ALL ABOARD Bucs tight end Dave Moore and fullback Mike Alstott have been known to take up rod and reel in the off-season.
The two share adjacent lockers and a seniority among the Bucs veterans along with linebacker Derrick Brooks as the only three remaining players who wore the old orange and white uniforms.
After a year as tumultuous as this has been, a retreat to the sea will be more than welcomed, and that may be just a game away. Moore said that hands down he was a better angler and joked that Alstott was what you might call a “fair-weather fisherman.” In other words, if the fish are biting, he’ll come out.
The same can’t be said about Alstott’s commitment to the city of Tampa and the Buccaneers franchise. His loyalty and blue-collar approach to football has elevated him to iconic status among Bucs fans. But it seems more and more likely that the icon may be about to call it a career.
He signed a one-year deal last year amongst rumors he was considering retirement. A continually diminishing role in the team’s offense and talk of rebuilding has led to even further speculation of him retiring or possibly testing the free agent market at season’s end.
On Wednesday, Alstott couldn’t say what the future holds for him, but Sunday’s game against Seattle could potentially be his last as a Buccaneer.
“Ever since ‘03 when I hurt my neck, I walk onto that field not knowing when it’s going to be my last game,” Alstott said following Wednesday’s practice.
“The 2004 season was difficult for me coming off my neck injury and then in ’05 and through ’06, as far as playing at a high level and competing and doing some good things, I know I can play and my body feels good. But do I continue? That’s a decision to be made later.”
The player who has affectionately become known to Bucs fans as “The A-Train” repeatedly refused to say whether this will be his final stop along the line, but it’s hard not to read into his words.
“We’ll think about it and see what happens,” he said. “I’m sure there would be some conversations with the Bucs if I do want to pursue going forward and maybe playing and see what their interest level in me playing is. But I’m kind of excited for this week, you know it is the last game of the ’06 season, and it’s at home, an 11-year career in front of a great crowd, a great community. They’ve backed me and I’d like to go out on a high note.”
ENDANGERED SPECIES A six-time Pro Bowler, Alstott has always been somewhat of an enigma in the Bucs offense, morphing between a true fullback and a running back. The fact is there aren’t many fullbacks who get to touch the ball these days.
Fans still chant for him to pound the rock at home games even though he’s never had a 1,000-yard rushing season. He did come within 54 yards in 1999, though.
His most productive year may have been in 2001 when he had career highs in both rushing touchdowns (10) and yards per carry average (4.1)
Alstott holds team records for touchdowns (71), rushing touchdowns (58) and is third in points scored (432). He will also go down in franchise history as the first Buccaneer to score a touchdown in a Super Bowl.
JUST ONE OF THE GUYS But more important than records or statistics is what Mike Alstott has meant to the community and the place he holds in franchise history.
“He’s one of those guys that everybody can relate to,” Dave Moore said of Alstott. “He is just a normal guy that everybody in the community kind of sees a piece of themselves in, the way that he plays and the way he runs.”
But it hasn’t been just Tampa Bay fans that have been enamored with Alstott. In 1998, he was the NFC’s top vote-getter at fullback in the Pro Bowl.
Like Moore said, Alstott is the type of guy that takes a pounding, and fans gravitate to that. He runs over guys, not around them. Moore recalls witnessing that relentless running style in Alstott during his rookie year. There were many times when he, fooling around with Alstott in practice, grabbed him between drills, spun him around, and tried to knock him down. But with little success.
“He’d trip over a tackling dummy and stumble a bit,” Moore said. “Eight of 10 guys would’ve gone down, but he stayed on his feet and I was like, ‘Damn.’ He just had a really uncanny sense of balance, his center of gravity is so low.”
NO PLACE LIKE HOME Moore, who has more seasons with the Bucs (13) than any other player in franchise history, tested free agency himself at one point, playing the 2002 and 2003 seasons with the Buffalo Bills before re-signing with the Bucs on March 3, 2004.
He said his time in Buffalo was a good experience that helped bring his family closer together while giving them a chance to experience living in a different part of the country. However, he considers himself lucky to have been given the opportunity to return to Tampa Bay.
“When I left to go to Buffalo, I still resided here in the offseason and ran into a lot of people who were talking about it was a shame that I left and John [Lynch] left. And I think that was one of the reasons that Mike [Alstott] didn’t leave, just because he kind of has everything attached to hear.
“You know he certainly had some opportunities because of the salary situation to leave and he chose to stay, and a lot of it is because of the community and fans.”
At this stage of his career, Moore said he would not go to another team, but he’s not as sure about Alstott.
“A lot of that obviously is going to depend on the direction of the team and are they going to go into a rebuilding phase or are they going to try to make a run at it now,” Moore said. “They are all things that are obviously beyond our control, so we’re just going to go as if we always have.”
FAREWELL? Alstott has been somewhat of a recluse this year around One Buc Place. He hasn’t spoken much to the media, but teammates have confirmed that he is still a vocal leader and a source of inspiration in the locker room. When asked if going to another team is an option, Alstott couldn’t give a definitive answer.
“I haven’t even thought about that,” Alstott said. “I don’t even want to think about that. You know I’m a Buccaneer, I’ll always be a Buccaneer. I don’t even want to get into that discussion. Honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to do, I don’t even have an idea what I want to do.
“It was frustrating this whole year. It wasn’t just frustrating to me, it was frustrating to the whole team, the whole organization. And it wouldn’t be fair for me to say, ‘Yeah, I want to play’ or ‘No, I don’t want to play.’ Right now it’s just mixed feelings.”
One thing is for sure — Alstott still loves the game of football and has a tremendous amount of passion for it. After a season-high 22 carries at Cleveland Sunday, the 33-year old fullback is a little sorer than he’s been this year. But as long as it comes after a win, he says he’s okay with that.
Will Sunday be his final game as a Buc?
“I don’t make the decisions,” said Alstott. “I just walk out here on the field with my helmet and my shoulder pads and play as hard as I can possibly play, whatever situation it is. That’s what I’ve always done and I always will do.”
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