play actually was a little off, and Alstott had to take matters into his own hands, spinning off the first would be tackler and extending the ball over the line with his last lunge.

But the best reason for this game to be on the list? Alstott would want it there.

Asked if the two-point success was the highlight of his career, he responded:

"Other than the Super Bowl, yes. No question about it. We have less than a minute and Coach Gruden calls my number? Yes, it's up there. It's probably number two behind the Super Bowl, yes. No question about it."

3. Buccaneers 20, Lions 10â€Ã'¦Tampa Stadium, December 28, 1997.

One of the reasons Alstott's retirement was met with such emotion was that it meant the end for one of the players who had helped turn the franchise around over the previous decade. At his press conference, Alstott spoke repeatedly about a "core group" of players who had reversed the team's long-running troubles.

The turnaround began in 1995 when the team was purchased by Malcolm Glazer and the Glazer family began to systematically improve every aspect of the organization. It took another step the following year when Tony Dungy was installed as the head coach, though the 1996 season ended with a 6-10 record.

But it was 1997 when the results actually showed up on the field. The Bucs went 10-6, won a Wild Card berth and earned a home playoff game against the Detroit Lions – the first postseason game in Tampa since 1979.

The Bucs handled the Lions magnificently. In the final game played at Tampa Stadium, the home team built a 13-0 lead by the intermission and had allowed only 52 yards of offense through the first half. Many of those "core players" were on defense – Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, et al. – and they had performed magnificently.

Then Alstott put the game away.

Detroit had the ball first to start the second half but the Bucs forced a quick three-and-out and a short punt gave it back to Tampa Bay's offense just over midfield. One play later, the Bucs were in Detroit territory after a seven-yard run by Alstott.

The drive moved slowly down to the Detroit 31, and quarterback Trent Dilfer threw incomplete in Reidel Anthony's direction on first down. On second-and-10, Alstott took a run up the middle, broke several tackles near the line of scrimmage and was suddenly out in the open. Nobody caught him; the big fullback rumbled all the way to the end zone and it was suddenly a 20-point lead. Detroit tacked on 10 points before the game was over but never got close to threatening the Buccaneers.

Alstott finished the game with 80 combined rushing and receiving yards, and obviously more than a third of those yards came on the touchdown run. But it was a run that echoes through team history.

"There were so many spectacular three and four-yard runs that ended up being big plays for us and big touchdowns," said Dungy, trying to pinpoint his favorite Alstott moment. "But I guess the play that I will always remember was the touchdown he scored against Detroit in 1997 in our first playoff win to ice the game. It was so symbolic of Mike, a run up the middle, breaking three tackles and then having the speed to take it all the way. It really showed all of the things that he could do. It was a big play in a big game for us, but it seemed like he always made big plays in big games."

2. Buccaneers 27, Vikings 24â€Ã'¦Raymond James Stadium, November 1, 1998.

Ah, the Vikings again.

This game is treasured in Buccaneer annals for reasons beyond Alstott's contributions, and deservedly so. Consider the season arc for the Vikings in 1998 – they would finish 15-1 and only miss out on a perfect regular season after losing to a 3-4 team in Week Nine.

That team, of course, was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who would finish 8-8 and just miss the playoffs. It was an up-and-down campaign for the Bucs, who had high hopes for the season after their 1997 breakthrough, but there's no doubt that the highest "up" was against the Vikings.

The Bucs won, 27-24, and the game is remembered as a shootout. That may have been true – it took serious offensive firepower to hang with those '98 Vikings – but the Bucs did most of their damage on the ground.

In fact, this might have been the finest rushing game in team history.

Statistically, it missed that mark by four yards. The Bucs had 246 rushing yards against the Vikings, just below the 250 they put up against the Dallas Cowboys on December 3, 2000. But this Minnesota game featured two hundred-yard rushers (Dunn did most of the damage against Dallas) and was a much more competitive contest than that Cowboys game. In other words, every yard mattered.

