Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He just slid 90 yards down the chimney - untouched. Who says anything can't happen this season?
The Bucs have their Christmas Miracle. At about 1:29 p.m., December the 16th, The Year of Our Spurlock Two Thousand and Seven, on the One Thousand, Eight Hundred and Sixty-Fifth kickoff return in Tampa Bay Buccaneers football history, someone finally reached Tranquility Base.
The soon-to-be commemorative coin under that dog pile - sorry, you Vick-less Falcons - was 24-year-old first-year Buccaneer Micheal Spurlock, who came off the practice squad Nov. 1. His first name was misspelled over his locker in the Bucs dressing room Sunday. "I don't even know him," Michael Pittman said. "But I like him."
Get it right: He was a rail splitter, then a lawyer, then a kick returner. Actually, Spurlock was a baseball player, quarterback, running back, receiver, then a kick returner. And it is Micheal - the spelling is correct. It's E before A - and T before D for touchdown.
Horns honked, church bells tolled and people wept across Tampa Bay. At least that's the word we got after Spurlock took it 90 yards to the house, the house having long since gone into foreclosure. It's official: We have seen it all.
In other news, the Bucs beat Atlanta 37-3 to clinch the NFC South and a playoff berth. Now, where were we? And who wants to stand next to Micheal Spurlock this morning when they buy lottery tickets?
A truly great phenomenon of the universe has fallen. Another great phenomenon, Tom McEwen, dean of Tampa Bay sportswriting, now and forever, has seen nearly every Bucs game, having helped bring the NFL to Tampa in 1976. Tom has been around so long he covered history's first kickoff return, "when Adam took the apple and took it down to Eve's 10-yard-line."
"But this was it," Tom said. "I don't think I'm coming back anymore."
"We saw it," old Buc quarterback Doug Williams said. "We really saw it."
And to think it only took 32 seasons. "I'm 32 years old," Ronde Barber realized. "The monkey's off our back," Spurlock said.
Actually, the original monkey died several years ago. Then his son died. So the Bucs got the monkey's grandson off their back. Micheal Curtis Spurlock had never returned a kickoff for a touchdown in his entire life, not in Pop Warner, junior high, high school or college. Heck, he only returned a kick for the first time just last season for Arizona in the season's final game.
"Me and my cousin went to the mall the other day," Spurlock said. "He was like, 'No Spurlock jerseys?' I said, "Maybe if I get one back to the house, they'll get some Spurlock jerseys.'"
With 6:32 left in the first quarter Sunday, he waited for the kick. "I thought, 'Hit it. Just run as hard as you can,'" he said.
Like those faceless workers who built the pyramids, or didn't build them, 139 other men had slaved on Bucs kickoff returns across those 32 seasons, running 37,395 yards, more than 21 miles, without paydirt. Isaac Hagins went first, on Sept 12, 1976. Sunday marked 11,418 days and six presidents since that had happened.
The Streak was a beautiful thing. The Bucs played 497 regular-season games, in 53 stadiums in 38 cities, without running a kick back. Next to 497, the longest other streak from the beginning of a franchise's history belongs to Seattle - at a puny 112 games. The Dolphins and Saints returned kickoffs for touchdowns on the first plays in their histories.
Since The Streak began, other NFL teams had combined for 298 kickoff return touchdowns, Chicago leading with 18, with Devin Hester having four of those in just 29 career regular-season games. The Bucs won a Super Bowl before they returned a kick for a touchdown.
Micheal Spurlock fielded the ball at the 10-yard line. It was the 10th return of his Bucs career. It took all of 13 seconds. Gentlemen, start your Spurlock jerseys.
After passing the 20-yard line, Spur Dog cut sharply to the right toward the Bucs sideline. He was going the wrong way. "The blocking was set up for him up the middle," said Bucs linebacker Ryan Nece, who was at the center of the blocking wedge. "He went out the back door to the right. He must have seen something."
The Spur Dog saw something: There's nobody there. He turned upfield and raced right past Jon Gruden. "I thought, 'Just run, run, run,'" Spurlock said.
So let it be written, so let it be done. And so now the longest current streak without a kick return for a TD belongs to the Philadelphia Eagles at 119 games. What's their problem, anyway? Yes, the world has changed. A few hours after Spurlock's return, the Miami Dolphins won their first game of the season. Meanwhile, scientists advanced a new theory: global "chilling," beginning with hell freezing over.
How far can the Bucs go this season? Anything can happen.
So help us Spurlock.
Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune 17 December 2007