Welcome to The Hook, my weekly column that hooks you into a different Tampa Bay Buccaneers topic each Thursday, as well as some of my thoughts on the Bucs and the NFL at the end in a section called Cannon Blast.
As the 2015 season was getting underway in Tampa Bay, one of the big things on Jason Licht’s to-do list was re-sign star linebacker Lavonte David. The two sides reached an agreement on a new deal that would pay David $50.25 million on a five-year deal with $25 million guaranteed and a press conference was called to formally announce the deal just as training camp was getting underway that year.
Photo by: PewterReport.com
At a news conference in the media center at One Buc Place that afternoon, David’s family sat to the right of the stage in the first row as David, Licht and then head coach Lovie Smith sat at a table with the Bucs helmet front and center.
As I watched the press conference it was hard not to notice David’s family, particularly his mother, Lynette, beaming with pride. David had grown up in Miami by humble means and starred at Northwestern High School, but failed to qualify academically. David eventually ended up at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas where he made a name for himself and caught the attention of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who signed the junior college transfer in 2010.
David shined for the Cornhuskers and by his senior season David had led Nebraska with 133 tackles and ranked third in the Big Ten in tackles per game. He also led Nebraska in tackles for loss (13.0), sacks (5.5), interceptions (2), forced fumbles (2) and fumble recoveries (2) and was named first team All-Big Ten.
From humble beginnings, to a shot in the NFL, David had already made his family proud even before they heard his name called with the 58th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
David was able to purchase a house for his mother and she watched her son grow into one of the best young stars in the entire NFL.
Four years later at the press conference, she saw her son rewarded with a new deal and her infectious smile that lit up the media room never left her face that afternoon.
David was on top of the world. A star in the NFL, enough money to secure his family’s future with a new deal to continue his career in his hometown state.
What more could anyone want?
But life has a way of throwing you curve balls, and life soon tossed David a hard-breaking ball in the dirt.
Just eight months after his new contract Lynette David passed away.
She was only 56.
David has honored his mother every day with a photo of her in his locker. As we interview him during the open locker periods her face is always in the background, smiling, as she appears to be looking over his shoulder.
LB Lavonte David – Photo by: PewterReport.com
On Wednesday following the Super Bowl parade and celebration that took place at the Port of Tampa, I found David sitting on the edge of the stage by himself. Teammates were still milling around hugging family members, posing for photos, many still feeling the effect of the alcohol that was flowing freely just a couple hours prior. Soon they would be bused back to the team facility where their offseason would begin.
David in his quiet voice spoke to a couple of reporters including Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times for a few minutes and soon he saw me standing by. His big grin flashed across his face and we shook hands as I congratulated him on a long and crazy road as the longest tenured Buccaneer. I reminded him I was there the night his name was called and I had witnessed his years of toiling in virtual anonymity on a team that for most of the time – just frankly – wasn’t very good.
We reminisced for a few minutes trying to talk over the loud music that still blared. The music finally was turned down and I asked him about the Super Bowl win and what it meant to him and to his family, and that I reluctantly asked what his late mother would have thought.
David’s voice grew a little quieter as he glanced out across the port and the literal Tampa Bay. He began to speak about his Mom.
“It wasn’t just after the Super Bowl (that I thought of her), everyday I wake up in the morning and I thank God and walk out of my house and see a big picture of my Mom before I go out and I just tell her how much I love her,” David said. “I know she is definitely smiling down on me and I definitely know she would be enjoying this moment with me.
“And I know she is dancing with me and having a great time up there. I wish she could be here for me, but unfortunately things are different. But she is definitely living through me right now. I’m at a loss for words right now. But this was something (winning a Super Bowl) I always wanted to do for her. That is my queen and she will forever be remembered.”
David’s eyes got a little moist as his words trailed off.
Mine did too.
I lost my mother three years ago, and my boss, Scott Reynolds, lost his earlier this season in October after the Bucs vs. Packers game. Licht lost his father during the 2019 football season and many of you reading this have lost a parent or maybe both.
