As a reporter, it is your job to catch the action on the field, gather the quotes in the locker room and podium, and of course report on everything that happens when the games are being played.
But sometimes you stumble onto something by accident that makes you stand up and take notice. Just by maybe hanging around a little longer after a game or after a practice.
That happened on Thursday.
The Bucs concluded their three-day mandatory mini camp on Thursday and the players will be off for the next six weeks, approximately. After three straight days of stifling heat, you can bet many had their eyes on a beach in the Bahamas or a trip back to their hometown for some of Mama’s cooking.
Anything but running around behind One Buc Place in the 90-plus degree heat.
But not every player was fantasizing about Piña Coladas and bikinis.
More often than not after practice – year round – Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston stays after practice to work with his receivers and tight ends doing red zone work. But today seemed a little different.
Winston often talks about how much he loves to play football. Even practice, because it gives him a chance to play even more. On Thursday, 20 minutes after practice was over, Winston and tight end Cam Brate didn’t want to leave the field. Particularly Winston, who even took a turn as a receiver with Brate his quarterback.
After catching a touchdown pass on a fade pass in the corner of the end zone, Winston went back to quarterback and split Brate out wide to his left. Winston yelled to Brate, “For the Super Bowl!”
Brate made his way to the corner of the end zone and Winston threw a strike that Brate came down with, and Winston immediately raised his finger in the air and jogged over to Brate where they both leaped in the air to celebrate. Winston said, “That was for the Super Bowl!”
Just like most us did hundreds of times as kids, Winston was playing the “last second score” to win a Super Bowl scenario. Again, didn’t most of us do that with our little brothers, cousins or neighborhood friends?
QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
I know I did many, many times, pretending I was Doug Williams and my cousin Eddie was Kevin House or Jimmie Giles. But I was 12. Not 23. I was in sixth grade. Not an NFL quarterback.
Bucs fans, that is your quarterback.
A kid at at heart.
Playing a grown man’s game now, but with a youthful exuberance.
With a smile on his face.
With a twinkle in his eye.
These are the little things that don’t show up on film, and the things that made general manager Jason Licht select him with the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2015.
These are the things that Dirk Koetter says surprises him every day with Winston, but shouldn’t.
These are the things that should make Bucs fans sleep better each night, knowing the franchise is headed in the right direction.
After their celebration dance, and some friendly banter, Brate put his arm on Winston’s shoulder, and the quarterback asked his tight end if he was ready to go get a shaved ice from the truck parked on the edge of the practice field.
But somehow you get the idea that Winston wasn’t ready to leave. You got the sense he would love to take a break and go find a few more players to have another backyard game with. You got the sense that Winston wouldn’t mind a fourth day of mini-camp.
He gets it. He just gets it.
Winston has over 25 million reasons to play and work hard to succeed in football. And in a couple of years it will approach or exceed 100 million reasons.
But knowing Winston the last three years, and seeing things like I witnessed on Thursday, you would have to believe he would do it for much less. Much less. Don’t tell that to his agent, but Winston plays football not for the money or recognition, but for the true love of the sport.
Bucs fans, this is your quarterback.
Count your blessings, they don’t come around very often.