There are certain sights you can count on seeing every year at One Buccaneer Place. Fans welcoming the team back on the first day of training camp. Players getting their ankles taped before every practice. Equipment managers hanging freshly-laundered jerseys in lockers on Tuesday. Barbells racked and unracked in the weight room.
And, every Tuesday on the week of Thanksgiving, a double column of cars and vans stretching from the One Buc entrance back towards Raymond James Stadium, headlines winking on as the sun sets.
That's the iconic image of the "Turkey Time with the O-Line" event, first dreamed up by Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood in 2007 and still going strong six years later. This year, a record 700 families in need received bountiful Thanksgiving meals though the Turkey Time event, bringing the six-year total of meals distributed by Joseph, Trueblood and company to 3,500.
The meals were once again put together by Publix Supermarkets and distributed by the Bucs' offensive line, United Way volunteers and Buccaneer staff members and their families. Lance-Snyder's provided bags of pretzels to the families waiting in line and, of course, a dozen or so very big men clad in red jerseys handled as much of the heavy lifting as possible.
"This is the biggest [Turkey Time] yet," said Joseph. "We're up to 700 and that's a special number because it means that we're growing. We have so much support from Publix and United Way and Lance-Snyder's, and all the volunteers from the building here and from the United Way. It's a special event, and what makes it so great is the community involvement. It's growing, and it's just special.
"The first time was special, but as you see the line grow every year, and the need grows every year, and the community involvement gets better, it's a joyful event."
Using previously-distributed vouchers, families came to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Headquarters on Tuesday to receive meals that included a 10 to 12-pound turkey, a pumpkin pie and traditional Thanksgiving trimmings such as mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce and vegetables. The line also included vans and other vehicles sent by local community agencies to pick up multiple meals for families who could not travel to One Buc Place.
Those who did make it out enjoyed the added treat of interacting with Buccaneer players and cheerleaders, grabbing autographs where they could and handing out appreciative hugs by the hundreds. Team mascot Captain Fear was on hand to provide entertainment, such as when he hitched a ride in the bed of a pickup truck and danced to "Gangnam Style" as it was pulling up to the distribution line.
Joseph has been on the Buccaneers' injured reserve list since an unfortunate knee injury in the preseason, but nothing was going to stop him from his annual Thanksgiving tradition at One Buc. As always, he enjoyed the opportunity to talk to the families who were doing their best to make it through difficult situations.
"You get to talk to people, hear their stories and you see people just surviving right now," he said. "It's encouraging. I'm blessed financially, but to see some people that don't have that same blessing but are just surviving, it's encouraging to know that we can help them in some kind of way."
Every fall, the Turkey Time event is a heartwarming success thanks to the combined efforts of many, including hard-working staffers and many community volunteers. It persists year after year, despite inevitable roster turnover, because each new generation of offensive linemen see the good work being done and want to get involved. Like Joseph, rookie guard Desmond Wynn is currently on injured reserve, but he joined in Tuesday night, happily lugging turkeys and boxes of pies to one vehicle after another.
"This is great, seeing all these people come out for Thanksgiving," said Wynn. "This is a really nice event. It's good to see these people come out, to get a chance to do this and to help and interact with all these people. I love this kind of atmosphere and I love helping people out. The offensive line is close as it is, and doing this shows you how closely we work together. Now we're out here working like a smooth, well-oiled machine to provide help where we can."
As always, Joseph deeply appreciated the help and financial contributions of his teammates to an event that has grown impressively over the last six years. He has had a valued Turkey Time partner in Trueblood the entire way, but he's never had any problem getting help from his other teammates at the time, either.
"Jeremy, he's kind of the silent guy," said Joseph with his trademark wide smile. "He's quiet, he's not the guy to get in front of a microphone or want any kind of credit behind it, so they leave it all to me. So people get the perception that this is my event, and it's not. It's not my event – this is an offensive line even that Trueblood and I started, but every lineman that's come through here since we started has been a part of it and has contributed money and time into it. It's always been something that everybody on the offensive line has looked forward to being a part of."
And, for the last six years, it's been as welcome and as sure of a sight at One Buccaneer Place as any other. It's just not Thanksgiving in Tampa without "Turkey Time with the O-Line."