Alstott provided 128 of those yards, just beating Dunn's 119 and averaging 6.7 yards per tote. Oh, and he just happened to score the final points in a game that was clearly going to go down to the closing seconds.

The game was 17-17 at halftime, and Randall Cunningham gave the Vikings a seven-point lead in the third quarter with a one-yard touchdown pass to Jake Reed. The Bucs countered with a long drive that included three Alstott runs for 20 yards. Tampa Bay moved all the way down to the Minnesota nine-yard line but, obviously feeling as if every point was critical against the high-powered Vikings, went for it on fourth-and-goal from the five and failed.

Fortunately, Brooks intercepted a Cunningham pass moments later, just into the fourth quarter, and returned it 25 yards to the Vikings' 23. That resulted in a field goal and left the Bucs down by four.

Tampa Bay got the ball back with nine minutes to play and quickly moved down to the Vikings' 15. On second-and-10, Dunn ran up the middle for nine yards on a draw play. On third-and-one, the Bucs predictably handed it to Alstott, and not only did the bruising runner get the necessary yard, he also blasted all the way to the end zone.

That wasn't the end of the day for Alstott. The Bucs' defense pushed Minnesota back to its own five on the ensuing drive and forced a punt with just over three minutes to play. The Vikings obviously hoped to get the ball back one more time, but Alstott made sure that wouldn't happen. Taking the handoff on the first four plays of the drive, he careened for 53 yards, including a 37-yard tackle-breaker that sealed the win.

1. Buccaneers 41, Vikings 14â€Ã'¦Raymond James Stadium, October 28, 2001.

The Vikings, at 3-3, weren't as strong in 2001, and the Buccaneers were headed to a Wild Card berth and a quick playoff exit. But on another midseason afternoon in Tampa, the Bucs were once again at their best.

As was Alstott. In fact, he might never have had a better day in the NFL.

In this case, we are going to focus on the statistics, because they were rung up on a day when Dunn was out due to injury. The Bucs needed everything they could get out of Alstott, who started at tailback, and they got it. By the end of the day, he had 128 rushing yards, the third-highest total of his career, and he had scored three rushing touchdowns, tying his own career high and the Bucs' single-game record.

Of course, to the ultimate team player, it was just another day at the office.

"We really didn't do anything special," he said afterwards, willingly ignoring evidence to the contrary. "The guys on the line just got a hat on a hat and that's what allowed me to get past the line."

Alstott certainly benefited from the great blocking provided by Kenyatta Walker, Randall McDaniel, Jeff Christy, Cosey Coleman and Jerry Wunsch. However, game video clearly shows Alstott constantly breaking tackles at the line of scrimmage on the way to his final yardage total, which helped him average 4.6 yards per tote.

Two years prior, Alstott had once again carried the load against Minnesota in a December Monday-nighter that proved crucial to the Bucs' division-championship run. Dunn was out that night, too, and Alstott picked up 95 yards in Tampa Bay's 24-17 win. However, he did not score in that contest – maybe it would have made the list if he had – while he was all about the end zone in 2001.

In fact, Alstott scored twice in the first half and had 79 yards by the break to help the Bucs build a 28-0 lead. Tampa Bay's first two scoring drives were both grind-it-out affairs, on which Alstott carried a stunning 15 times, finishing both marches with TD runs that looked like failed plays before his second effort got it in.

The home team eventually led 34-0 and, after the Vikings finally got on the board in the third quarter, pushed that to 41-8 when Alstott barreled for a 10-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

By the fourth quarter, Alstott was on the sideline, wearing a baseball cap and watching the Bucs finish off their lopsided win. That was an unusual end-game for the powerful runner, who more commonly was on the field at the end, bulling his way to the hard yards that would finish out a victory. It was undoubtedly a nice way for him to finish out the dayâ€Ã'¦and a great way for us to finish this list of Alstott's greatest NFL days.

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