It's been a long time coming, but it was worth the wait for Tampa Bay Bucs fans and kick return specialist Micheal Spurlock. It took 1,865 kickoff returns and 32 years of waiting and now the drought is over. The only thing that could have overshadowed the Bucs winning their third NFC South championship was a kickoff return for a touchdown and that's just what happened.
It came with 6:32 remaining in the first quarter and it sparked the Bucs to a dominating 37-3 victory vs. the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta had just kicked a 33-yard field goal to close the Bucs lead to 7-3 and Tampa Bay set up for a return.
"It was a middle left return, and for some reason everybody from Atlanta just pointed over and we got our blocks, and I was just like ‘wow, this is wide open,' and I saw the guy running after [me]," Spurlock said. "I was like ‘you never know how close you're going to get to this again, so just take the opportunity and run with it,' and I was like, ‘there's no way he can catch me' (laughs)."
There was daylight to the right side and Spurlock used his speed to get to the sideline and raced all the way to the end zone for a 90-yard touchdown return. The crowd of 65,133 was sent into a raucous ovation as the dreaded kickoff return drought had finally been broken. This was the moment that so many Bucs fans and many former kick return players – 140 to be exact – were waiting for.
Spurlock still couldn't believe what he had down even after the game was over.
"Not yet [if it had hit him yet], maybe in the morning after everybody's called and congratulated me, but right now I'm just happy that we clinched a playoff spot, we won the [NFC] South, I mean, we're just looking forward to the next game," Spurlock said. "But right now, I'm just happy that it's over, and I guess everybody's going to be looking for the next one now (laughs)."
Special teams' coach Rich Bisaccia recalls his thoughts as the play unfolded.
"When I saw Michael Spurlock get even with me, I saw the kick got an inside-out track, and I just figured he was gone," Bisaccia said. "I thought it was a hell of a hole that he ran through, it looked awful big to me. There were a bunch of guys out there that made a lot of big blocks. Obviously you get them clean and he did the rest."
And what exactly went through Bisaccia's mind after Spurlock crossed the goal line?
"Just telling to make sure we get eleven guys on the field goal pro team, just to make sure to count them and count them," Bisaccia said. "That's what I was telling them because everybody was pretty much smacking me around pretty good, which is a great feeling – I'll take it anytime. That was the first concern, and after all those other thoughts went into my mind – just make sure we have eleven on the field goal, and how tired were those guys because we now had to kick off."
Bisaccia has been apart of the coaching staff since 2002 and has worked with the special teams' unit during his entire tenure with the Bucs. Spurlock almost ended the drought last week as he returned a kickoff for 45 yards and was one block away. On Sunday, he got that one block he needed to spring him to end zone.
"I would think that every coach that's been standing in my shoes that's been here would think he's been one block away for a long, long time. I understand that. To be honest with you, when he got into the end zone, two years ago this weekend my dad had passed away," Bisaccia said. "It was kind of the first thing I thought about, and then after that, just all the guys that have been on the kickoff return team here, and Mr. Glazer to have this in his tenure here, for [Bucs head coach] Jon Gruden to take another thing that hasn't happened to us – not winning in the cold, not winning in Philly, and not having a kickoff return – really, just all those things went through my mind."
With all the attention put squarely on Spurlock on Sunday, he did what many of his teammates have done after an individual achievement – talked about the team.
"It feels good, but it's not about me, it's about our team. Ask me that after when we win the Super Bowl or something like that (laughs)," Spurlock said. "Today is only just a small piece of history. Nobody can ever erase that one, so I'm happy that I'm in the history books, but we're looking for bigger and better things now."
Spurlock never returned a kick during his high school or college career, but was willing to do anything to get onto an NFL roster. He threw for 35 touchdowns as a senior in high school and backed up Eli Manning at the University of Mississippi. He was a relative unknown coming from Arizona last season, yet he was on top of the world in Tampa on Sunday.
"It means a lot because, like I'd tell anybody, in this league you get a small window of opportunity, and you never know when you'll get a second chance for that opportunity," Spurlock said. "Anytime you get an opportunity, take it and run with it. The Buccaneers have given me an opportunity and I'm just going to run with it as far as I can go with it."
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