CB Ronde Barber was one of many Buccaneers to show their appreciation for the military after a practice on September 11
John Lynch graduated from San Diego's Torrey Pines High School in the spring of 1989 and promptly enrolled at Stanford University, where he played football and baseball. He was drafted by the MLB expansion Florida Marlins, spent a brief period in baseball, then joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after being taken in the 1993 NFL Draft. He has since made five trips to the Pro Bowl and won a Super Bowl back in his home town.
Ron Flanders, another San Diego native who looked up to Lynch when they were both in Little League because Lynch was striking out batters with an 85-mph heater, also went to Torrey Pines High School. After graduating, Flanders immediately joined the military and headed off to boot camp. He is now a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the U.S. Navy, proudly serving his country.
On Thursday, September 11, 2003, fourteen years after the two were in the same Spanish III class, John as a senior and Ron as a junior, the two met again on the practice field at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Florida.
On the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Buccaneers welcomed local heroes from the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, VFW Post 4321 and Tampa Fire Rescue Station #8 to their facility. The visitors, many of whom learned of the trip at the last minute and were thrilled at the opportunity, toured One Buc Place, watched practice and met many of the Bucs' players and coaches.
It was a particularly exciting day for LTJG Flanders, who was reunited with his fellow Torrey Pines grad and had no trouble seeing the parallels in their lives since high school.
"It was nice to see him again," said Flanders. "We talked about school and mutual friends. We both wear a uniform, we both have exciting jobs and we both work around the elite, the best. I have the privilege of working with these American heroes and, obviously, he's on the World Champs."
Both men enjoyed the reunion and Lynch, especially, appreciated the chance to catch up. Obviously, Flanders had no problem following Lynch's career.
"I had heard the last time I was over at MacDill that he was coming to town, so it was good to see him," said Lynch. "I'm proud of him. It was great to see a familiar face and he's kept up on me and now I've been able to keep up on him and see where he's at."
The Torrey Pines reunion wasn't the only special moment that took place Tuesday.
Middle linebacker Nate Webster, the Buccaneers' new field general, fired off a salute to the troops as the team switched from the far field to the field nearest the heroes midway through practice, a gesture that was greeted with return salutes from the attending military personnel.
As practice wore on, the guests were treated to a tour of the Buccaneers' locker room, where everyone took a picture in front their favorite players' lockers. Veteran punter Tom Tupa, who had a few minutes of down time during the workout, greeted the visitors and spoke with them for a few minutes before hustling back out to the field.
After practice, a large group of Buccaneer players and coaches, including Lynch, cornerback Ronde Barber, linebacker Derrick Brooks, quarterback Brad Johnson, wide receiver Joe Jurevicius, center Austin King, quarterback Shaun King, guard Sean Mahan, wide receiver Keenan McCardell, linebacker Ryan Nece, safety Jermaine Phillips, safety Dwight Smith and tight end Daniel Wilcox, visited with the guests and autographed the pennants and hats that were part of the decorative gift bags given to each person.
The last Buc to stop by and share his respect for the local military heroes was Head Coach Jon Gruden, who developed a relationship with retired General Tommy Franks last season.
Gruden held court for several minutes, talking football with the troops, veterans and fire rescue members before he was suddenly challenged by Staff Sergeant Scott Gellin of the U.S. Army to a Chucky Face-off.
Each man displayed his best Chucky Face while the crowd of spectators snapped photos. No winner was declared but Gellin, who practices his Chucky face in the mirror, admitted that Gruden, the accidental inventor of the look, was still the master.
"It was very challenging to stand next to the man with the best faces on the field," said Gellin.
In the end, it was a great day for the Buccaneers, as it allowed them to show their appreciation for the men and women that protect all Americans and their freedoms.
Or, as Gruden said, "God bless you guys and thank you for everything you do."