Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Bucs beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.
Sikkema’s Stat of the Week
“You’re sitting around and you get that call… I’ve gotten that call.”
-Bucs head coach Bruce Arians
On December 21, 2003, Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre got that call. His father passed away after suffering a heart attack while driving his car in Mississippi.
I can’t imagine what that was like. Not just because of where they were in the football calendar, as the 8-6 Packers were right in the middle of a big playoff push. But also due to where we were in the yearly calendar. It was four days before Christmas. The spirit of family was all around, and yet in an unexpected instant, it would be a Christmas the Favre family would never forget in a tragic way.
But that wasn’t where the story ended. That wasn’t all that made that Christmas and that tragic event one they’ll never forget.
In a situation that can only be described as unfair for anyone to have to go through, Favre had a decision to make. His team would be playing on Monday Night Football in just over 24 hours. If Favre would have left the team to go be with his family, as they mourned his father’s passing, no one would have thought any less of him for it — in fact, his team would have all been there with him, too, in spirit. But Favre decided that, in times of heartbreak, it’s not just your immediate family that you cling close to. Favre instead reached for his other family.
His football family.
“For about five minutes there was some indecision on whether or not I was going to play,” Favre said. “It didn’t take long for me to say, ‘You’ve got to play in this game.’”
As the lights of primetime shined bright, the world watched as Favre walked onto that field with a heavy heart. Millions around the world were not only watching the game but simultaneously sending their thoughts, prayers and love to a man who had given them so much joy over the years through the game of football.
Favre felt it. You just know he did.
From the very first deep pass in the first quarter to wide receiver Robert Ferguson, you could tell this night had the chance to be special. That pass to Ferguson set up a roll-out to Favre’s left where he found tight end Wesley Walls in the corner of the end zone for a 22-yard score.
After the catch Walls said he went up to Favre and simply said to him, “I love you.”
What a moment.
Favre went on to have a game he and everyone who watched, in person or around the world, would never forget. After starting the game a perfect 9-for-9 passing, Favre threw for 311 passing yards and four passing touchdowns in just the first half (both career bests). His Packers went on to defeat the Raiders 41-7.
But he didn’t just do it for the win. He did it for something more.
“I knew that my dad would have wanted me to play,” Favre said. “I love him so much, and I love this game. It’s meant a great deal to me, to my dad, to my family, and I didn’t expect this kind of performance. But I know he was watching tonight.”
As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the field last Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, they did it with a heavy heart. Less than 24 hours before the game, the team was notified that the father of general manager Jason Licht had passed away unexpectedly. Licht did not travel with the team.
Though the media was not told this news until an hour before kickoff, even if we weren’t told until after the game, we would have been able to notice something was different. From the very first drive, quarterback Jameis Winston looked like he was playing for something more than just a win. Winston’s 385 yards passing and four touchdowns was a performance that went down in the history books, as Winston became the only Bucs quarterback to ever have three games of 300 yards and four touchdowns in a career with the franchise.
But it wasn’t just Winston and his stellar performance that stood out. Offensive lineman Ryan Jensen, who was questionable all week, played in the game and centered an O-Line that might have had the best game we’ve seen from any Tampa Bay front in years, and all while facing one of the best in the game in defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Wide receiver Chris Godwin was banged up all week, as well. How did he respond come game time? Godwin gutted out a 12-catch, 172-yard, two-touchdown performance, and became the first receiver to catch 12 first downs in one game since 2012.
But more than the stats of the stars and the toughness of those who were game-time decisions was the fight of this team — the heart.
I had seen this story before. The Bucs offense gets off to a hot start, but the entire game all you can think is, “we know how this is going to end.” So many times over the last few years the Bucs have taken a quick lead just to squander it and come up short.
So many times.
But not this time.
After going up 21-0 quickly in the first half, the Bucs let the Rams go on a 14-0 run to bring the game within seven. But instead of folding under pressure with their backs against the wall, they rose to the occasion, controlling the ball and the clock, and extending their lead with a touchdown in response. Later in the game, after taking a commanding 45-27 lead, the Rams scored two unanswered touchdowns, the last being a pick-6 off Winston to bring the score to 45-40 in the fourth quarter.
You don’t have to hide it, Bucs fans, I know what you all were thinking in that moment.
“Same old Bucs.”
But not this time.
This time there was something pushing them. Something that told each one of those players that enough was enough. That the choking, the lost leads, the missed opportunities after all these years; it all stopped here. In that moment, it didn’t look like they were just playing for themselves or even just one win. It looked like they were playing for more.
On 1st-and-20 down 48-40 with just over a minute to go in the game, Rams quarterback Jared Goff dropped back to pass. But as quickly as he could secure the ball to throw, Bucs defensive end Shaq Barrett poked it away, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh picked it up, took off with the ball, and seconds later the scoreboard showed 55 points for the victorious Buccaneers, something that had never been done before.
After the game everyone we spoke to was emotional; the players, the coaches, the staff. That win took a lot out of them, but it was what was in them that mattered most. After the game the team FaceTime Licht in the locker room to give him the game ball. They may have been playing with the ball on the field, but they were playing with Licht and his family on their minds and in their hearts. It was only right that those two things would be joined after the victory.
After the game I sent Licht a text myself, sending him my deepest condolences, as well as my thoughts, prayers and love to him and his family. Licht said he was humbled by the outpouring he and his family received throughout the day, and that he knows his dad was beaming up in heaven watching that Buccaneers win.
I’m sure you all were beaming as well.
Licht said that his dad left this place doing what he loves; watching Nebraska football surrounded by his loved ones. Licht also said his dad was his best friend. When I spoke to Licht I told him that my father and I share a similar bond. My dad taught me everything I know. I wouldn’t be here without him. Licht echoed that, too.
For many of these Buccaneer players, they wouldn’t be here without Licht. They may not be blood, but the bond is all the same. He’s taken a chance on them and believed in them. That’s why when you saw the players take that field on Sunday, they were doing it for their family — their football family. They were doing it for the Lichts.
Whether it’s football or anything else, I believe that the love we spread and share goes beyond just what happens here — beyond even life itself. It’s the only way I can explain performances like the one we saw from Favre many years ago, the one we saw from the Buccaneers on Sunday, and many other inspiring events that transcend the sports we watch and play in amazing ways.