The women who attended Thursday night's NFL 101 clinic learned about special teams by performing the plays themselves
Imagine strolling into your Psychology 101 class as a freshman and finding Carl Jung as your professor. Or signing up for acting lessons and getting Meryl Streep. How about golf tips from Tiger? A cooking lesson from Emeril?
That's how the 600 women attending Thursday's third annual 'NFL 101' event, presented by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Eckerd Corporation, must have felt. Hoping to up their football I.Q. with a three-hour crash course in the basics, these 600 women were tutored by some of the area's foremost experts in the field: Buccaneer coaches Rod Marinelli, Mike Tomlin, Stan Parrish, Kirby Wilson and Richard Bisaccia.
Marinelli is Tampa Bay's assistant head coach and the man who lights the fire under the Bucs' monstrous defensive line. Tomlin tutors the Bucs' defensive backs, Parrish the quarterbacks, Wilson the running backs and Bisaccia the special teams. Together they have 89 years of coaching experience, all of which they happily offered to the women at Thursday night's NFL 101.
The event kicked off at 6:30 p.m. with Coach Marinelli and Coach Tomlin splitting the group into two sets of about 300 each and going over the basics of NFL defense. Coach Marinelli spent some time discussing the intangibles that go into making great football players, such as passion and work ethic, but he also broke down eight-man fronts, zone blitzes and gap responsibilities.
"When you first start talking, you have an assumption that the audience knows what you're talking about, so you may have to slow it down," said Marinelli. "Like when I talk about 'one-gap,' maybe they don't know what that is, so you explain it. The main thing is that they come away with more knowledge than they arrived with."
Meanwhile Tomlin was telling his group about his prized defensive backs and the assortment of coverages they run on a normal Sunday afternoon, ranging from zone to man to blitz to zone dog. Tomlin and the other coaches recognized that this was a lot of information, but believed their audience more than capable of absorbing it.
"It's our job as coaches to make the complex simple and hopefully the ladies will learn something tonight," said Tomlin.
That's not easy, especially when one gets into disguising defenses and the other tricks NFL coaches and players use to fool one another. In the end, however, Coach Tomlin gave the women an easy way to recognize whether the Bucs' defensive backs were doing their jobs correctly or not.
"I know we're not doing our job if I don't see my guys on SportsCenter," said Tomlin.
After the presentations by Marinelli and Tomlin, the women were given a 15-minute rest to absorb the information and prepare for the offensive instruction that would be given by Coach Parrish and Coach Wilson.
"I learned a lot," said gridiron student Jennifer Coulter. "The coaches were really good at explaining things to us. The things I didn't know before I can go back to my husband and say, 'Ha! Now I know.'"
The women at Eckerd's NFL 101 attended the seminar free of charge, having been chosen from among thousands of entries submitted at Eckerd stores and at Eckerd.com. Three hundred women were chosen and were allowed to bring a friend for an evening of football and food. Joining the selected women were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders, who were on hand to greet the guests and then stayed to learn more about the team for which they cheer.
As the break ended, Coach Parrish and Coach Wilson took their turns on the stage and began to explain basic offensive principles to the throng of Buccaneer-clad women.
Coach Parrish explained play calls, audibles and the importance of the center-quarterback exchange, while Coach Wilson enlightened the crowd about personnel groupings and the differences between trips, spread and solo formations. Each coach had his own style, with Coach Parrish choosing to take an abundance of questions (and suggestions) from the crowd.
"Anytime you can come out and represent your team and have fun doing it, like this, you love it, " said Parrish. "I also got quite a few suggestions about what we should do on offense that I said I'd pass along to (Head Coach) Jon (Gruden)."
Coach Wilson took a different path, constantly quizzing his group about the formations he had discussed. At one point, he even had the women line up and bark the play calls. Alas, Wilson had to flag the group for several motion penalties, as the women struggled to master the counter-motion set.
"We're here to teach you about football, but also to have some fun" Coach Wilson explained to the crowd. " So, I'll be quizzing you all and make sure you retain some of this knowledge."
After the classroom work, the women joined Bisaccia, as well as punter Tom Tupa and kicker Martin Gramatica, on the Raymond James Stadium field for some special teams work.
A group of women was pulled from the audience and asked to line up in punt and field goal formation, while others were asked to actually attempt to field a punt that was shot out of the 'Juggs' gun.
Bisaccia gave a presentation regarding why kick-coverage formations look the way they do and what the responsibilities of each player are. Then he asked the women to get ready to field some punts. Many tried, but only one succeeded.
"My husband coaches at Robinson High School and he told me I needed to learn more about football," said Sharon Montero of South Tampa, the successful punt returner. "It felt great to catch that punt – it was one for the women."
While Monder basked in the glow of her special teams prowess, Bisaccia, Gramatica and Tupa wrapped up their presentation, bringing the event to a close.
"My mom is a Bucs fanatic and I just started getting into the Bucs and I wanted to learn more to compete with my boyfriend," said attendee Amanda Curtiss. "I learned quite a bit. It was a little fast for me, since I'm not too up on it, but I really did learn some things."
And that's what the third annual NFL 101 was all about.
Toys for Tots
It was a good night at Raymond James Stadium for kids as well as women.
The Buccaneers, the Glazer Family Foundation and Eckerd Corporation announced the beginning of their annual Toys for Tots donation collection at Thursday's NFL 101 clinic.
The women attending the event were asked to bring toys to support the drive, and they responded with over 500 donations.
Beginning on Thanksgiving weekend, Toys for Tots drop boxes will be at all Tampa Bay area Eckerd locations through December 21. In addition, the Glazer Family Foundation and the Marine Corps Reserve will collect unwrapped toys at Raymond James Stadium on December 8, when the Bucs play the Falcons. All toys collected will be distributed to less fortunate children in the Bay area community.
This year celebrates the 26th anniversary of the Toys for Tots partnership between the Bucs and the Marines.