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
Gather ’round, folks. It’s story time.
In the summer of 2011, I was just a young college kid. I was 20, and wasn’t exactly into being a rebel, finding places to sneak drinks while under the age of 21. At that time, I was attending Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. It was the summer going into my junior year. But during those swirling hot months I wouldn’t be in Lakeland. I would be at home not too far down the road in Bradenton staying with my former roommates (you mean your parents, right, Trev?) – for a few months. I had a summer job working landscaping, and obviously, the rent was free. It was a pretty good deal.
The night of this story takes place on July 21. It was a Thursday. I had just gotten home from a hard day at work. I remember that week being particularly long, as it truly was the dog days of summer. I was just trying to make it to the middle of August to finally get some rest and go back to school.
Since my job was one that involved many hours out in the hot sun, it was pretty typical for me to stay in on most Thursday nights during that time of my life. On that weekend specifically I remember calling up one of my best friends to come over, hang out and play video games with me – probably one of the Call of Duty games since the new Madden wasn’t out yet. He ended up swinging by and as we started to become one with the couch we didn’t plan on moving from for the next six hours my friend checked Twitter.
#OCNN AMC Veterans 24. Im passing out tickets from 11:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Be there or be square. 15 3D tickets to Captain America!!
— Gerald McCoy (@Geraldini93) July 21, 2011
At this point in time, Gerald McCoy had just completed his rookie year with the Bucs. Though there was heated debate between who Bucs fans wanted more – McCoy, a defensive tackle who hailed from Oklahoma, or Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and the Outland Trophy winner. When Tampa Bay selected McCoy with the No. 3 overall pick Bucs fans thought they had their next Warren Sapp.
The Bucs were coming off a 10-6 season in McCoy’s rookie year. Things were looking up and there was plenty of excitement.
Twitter was also relatively new, at that point. Twitter had been around since 2008, but even in 2011 it wasn’t anything like the news outlet app it is today. So when my friend saw that McCoy was giving away free tickets to go see Captain America with him, we both sat there, thought about the hour drive it would be, thought about how we wouldn’t get back until 4:00 a.m. just to wake up early and go to work the next day, and said to each other:
We have to go.
So we did.
Headed to see captain America with @Geraldini93 what fans are coming out??
— Adrian Clayborn (@AJaClay) July 22, 2011
After we got in the car and started to make out way up the theater, McCoy tweeted out that he wouldn’t be alone. The Bucs drafted defensive end Adrian Clayborn in the first round just a few months prior, and later in the night Clayborn said he’d be join McCoy to see the movie with fans.
We had no idea how many people were going to be there. I mean, this was McCoy we were talking about. Every single Bucs fan in the Tampa Bay area knew who he was. And he was only giving away 15 tickets? Chance were we weren’t going to get there to be one of the first 15, but we figured you only live once, why not try?
When we got there, not only were we one of the first 15, we were like the third and fourth people there – I told you Twitter wasn’t nearly as powerful as it is today. When we arrived McCoy and Clayborn were already there, we got to meet with them and chat with them as they waited for others to show up.
I remember asking McCoy about his first season and how it felt to get his first sack. He was all smiles the whole time talking about how happy he was to be in Tampa Bay and be in the NFL. I asked him about his favorite Marvel movies so far and what he thought of the Avengers.
When I talked to Clayborn, I asked him about his time at Iowa. I asked what he did for fun. He laughed and said, “Drink.”
As other fans began to make their way, there were only about 13 or so that even showed up. So McCoy brought us all in the theater – the people working at the theater had no idea who he was. And he bought 15 tickets at the counter. No special treatment. No VIP line. Just him buying a whole mess of tickets.
After the movie we all exited the theater to geek out about it and talk about the upcoming avengers movie. It was in that moment I got to see McCoy truly be a kid; happy as can be. And I can’t tell you how cool it was that he wanted to share in that joy with others – us.
We said our goodbyes to McCoy and Clayborn and thanked them for letting us see the movie with them. They seemed just happy to have people to see it with.
I had no idea at the time but that night would be something I remembered, something that eventually propelled me towards the career I have today. Before that night, I had never really talked to an athlete in a manner that went beyond their sport. It was always in settings where they were clearly more important that me, and the conversions were often led by words of idolatry.
But that night it was different.
That night the most known player on the sports team I grew up watching was just like me, just going to see a movie. It was the personal side of an athlete I had never really experienced before. Being there that night is without a doubt a root of why I came to the realization I wanted to be a sports journalist. To tell the human side of sports just as much as the achievement side. That these guys are more than just what you watch for a few hours on a Sunday.
I’m entering my third year of covering the Buccaneers professionally for PewterReport.com. I’ve seen McCoy a countless amount of times, and yet I never told him this story. I always thought it was silly or that I would always have another chance to tell him one day, reminisce and even thank him.
You never have as much time as you think you do.
Bucs fans know the ending to the McCoy saga in Tampa Bay. After nine seasons, he’s now in Carolina with the Panthers.
Some fans are happy with that. There are some that couldn’t wait for the Bucs to move on from him.
As the No. 3 overall pick in 2010, McCoy was part of just two winning seasons. Despite being third all-time in franchise history in sacks, he couldn’t help the team enough do what fans so desperately want them to do: win.
Many people wanted McCoy to be different. They wanted him to be Sapp. They wanted him to be Suh. They wanted him to be something else. But he wasn’t. He was Gerald McCoy, and that’s okay.
McCoy may not have been what you wanted him to be; on the field; off the field; on social media; in his personal life. But to ask him to be anything other than who he is isn’t fair. I am not saying that he shouldn’t have pushed himself or that he shouldn’t have worked hard to change and improve. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m saying isn’t promoting someone being stagnant. I’m talking about McCoy simply being who he was – as a worker, as a teammate, etc. All of what made him a player and person, and the output that followed. You don’t have to take it so personally. He was who he was. He did it his way. Maybe that wasn’t enough to be the next Sapp. But it was enough to be the only McCoy, and that’s okay.
At a professional football level, did he live up to the standards he needed to? Clearly his employers in Tampa didn’t believe he did, at least at the end. That’s why they moved on from him. And if that is your barometer for judgement, then you are justified.
They thought they could get someone better, and they believe they did in Suh (we’ll get to that on the next page). But through the good and the bad, through the expectations and through the true identity, nights like July 21, 2011 taught me that these athletes can only be who they are, and that includes a whole other side off the field, whatever results that may yield on the field. You don’t have to take it any further than the fact that you might believe he didn’t perform enough or the right way for your team, if that is what you believe.
Maybe the results on the field weren’t what you wanted them to be. They aren’t what any Bucs fan would say they wanted them to be. But through them, through everything, he was Gerald McCoy. And that was a guy who made my small story and much bigger stories for many others a reality. Maybe he wasn’t this mean, ruthless son of a gun who went in the ways of Sapp. Maybe he wasn’t your cup of tea as a football player. Maybe he wasn’t even your cup of tea as a man. You having that opinion is yours to have, and it might not even be wrong in some ways.
But, as for McCoy, he was always the real McCoy, and that, being who he was with the perfect moments and the not so perfect ones, is okay.
After all, we’re not always going to be what everyone else wants us to be. We can only be ourselves, be the choices we make, and live with what follows.