An unfortunate neck injury has officially ended Tampa Bay fullback Mike Alstott's career after 12 memorable seasons in the National Football League.
The Bucs held a farewell press conference for the 34-year-old Alstott at One Buccaneer Place on Thursday.
A six-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion, Alstott was afforded the opportunity to do something that seems to be very rare in the NFL these days – retire with the same team he began his career with.
"Since 1990, 7,325 players have played in the NFL, and in that span only 17 players have played over 11 seasons with the same team. The 18th is sitting next to me," Bucs executive vide president Bryan Glazer said referring to Alstott. "It's an amazing figure for an amazing man. Mike is the same person today as the day we met him. That's what made him special on and off the field."
Dozens of people filled the team meeting room at One Buc Place on Thursday morning, including Alstott's wife Nichole, son Griffin and daughters Hannah and Lexie.
In addition to media members and Bucs employees, some of Alstott's former teammates, including cornerback Ronde Barber, tight end Anthony Becht, defensive tackle Chris Hovan, running back Michael Pittman and linebacker Shelton Quarles were also in attendance.
Team vice presidents Joel and Bryan Glazer, head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen each spoke about the Bucs legend before Alstott, who was sporting his Super Bowl ring and a Bucs battle flag pin on his sports coat, took the podium to say goodbye to the game he loves to play.
"This is what I dreamed about since I was six or seven years old," said Alstott, who fought back tears throughout most of his speech. "I remember being in school and writing my first paper about what you want to be when you grow up. I still have it and probably should get it framed. I said I wanted to go on to college and play for an organization and get drafted in the NFL and play the game I love. I never took my eye off that goal. Yes, there were a lot of distractions and I had to do a lot of things in school, but I had good people surrounding me my whole life. To be able to accomplish a goal you've had ever since you were growing up – it's hard to sit in front of you today and say that dream is over. But there are many other dreams I'm going to go after in my life.
"Coming into this building each and every day and walking onto that field started as a childhood dream. We don't have to wear suits to work or anything like that. We get to just come in here and hang out with the guys like a big fraternity, we grow to love each other and our families together, and play the game we love. Sitting back throughout the year knowing that this time would come – it's emotional. But I thank everyone. It has to end sooner or later. This is the best way it could ever end in my life. It's a dream come true."
Alstott originally entered the NFL out of Purdue in 1996. He quickly became a fan favorite in Tampa Bay by using his 6-foot-1, 248-pound frame to literally run over defenders, earning him the nickname of the "A-Train."
"He's one of a kind," Quarles said of Alstott. "Hopefully he'll get voted into the Hall of Fame.
"Anytime you have a guy that can ground it out on the football field and gain yards, those yards moves the chains and keep the defense off the football field. He was one of the best."
Number 40 started 137 of the 158 career games he played in as a Buccaneer, rushing 1,359 times for 5,088 yards (3.7 avg.) and 58 touchowns while hauling in 305 passes for 2,284 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Alstott's role as a featured ball carrier was short-lived under former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy, but he developed a reputation for being a go-to guy in short-yardage and goal line situations.
"If you needed a yard, Mike got you two," said Bryan Glazer. "If you needed someone to grind a game out for you at the end Mike was the man for you."
But the neck injury Alstott suffered in Week 2 of the 2003 regular season required season-ending surgery and jeopordized his playing career. He managed to rehabiliate his neck and play three more seasons before re-injuring his neck during Tampa Bay's 2007 training camp.
That injury proved to do what so many defenders could not – derail the "A-Train." However, the months that have passed since Alstott re-injured his neck in August made calling it a career on Thursday a little easier.
"Everyone knows that I've been contemplating retirement for the past four years," said Alstott. "Every year is a retirement party. But it all worked out for the best. When you step in that doctor's office and you do all your scans and everything after I hurt my neck, I realized it is over. We checked into seeing if it was still possible to play. Overall for me and my family, it's not possible.
"It's not like I just came about last week, though. We had a lot of time to talk and think about it. It didn't just come about and hit me in the face. We knew this situation would be coming. The hardest part about it is standing up here and saying you can't play."
Alstott finishes his career with a long list of accomplishments, some individual and some team-oriented, the latter of which he preferred.
A six-time Pro Bowler, Alstott owns the franchise record for most rushing touchdowns (58) and total touchdowns (71) and ranks second in team history with 5,088 rushing yards. He also ends his career ranked third in points scored (432).
One of the things the people around Alstott admired most was the fact that his individual success and popularity never went to his head. The "A-Train" stayed grounded throughout his career from an ego standpoint.
