The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play their first preseason game of the year against the New England Patriots on Friday night.

Unfortunately for Bucs fullback Mike Alstott, he will not participate in Friday night's preseason contest or any other game in 2007 for that matter.

The Bucs held a 2:00 p.m. press conference at One Buccaneer Place to announce that they have decided to place Alstott on injured reserve, ending his 2007 season before it even began.

“Mike has suffered an injury, and it’s severe enough that we’re going to place him on injured reserve,” said Bucs general manager Bruce Allen. “As you all know, Mike is a key component of the Buccaneers. He has been and will be. He’s still a member of the team. Mike will still be involved in a lot of the team activities this year from the injured reserve list. But he’s still part of this team.”

“It’s quite emotional for Mike, mainly because the man loves football, period.

The 6-foot-1, 248-pound Alstott has missed the last three days of practice due to soreness that stems from above normal stress levels in his neck, which required season-ending surgery back in 2003 after he sustained a serious neck injury in Week 3 against the Carolina Panthers.

Alstott’s worst fears were realized when he learned that he had sustained another neck injury during training camp, which began on July 27.

“At this time I’ve sustained another injury to my neck,” an emotional Alstott said. “After discussing it with the medical staff, the Buccaneers organization, the doctors and my personal surgeon that operated on me in ’03, right now it’s a situation where like Bruce [Allen] said – I’m going on IR for the rest of the year.

The neck injury Alstott sustained in ’03 required season-ending surgery and threatened to end his career. To his credit, Alstott recovered and resumed his football career and played without incident until shortly after training camp began.

“Everybody knows how the first 10 days or so of training camp are,” said Alstott. “There’s a lot of hitting going on. It wasn’t much different than other situations. I just had soreness throughout my body. I was just fighting through it. The rest of my body was getting better, but my neck wasn’t. The medical staff did as much as they could in terms of treatment, but it didn’t work. We did further tests and that was it.

“Yesterday was the final straw. After I talked with Dr. Maroon, my [neck] surgeon in Pittsburgh, we came to the conclusion on the whole situation.”

The good news for Alstott is he hasn’t re-injured the same part of his neck. The injury, which is in a “new spot” in his neck, will not require surgery this time around. Alstott and the medical staff believe time is the best remedy.

However, the bad news is Alstott’s season, and quite possibly his career, are over.

“I guess one thing is you don’t mess with the neck, right?” Alstott said. “There’s always a situation where the injury can be worsened by playing. That’s why you go on IR and that’s why you don’t play for the rest of the year. It’s a severe injury and it’s a situation you don’t mess with.”

When asked whether his NFL career was over after 11 seasons, Alstott, who turns 34 in December, made it clear that his first priority is to get his neck healthy again. A decision on his playing career will come next.

“I don’t know,” said Alstott when asked if he was going to retire. “Right now I’m just trying to swallow this one. We are reviewing the situation at hand. I promise you that you’ll know, but just let me be right now while we figure this out.”

Although he cannot play football this season, Alstott plans to have a presence around his teammates and the franchise he helped turn into Super Bowl winners back in 2002.

“I’m not going to be able to put my helmet on, my jersey on or go out there and participate with my teammates,” Alstott said. “There’s no question I’m going to be around this season to help my teammates to be there and support them in whatever way I can.”

Alstott contemplated retirement over the past two offseasons, but he re-joined the Bucs back in March, signing a one-year, $1.5 million contract.

His intention was to help the Bucs return to championship form after a disappointing 4-12 outing in 2006. Alstott was emotionally upset when faced with the reality that he would not be able to help the Bucs turn things around from the football field on Sundays.

“I want to tell everybody right now that I was ready to play football this year,” Alstott said as he attempted to fight back tears. “I was ready to play football. My mind was set on playing this game and helping this team and doing whatever I could do.

“I can’t now, but I’m still going to be here.”

Arguably the most popular Buccaneer in franchise history, Alstott is Tampa Bay’s all-time leader in touchdowns (71) and rushing touchdowns (58). He also ranks second all-time in team history with 5,088 rushing yards and third in receptions with 305 for 2,284 yards and 13 touchdowns.

A six-time Pro Bowler and team captain, Alstott, who entered the league as a second-round draft pick out of Purdue in 1996, played an integral role in helping to turn one of the losingest teams in NFL history into a playoff contender and Super Bowl champion.

In fact, Alstott scored Tampa Bay’s first touchdown in Super Bowl XXXVII en route to a 48-21 win over the Oakland Raiders.

There was some question as to whether Tampa Bay was going to re-sign Alstott, who has played in 158 career games (137 career starts), this offseason, even after he made his intentions of playing this season known.

The “A-Train’s” role in head coach Jon Gruden’s offense has been limited in terms of carrying the football. He’s been regarded more as a leader blocker and short-yardage back in Gruden’s offense.

Last season, Alstott carried the ball 60 times for 171 yards (2.9 avg.) and three touchdowns, and Tampa Bay’s ground game ranked 28th overall in the NFL.

Although Alstott did re-sign with Tampa Bay, the Bucs still went out in free agency and signed former New York Jets fullback B.J. Askew, 26, to a two-year deal. That signing has turned out to be a valuable insurance policy.

Despite his limited role as a ball carrier in Tampa Bay's offense, the Gruden said No. 40 would be missed in more ways than one.

“Any time you lose a player for the season, it is a difficult situation. And when you are talking about the A-train, his loss will be felt not only on the field, but in the locker room,” Gruden said in a statement released by the Bucs. “We benefit from his steady influence on a lot of our younger players and while he will not be on the field this year, he will remain a valuable member of our team.”

No one knows for sure whether he has played his last game in Tampa Bay, but Alstott assured his fans and the Tampa Bay community that he’d always be a Buccaneer.

“When you put that helmet, jersey and pads on and run out of that tunnel in front of 70,000 or 80,000 people that are the truest fans in the world, and they’re screaming and hollering your name — there’s no better feeling in the world,” Alstott said. “I love the city of Tampa. I love the fans. I’m not sure what it’s going to come down to, but I’m going to be around.”

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