They say it gets easier, but I don’t find that to be true, it just gets different. I’m thankful for the family I have left, as I am sure David is as well. But mothers are special. They are the first heartbeat you hear. And their blood still flows through our veins each time our heart beats.
David has done an amazing job of keeping his mother’s memory and spirit alive, and as proud as she would be of her son as a football player, I am sure she would be even more proud of the man he has become.
David doesn’t call attention to himself on the field or really in the community, but his work with Big Brothers and Big Sisters and other charities he is involved in would make Lynette David’s smile even bigger than it was on that afternoon back in August of 2015.
Rest easy Ms. David. You raised a fine football player and a very giving and loving son.
• What a crazy ride the last month has been. From the Washington game to kick off the Bucs’ first playoff berth in 12 seasons to two more road playoff games as underdogs then a Super Bowl that most in the media – especially nationally – expected Tampa Bay to lose, it has been a absolute blast covering and experiencing this championship run.
Seeing a Super Bowl on television does it no justice compared to being there in person which fortunately I was. As most of you know I have lived here virtually my entire life and started watching the Buccaneers in 1977, which was their second season. To be able to experience this team from a fan’s perspective in the stands is something I will never forget. I have a hard time remembering where my wallet and keys are most days, but the night of February 7, 2021 will stay with me long after my son sticks me in an old folk’s home.
In this week’s Monday Mailbag someone asked me what this year meant to me personally. In case you missed it, this is part of what I wrote.
I got there fairly early and soaked in all of the pre-game experience, from the player warmups, to the singing of God Bless America. And when the flyover took place following the conclusion of the national anthem, let’s just say it was hard to not have chills seeing something like that in person after either being in a press box or at home on the couch for hundreds of games. It was just as impressive in person as you might imagine.
The game itself needs no real explanation, but I can’t say I was ever completely comfortable, as I remembered what the Chiefs did in the fourth quarter last year against the 49ers in the Super Bowl. But once it got inside of eight minutes I started believing this was really happening. From a selfish standpoint I was thinking about how the win will help PewterReport.com from the business end of things. COVID-19 really did a number on us financially and while things have gotten better with advertisers, a win would be a real shot in the arm where a loss might have let some of the air out of the balloon. So those emotions were part of it as well.
But when the final gun sounded, and the confetti popped, I just soaked it all in and all of those miserable afternoons in the 1980s, many in the ’90s and plenty over the last 12 years faded away. I don’t know if a smile left my face until I got to my car a couple hours later. I thought back to my first game I went to in 1981 against the Broncos with my Dad for my 11th birthday. I remembered how I felt when Bo Jackson scorned the Buccaneers in 1986. I remembered the 4-1 start to 2011 and then 11 straight losses. All of those miserable times following those teams were worth it on Sunday night as I watched the Buccaneers not only win a Super Bowl, but do so in their home stadium with thousands of their own fans witnessing something that had never done before.
And when I finally went to sleep somewhere around 3:45 a.m. I almost got up and went to the closet to dig out my orange footie pajamas and terrycloth Bucco Bruce robe I got from Sears Town in Lakeland in 1979. Is it possible to sleep smiling? I’m not sure, but if it is, then that was me last night when my head hit the pillow.
• When we got the word of a Super Bowl boat parade late on Tuesday evening, I thought, well this short notice will hamper the ability of many and from attending. Boy, was I wrong. I am sure HR departments all over the Tampa Bay community were flooded with people who all of a sudden felt “sick” about the same time on Tuesday night.
If you ever wonder if Florida – particularly the Tampa Bay area – is still a football state, all you had to do was head downtown on Wednesday to get your answer. I knew it was, but I was still not prepared to see the thousands upon thousands who came out to shoe their support. Bucs fans have been waiting a long time for this day and they sure turned out in droves to see their team. I was lucky enough to be in a media boat to witness it firsthand.
Bruce Arians making his feelings known on Wednesday!