"He never felt like he was too good. He was just a very humble football player," said Quarles. "He never tried to be bigger than the club or show anybody up. He came to work and worked hard everyday, and that rubbed off on guys."
Alstott's team-first attitude was contagious and rubbed off on many of his teammates. Everyone could see that, even the people that worked more inside the building than out on the football field.
"In a sport that relies on an absolute commitment to the team, Mike showed up everyday with an unwavering loyalty to his teammates and a desire to do whatever it took to make the team successful," said Allen. "While his talents were certainly unique, it was his commitment to the organization, his teammates and his coaches that separated him."
Alstott's production was integral in helping to turn one of the worst franchises in NFL history into a playoff contender and Super Bowl winner.
When he scored a touchdown, the Buccaneers were an impressive 44-14 in the regular season. One of his many career touchdowns was the first scored in Super Bowl XXXVII en route to Tampa Bay's 48-21 win over Oakland on Jan. 26, 2003.
While his individual feats have cemented his name in Tampa Bay history forever, Alstott said the individuals that made up his team and the Bucs organization are what he cherishes most.
"My great moments were just coming into the locker room," said Alstott. "After having a hard day and being here through the OTAs, training camps and things like that you knew it was going to be a hard battle. Coming in that locker room and being able to give your teammates and your peers, hugs, congratulations and smiles, that's special. Everybody makes plays, but when you're around a group of guys and able to share those times and congratulate each other, those are special moments."
After scoring a total of nine touchdowns in 2002, Alstott was used more as a blocker than he was a ball carrier under Gruden, who was traded from Oakland in ‘02.
Gruden grew to appreciate what a unique talent Alstott was and what a great leader he was inside Tampa Bay's locker room.
"I came here in 2002 and we selected our team captains. We let our players select who the captains were going to be," said Gruden. "For the first time in my career as a coach it was unanimous that the team selected the same guy. We should celebrate a great career, an unbelievable career as a player and as a teammate.
"We'll never forget you, Mike. You took 96 Power King and 14 Blast to an unforgettable level. It's been a pleasure and honor to coach one of the great football players in Buccaneer history. We'll miss you and we're going to try to hire you to do something here."
Gruden isn't kidding as far as Alstott's future with the team is concerned. Alstott and the Bucs are discussing a possible role for him in the organization.
"We've had some discussions and those discussions will continue," said Alstott. "I'd definitely like to be part of this organization."
According to WDAE 620, Gruden recently offered Alstott the running backs coach job, which was left vacant when Art Valero accepted a job with the St. Louis Rams earlier this month.
Alstott's teammates wouldn't mind having him around in that capacity, although it's unclear whether the "A-Train" would be interested in serving as the team's running backs coach.
"You never know. I think Mike would be a great running backs coach," said Pittman. "I don't know if that's what he wants to do, but I think he has the work ethic to be the best running backs coach. I've seen the personality to be a good coach. With all of the young guys coming up, if Mike wanted to be a coach everybody would sit down and listen to what Mike has to say because he's been there and done that and won championships as a player. If he transitions to be a coach I think he would be one of the best coaches in the game."
Alstott's teammates were moved by the tribute and highlight video shown at the end of the retirement announcement and Alstott's speech, which included many thanks to all of the people that helped him throughout his career.
"It was definitely sad," Pittman said. "It was hard for me to sit back and watch Mike announce his retirement and get emotional up there with Nicole. Me and Mike were more than teammates. We were really, really close friends. I'm always over at his house. Our kids, our wives – they hang out together. It's just tough because everyone knows what Mike brought to the table and the type of person that he is, the type of player that he was and he could have been if he didn't have that neck injury. I think Mike is making a smart decision about retiring because family is first, of course. But it's still hard to swallow. Everything has to come to an end and sometimes you have to accept things, but this is hard for me to accept and I know that it is hard to accept, too.
"Mike is a great person on and off the field. Myself, Tampa and everybody around this place will miss Mike."
Alstott's teammates aren't the only ones that will miss the "A-Train." He is arguably the most popular and well-liked Buccaneer in team history. But fans haven't seen the last of Alstott, who will be honored at one of Tampa Bay's regular season home games in 2008.
That moment will be one opportunity for fans to thank Alstott for all of the memories. However, the "A-Train" took the opportunity to thank Bucs fans during his retirement announcement on Thursday.
"I was overwhelmed everyday," Alstott said of the support he has received from Bucs fans. "There are a lot of people out there that thank me. For doing what? Playing football and scoring touchdowns? Or going out there and trying to help some people in this community that need help. I thank them for their support because they made it fun for me to come to work everyday and put that jersey on Sunday and run out of that tunnel.
"My goal today was to say thank you and close this chapter in my life. I hope I did that."
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