Former ESPN writer and good friend Pat Yasinskas once told me, no matter how close you might get to a player, or think you are, you are never really their friend. You are in their world as a media member, but you are at their job a few hours a day and they have a whole life outside of football. Yasinskas said, “You might be ‘friendly’ but you aren’t their friend.”
And honestly credentialed members shouldn’t be friends with the players they cover. That’s old school journalism even in the blurred partisan lines of the Fox News and MSNBC world we live in today.
While I have never considered any player I have covered for PewterReport.com a friend, there are guys who you tend to secretly root for – just a little. Adam Humphries and Kwon Alexander are two of those guys for me.
For different reasons, but they are both guys I have always wanted to see succeed. Both are extremely hard workers, gave their heart, soul – and even their health to a degree – for the love of the game and the enjoyment of Tampa Bay fans.
I remember the first time seeing Humphries on the football field. It was a rookie mini-camp right after the 2015 draft (a rookie tryout for him) and despite being an Florida State fan, I had no idea who this short, blond-headed guy from Clemson was who was running all over the field and never dropping a pass. He looked more like a water boy than a football player at the time.
During one of the following OTAs or perhaps another mini-camp, I made a joke about Florida State whipping up on Clemson. He laughed and said Clemson would get up there with FSU one day. I laughed. He didn’t.
Since that day Clemson has two national championship titles, while FSU fans are ready to run head coach Willie Taggart off after one 5-7 season. My, how fortunes have changed in college football in the South.
People tend to forget that Humphries was very much on the bubble in his rookie season, and when he finally did make the 53-man roster, he was the team’s fifth receiver behind Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans, Louis Murphy and Russell Shepard. His performance against the Dolphins in the final preseason game (four receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown) was the boost he needed to secure a roster spot.
Many forget Humphries was actually waived early in the 2015 season, went unclaimed, and ended up on the practice squad. Without that Dolphins game (the same game former kicker Kyle Brindza made the team) who knows where Humphries is today?
Hump, as he is affectionately called at One Buccaneer Place, survived and just went to work. During the season, and during the offseason, Humphries just worked to get better and better. And his stats showed that, culminating in a career year in 2018 where he recorded 76 reception for 816 yards and five touchdowns.
Those numbers propelled him into a new tax bracket on Monday after reaching a deal with the Tennessee Titans that will pay him $36 million over four years. Not too shabby for an overlooked guy who had to earn a spot as a rookie tryout player.
And while Humphries was a good NFL receiver for the Buccaneers, he was an even better man in the community. Never once when PewterReport.com asked Humphries to commit to a charity function did he decline. He was there for a bowling event to raise money in my late mother’s honor at Pin Chasers to benefit the Humane Society last spring. He came to a private function PewterReport.com held two years ago. He was at the What The Buc annual golf tournament the last three years helping to raise money to fight pediatric cancer. He made a video for a retiring military member and sent it to me to be played at his retirement celebration. Whenever we asked, Hump just said, “What time and where?”
Alexander didn’t get involved in any of PewterReport.com’s charity events, but his time in Tampa was just as impressive. I remember the Saturday afternoon at One Buc on the day he was drafted in the fourth round, and after his name was called Scott Reynolds and I looked at each other and said, “Huh?”
A pretty good college linebacker at LSU sure, but the Bucs had recently given former Dallas linebacker Bruce Carter a contract worth $5 million per year as a free agent just a month before. I think it was the second mini-camp when we got word from the Bucs’ brass that Alexander was going to beat out Carter for the starting job. We both kind of chuckled, but they weren’t wrong. When training camp began in late July that year, Alexander was the starter at middle linebacker, Carter was moved to the strong side and was then waived a year later.
Sports brings fans a reprieve from real life. An escape, so to say. Lots of laughing, smiles, some cursing, but also occasional tears.
The tweets were cryptic that late Friday night in 2015 coming from Alexander, but we all knew something bad had happened. As it turned out Alexander’s younger brother, 17-year old Broderick Taylor had been gunned down in an altercation in their hometown back in Alabama. No one expected a distraught Alexander to even travel with the Bucs to Atlanta to face the Falcons two days later, but he did. And not only travel with the team, he played.
And played well. Very well.
In fact, so well Hollywood studios would have turned down a script of that game for not being believable enough. Alexander had a career afternoon in the old Georgia Dome notching 11 tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and interception during a 23–20 Tampa Bay victory. Alexander was awarded the game ball in the locker room that afternoon and there were more than a few tears shed.
By coaches. By players. By fans. And even some in the media.
A couple days later the media purchased a sympathy card for Alexander and we all signed it. We waited until late in the open locker room period and I and several media members walked up to him and gave our condolences. Alexander couldn’t really speak other than a quiet, whispered, “Thank you.”
And if that violated any journalistic rules, well damn those rules and damn us all for signing that card.
When Alexander crumpled to the field clutching his knee last October it was every player’s worst fear. An ACL tear in a contract year usually cost players millions of dollars – sometimes even their careers. The unknown had to be tough for Alexander and his family. The uncertainty of what was next after working basically his whole life for that second contract that could set his family up for life had to make Alexander wonder, “Why me?”
But you never saw that from Alexander. Instead just constant social media posts showing him working hard to get better and thanking God for each day.
Last summer Jameis Winston held his youth football camp at the Bucs’ new indoor training facility. My son, who was entering his senior year in high school, was volunteering that weekend, and Alexander was helping out the Winston camp, working with the young kids in attendance. At one point there was a break and I introduced my son, Douglas, to Alexander. They hit it off when Douglas told him he was switching from kicker to linebacker as a senior, something I strongly advised against.
Alexander did the exact opposite, and he told him, “Go do what you want to do and don’t let anyone – your dad included – tell you that you can’t.”
Alexander gave him some pointers, along with Lavonte David, and told him he was going to have to outwork the returning players if he wanted to see the field. He also told him don’t mess up in the classroom either.
Douglas lit up, and it gave him the confidence to chase his dream, even if old dad thought he was crazy. It took until the end of fall practice for his high school coaches to stop calling him kicker. But by Week 3, my son was starting and ended up being voted the MVP of the linebackers for his high school team. More importantly he made the All-Academic team.
After Alexander’s injury it wasn’t until mid-December before we saw him again in open locker room. I went up to him and asked how his knee was but Alexander only wanted to know, “How did the linebacker do?”
I showed him the picture of my son holding up his MVP award and his All-Academic award and Alexander smiled and said the award for his grades was even better than for football. Alexander looked like a proud papa, and said, “Tell him, ‘Way to go.’ And that I am proud of him.”
He then looked at me and smiled and said, “Told you!”
Football is a business and a tough one sometimes. For players and for fans. The league tends to chew these guys up and spit them out. Bring on the fresh meat in the NFL Draft.
As a reporter you see the struggles and the work that goes into it. The pain, the injuries and sometime the tears. So on days like Monday, while it is my job to report the news objectively, you can’t help but be a little happy to see their hard work and physical toil rewarded.
Two different players, from two completely different backgrounds. But two players who beat the odds, put in the work and were rewarded.
Two players who have also become fan favorites in Tampa Bay, and for Bucs fans, it’s hard to see them go.
I think of what Yasinksas told me about being friends with players and he is 100 percent correct. In fact, 10 years from now neither will probably even remember my name. And that’s just fine.
I don’t need to be their friend. It isn’t my job to be friends, but I will remember them. Their success, their story, their charity, their words of encouragement to a 17-year year old football player and the day it all paid off – for them.