And in between, in the moments when a team picked up a hurting comrade, the Tampa Bay Bucs gave them an afternoon to remember, beating Seattle 14-5.
They found strength in each other, the wounded cornerback and the team that picked him up. It seems like such a small thing, a football game, when you are talking about a loss of life. But we do what we can do, and so the Tampa Bay Bucs gathered around Alterraun Verner and shared their strength.
They were a team of relevance, a team of resiliency, a team of unity. And together, they were something to behold.
This was the Bucs as you have only imagined them, a fierce defensive team and an imaginative offensive one, a team with a winning record, a team that can suddenly play with anyone. This is a team of substance, a team of heart, a team of caring. It was a team finding strength in each other through its finest run in years.
In other words, it is the kind of team that Robert Lee Verner would have loved.
You probably didn’t know Verner, the father of Bucs cornerback Alterraun Verner.
You should have. He was another proud father of an accomplished son who died of a heart attack just after Thanksgiving. And while he would have enjoyed the win, it wasn’t essential for his love of his son.
And so Verner played. Of course he did. He didn’t think his father would want to be the reason that he didn’t play.
Right before halftime with the Seahawks threatening to score, Verner intercepted a pass, and moments later, was on the sideline on his knees.
“My Dad was my biggest fan,” Verner said after the game, obviously filled with emotion. “He made so many sacrifices for me to get to where I am today and I just know he wouldn’t want him to be the cause for me not to play. That’s why I decided to play. I wanted to honor him knowing all he did to get me to where I am today.
“He was the most caring, loving person that you’ll ever know. I mean, he would talk to a stranger he who was standing next to him at a bus stop. He was so caring and loving. He was willing to take his shirt off and give it the person next to him. That’s the person I knew and the person I’m going to cherish. That love and support. That’s the type of man he was.”
Sure, it says volumes about Verner that he declined to take the day off to mourn. He wanted to be there for his teammates, there to honor his father, there to help make a difference. But it also says the world about the Bucs, and the way they felt another man’s pain, the way they were there to console, there to comfort, there to support.
This is the best of the Bucs. A year ago, Kwon Alexander lost his brother, and then, too, the Bucs family rallied around him. They had one of their biggest wins of last season against Atlanta that day.
And now this:
“That’s my brother, man,” said Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. “Before the game, when I broke it down, I asked the team, ‘Do we break it down to family just to do it? Is it just something we say or do we mean it?’ They said, ‘We mean it.’ Well when you have a family member down, what are you supposed to do for a family member? Everybody said, ‘Pick him up.’ I told them, ‘Don’t be selfish today. Play for the man next to you. We have a brother hurt. Go out there and show him that he does have a family and when he’s hurting he can lean on us. Guys when out there and played like that.”
“I’ve been there. I’ve lost a parent. I told him, ‘Hey, all you can do is play for your dad.’ And he did. He played his heart out and everybody around him played for him and we got a big win.”
Somewhere in the middle of loss, a team can find itself. The team has now given up three touchdowns in three games. It has beaten two teams in a row who are in the top 10 in the power rankings.
“This is a great team,” said Mike Evans. “Seattle has been one of the best teams in the league for the past four or five years. It’s just a good win overall for this team.”
For a football, it is often at the end of the season that things start to click, and the next year, that team is very, very good. Perhaps that is starting to happen to this team. Perhaps it is responding to Dirk Koetter, and to Mike Smith, and to Jameis Winston. The family is coming together.
Consider this: For six of the past seven weeks, Winston has had a quarterback rating of 93.6 or better.
Bucs DT Gerald McCoy – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
They suddenly have a running game. They have solid safety play. They have a pass rush. They have one of the finest young quarterbacks in the league. So is it time to take a different view of these Bucs?
“I don’t know,” McCoy said. “I’m going to let everybody decide what they want to do. We know who we are and we know what we’re working to be so we’re just going to keep showing up every day, taking it one meeting at a time, one walk-through at a time, one practice at a time, one game at a time. If people want to believe in us, that’s on them. If they don’t, they don’t. But we know who we are and we’re just going to keep working to get better.”
Sounds fair. But for the rest of us, it wasn’t very long ago that some wondered if the Bears game was the Bucs’ last chance to win. Now, they chase a 7-5 record next week in San Diego. If they can get past that, they’ll be firmly in the playoff hunt. Considering this team was 1-3, that isn’t bad.
Regardless, say this about the Bucs. They have something deep inside. They take this talk of family seriously.
Soon, maybe you will take them seriously, too.
No one has won more awards, including two national Associated Press Sports Editors Best Columnist awards and eight top 10 finishes, than the legendary Gary Shelton, former sports columnist of the St. Petersburg Times. Shelton returns to PewterReport.com for his second season of providing post-game commentary on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers like no one else can.
Shelton just received his sixth Sportswriter of the Year award for Florida by the NSSA, and no one has seen more big events, including 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics and 11 Final Fours. Shelton still goes into the locker room to obtain his stories.
And no one has made you angrier, or laugh louder, or think harder about what he has written. Simply put, no one has covered Tampa Bay sports like Shelton has. Now you can read Shelton daily on GarySheltonSports.com and follow him on Twitter at @Gary_Shelton
Bucs fans can enjoy Shelton’s weekly post-game column on the Bucs following every Tampa Bay game exclusively on PewterReport.com, and our readers are encouraged to subscribe to GarySheltonSports.com for all of his expert commentary on the Bucs, Lightning, Rays, USF, Florida, Florida State and all of the sports teams and sports figures in the national spotlight.
Legendary sports columnist Gary Shelton returns to PewterReport.com for his second season of providing post-game commentary on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers like no one else can. No one has won more sports writing awards than Shelton, who has covered Tampa Bay area sports for decades with his unique brand of humor and insight. Bucs fans can Shelton daily on GarySheltonSports.com and follow him on Twitter at @Gary_Shelton
PewterReport.com prides itself on being the most complete, comprehensive news source covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and delivering inside scoop on the team found nowhere else.