Converted QB Took Challenge, Ran With It
It took a player who barely knew what to do to accomplish something that had never been done. Micheal Spurlock never returned kicks while playing quarterback at Gentry High School in Mississippi and at the University of Mississippi. Spurlock returned three kickoffs for 54 yards for Arizona last season, but he essentially was a converted quarterback doing anything to make it in the NFL. After Sunday, he may have a job for life.
There had been 1,864 kickoff returns by 140 players, including Spurlock, but none for a touchdown, during Tampa Bay's 32-year history. Spurlock ended that drought 30 minutes into Sunday's game against Atlanta. Spurlock took Michael Koenen's kick on Tampa Bay's 10-yard line, ran through the wedge and cut to the sideline past Koenen and defender Lewis Sanders for a 90-yard score.
Spurlock was signed off the practice squad on Nov. 1 to return kickoffs after Torrie Cox's season-ending knee injury. It was at that moment he was informed about Tampa Bay's infamous kickoff-return history. "Everybody was like, 'You know nobody has ever ran one back,' " Spurlock said. "I was like, 'What about the preseason? Oh, that doesn't count.' That has all I have been hearing. I haven't really thought about it. You kind of think about it after so many people tell you."
Now, he never will stop thinking about it, although Jon Gruden expected the worst, even as Spurlock flew by him. "I just assumed he would step out of bounds, or something would happen. I'm being serious," Gruden said. "For Micheal Spurlock to be the first ... there have been a long line of guys back there who we have tried this year. It's a credit to Rich Bisaccia and certainly the guys that blocked it, and I'm really happy for them. That's a monkey off their back."
It was also a huge relief for Bisaccia, the special teams coach who had been asked for six seasons when Tampa Bay would end that streak. However, he could not immediately enjoy the achievement. "I was just telling our coaches to make sure we get the extra-point team, make sure to count them, and count them, and count them," Bisaccia said. "I was yelling that because everyone was smacking me around pretty good, which is a great feeling and I would take it any time. That was my first concern, after all those other thoughts crossed my mind: We have to make the extra point."
After history was made, Tampa Bay's players erupted into so much jubilation, Gruden was convinced his team would be penalized for excessive celebration. But there was nothing that could have taken away the players' enthusiasm. "I'm glad it's off our plate now," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "We ate the green beans and we don't have to hold our nose anymore."
No longer can anybody hold their noses while describing Tampa Bay's kickoff return unit. Spurlock, who returned nine kickoffs for 237 yards prior to Sunday, did not have much experience returning kickoffs until recently. And Spurlock, originally signed to the practice squad on Sept. 4, cut two weeks later and re-signed on Sept. 26, will be permanently in Tampa Bay's record books. "Today is only just a small piece of history, but like they say, nobody can ever erase that one," Spurlock said. "I'm happy I'm in the history books, but we're looking for bigger and better things now."
Anwar Richardson, The Tampa Tribune 17 December 2007