On-board the A-Train
In 2008, I was asked to write a regular feature column for Buccaneers Review, the gameday publication of the Bucs. For the Seattle game that season, Mike Alstott was honoured at half-time with a retirement ceremony and I contributed an article that led to Mike coming to find me the following year in London to talk about and thank me for. So with his induction into the Ring of Honor this weekend, the piece still holds true to this day.
Picture the scene: The 1997 Bucs are off to a 2-0 start and are leading the Vikings 7-3 nearing half- time of their Week 3 road game in Minnesota. The call from the sideline is a run up the middle to the tailback. No.40 takes the hand-off and is stopped at the line. He takes a step back, goes to the left side, picks up a couple of Viking linebackers for the ride and bulls his way into the endzone backwards for a touchdown.
Or as former Buc and then Minnesota LB Jeff Brady remembered it, “I thought he was down. I’ve got my shoulders square and I turn around and he’s sitting right there in the endzone on top of me”.
Lifetime fan Nick Houllis has seen most of the Buccaneers’ touchdowns during his years of following the franchise but he rates this as his most memorable. “The sight of Alstott in the endzone with purple shirts all around him …. amazing … simply amazing”.
But this play was more than a touchdown for the Buccaneers. For when Mike Alstott carried the ball and the Viking defense into the endzone that Sunday afternoon, he carried the fortunes of every Buccaneer fan around the world with him. No longer would the Bucs be the brunt of jokes and ridicule. Now they were a team to be reckoned with.
Lee Bromfield used to write a regular column for BUCPOWER.COM and has long regarded Mike as his favourite all-time NFL player. “He helped to turn the whole image of the franchise around as an unstoppable bowling ball of a back with the heart the size of a whale. The Bucs had been a laughing stock and we’d had sand kicked in our faces for far too long. With the A-Train on board, WE started handing out the beatings and taking names in the process, signalling that we were a force to be reckoned with again”.
The fans in the UK share this feeling of respect for Mike as six times in nine seasons, they voted him their favourite Buccaneer player. In fact, no other offensive player ever finished in the top three of the voting during the time Mike was playing in Tampa Bay.
The Measure of the Man
To me, the true value of a player is how the rest of the NFL sees him. As Buccaneer fans, we are often blinkered in our opinion of the heroes that wear the Tampa Bay colours. But it is when you saw fans of other teams waxing lyrically about the Bucs’ No.40, wishing they had him on their team, wondering if they could draft “the next Alstott” - that is when you knew you had someone special on your roster.
Mike Carlson presented colour analysis on British gridiron coverage for nearly two decades and called more than his full share of Mike Alstott touchdowns. “My favourite memory of him is a cumulative one because he provided one of the running gags ouf our weekly highlights, which I had to script and voice-over.
“Whenever we had an Alstott run, which was generally close to the goal-line an in for a score and hence included in the highlights, I woul put on my best caveman voice and intone something like ‘Alstott get ball, put head down, run, hit line, hit more, run, score’.
“This made it simple to get through that part of what is otherwise a fairly thankless and week-in, week-out repetitive task. So thanks Mike, for making it easy.”
Over the 40-year history of the Buccaneer franchise, there have been some memorable players to wear the uniform. Lee Roy Selmon, Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, John Lynch …. all defensive standouts. When it comes to offense, you can bring up the names of Doug Williams, James Wilder and Jimmie Giles. But no offensive player ever captured the heart of the Buccaneer fans like Mike Alstott.
Two plays will live in memory for me on this side of the Atlantic and both ultimately came from the 2002 Super Bowl season. The Bucs won a Week 6 game against Cleveland in which Mike gained 126 yards, all but five of which came in the second half. One run over right tackle saw him break no less than seven attempted Browns tackles before he was finally dragged down some 20 yards downfield.
And then three months later on a balmy night in San Diego, the first of six Buccaneer touchdowns in Super Bowl XXXVII came from No.40. Everyone in the stadium knew Mike was getting the ball, everyone on the Raider defense knew Mike was getting the ball and it made no difference. “Alstott up the guy, touchdown Tampa Bay”. Gene Deckerhoff’s famous call repeated on the most famous stage of them all.
Mike In years to come, Buccaneer fans will be telling their children and grandchildren about the battering ram of a running back the Bucs drafted out of Purdue in 1996. The man who scored the final Buccaneer touchdown in the old Tampa Stadium and the man who scored the first touchdown in the Super Bowl win.
Thank you Mike, thank you on behalf of Buccaneer fans around the world who you carried along for the ride just like the Viking defenders back in 1997