Personal memories of the weekend - Paul Stewart
How to try and put into words the events of the International Series weekend - this could be one of the hardest editorial assignments I have ever been set in my career. Chronologically might be the best way to go about it initially.
Thursday evening and the opportunity to finally meet Denis Crawford and his delightful wife Amy. I have corresponded and spoken with Denis for many years across the Atlantic, but now here we are sitting in a restaurant by the River Thames having a great family meal. A quick stop at Hampton Court on the way back to their hotel but with no idea of what awaited over the following 72 hours.
Friday morning was set aside to show Denis and Amy around some of the sites of London including the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey before beginning a round of interviews and media appointments. I had done several of these earlier in the week with the likes of the Orlando Sentinel and CBS Sports but time to meet some old and new friends face to face.
The first of these was Gary Shelton of The St.Petersburg Times who has been writing about the Bucs for almost as long as I have been a fan. We had provisionally allowed an hour but after some 90 minutes with my phone beginning to ring incessantly from other appointments, we finally called a halt to a really memorable afternoon.
Off onto the Edgware Road with a long-time friend Roy Cummings of The Tampa Tribune and WFLA Channel 8 cameraman Bob Hansen, to record a piece for both outlets. Bob then followed me on to the Landmark Hotel where NFL Films were based with a room set aside for my own interviews with them for the documentary.
When they began asking questions about the video clips and game DVDs, I did begin to wonder what answer I should give based on that it's not exactly legal what we do in that regard. Rest assured, the NFL and the Bucs are aware of what BUCPOWER contains and are totally fine with it.
Back to the main media hotel at the Marriott again in the evening to catch up with Gary's photographer colleague and a chance to also meet up with another old friend, Carter Gaddis of CBS Sports.
And then Saturday and the touch football event. I had arranged for three ringers.. sorry Buc fans for the day to join the Bucs UK team along of course with our free agent signing from Cleveland (Denis Crawford) and then whoever the Bucs had promised.
Adam Ryan of NFL Films was being deliberately coy on who would be arriving and all Jeff Kamis, the Bucs PR Director would tell me was "some Buc alumni". I had guessed at Doug Williams and possibly Shelton Quarles.
So there were 20 or so Bucs UK people throwing balls around in the car park, talking with Roy Cummings, Adam Ryan and Kevin Cadle of Sky Sports, when three people carriers arrived with darkened windows. And out stepped Mike Alstott. And then came Lee Roy Selmon. And then Shelton Quarles with Captain Fear and four cheerleaders.
It really was a case of stunned disbelief for a few seconds before everyone began getting pictures taken, shirts signed and just pinching each other to make sure it was really happening. I had never met Lee Roy. We had spoken on the phone and he had left some signed pictures for me at his restaurant, but we'd always missed each other.
Now here I am in Richmond Park in South London with Lee Roy telling me how long he wanted to meet up with the man behind the Bucs UK. Roy Cummings told me later the look on my face was the highlight of his trip, and both Scott Smith and Dan Berglund of the Bucs' PR team were trying hard not to laugh at my stunned reaction too.
The touch football event was a real blast with the chance for everyone to play in what was always supposed to be a fun event, lots of pictures being taken and some memorable moments. The UK Patriots bundling Captain Fear followed by the Bucs UK going for the Patriots' mascot in retaliation. Then Erik Story simply blowing the mascot up on the field with the best tackle of all-time.
Playing QB to Mike Alstott and throwing a pass to him in the flat before handing off for his first British touchdown. Seeing Graeme Reid rip the shirt off his back to lend it to the A-Train and then Shelton Quarles. To talk with Lee Roy about so many things and then have the chance to make presentations to both Lee Bromfield and Gary Botteley thanks to Exec VP of the Bucs, Brian Ford and his team.
The management of the Bucs UK then retired for an executive lunch, OK went down the pub, whilst the remaining guys then hammered the UK Patriots 26-6 in a second game in which the losers threw their toys out of their prams at being beaten again. Too many of them were a bunch of bandwagon bad losers.
Denis and I then met up with TJ Rives from Buccaneer radio at the team hotel and also spoke with the likes of Davin Joseph, Quincy Black and Roy Miller. Denis worked as an intern for TJ a decade ago and I have done radio stuff with him for all too many years.
Having shown TJ around some of the sites of London, we took a trip on the London Eye before joining the many Bucs UK members at the meal organised by Wayne Hough and Carrie Skilton. TJ did a Q&A session and NFL Films were there to record interviews with several members of the club for the documentary.
But on arriving home around 1 in the morning and watching what Scott Smith had put together for buccaneers.com. well it nearly moved me to tears. What that event meant to so many people in the club, for them to have the chance to meet their heroes, it actually meant more to me than the Super Bowl win in San Diego.
Gameday meant another early start and having safely delivered Denis and Amy into the tailgate, it was time to collect my media pass which was not what I had hoped it would be in terms of access. The Bucs quickly took care of that and I soon had a pass that got me everywhere apart from the Patriots' huddle and Raheem Morris' suitcase.
The tailgate event was a blur with the chance to meet so many club members both old and new. If it seemed like I had to rush off somewhere, please accept my apologies but I really did. But by 2pm, we had a huge gathering of club members for more NFL Films items and some great pictures. It was just a shame it was spoiled by an idiotic act by one of our members towards the two Patriots guys we brought in for TV purposes.
NFL Films had me miked up for the day so anything I said was being recorded. The conversations with Neil Reynolds and Mike Carlson would be pretty memorable therefore as we discussed the Bucs and a certain Mr Halling.
Down on to the field pre-game and the chance to meet so many old friends from the Buccaneer organisation, Bryan & Joel Glazer, Andres Trescastro, Mark Dominik and even Henry Doran who is Raheem's personal police escort. TJ and I did the Bucs' pre-game show and I even got the chance to speak with Commissioner Roger Goodell who knew all about the Bucs UK and our touch football win.
Alistair Kirkwood, head of the NFL UK, was delighted with the publicity we had generated for the game in the country, and even having another old friend, Arlo White of 5Live rip me for being so slow running the ball didn't detract from the event.
I was also contracted to do live radio updates for Sirius XM NFL Radio throughout the game and even managed to do one on the Patriots' opening score without ever mentioning the name of the player on the interception because I never actually saw it!
I have written about working Buccaneer radio in another column but post-game, it was a chance to speak to many of the players in the locker room including a great chat with Ronde Barber about playing golf in the UK. Both Jimmy Wilkerson and Roy Miller are top people too.
David Findlay, a former colleague on Extra Point and I have an arrangement every year to ask a ton of questions in the press conferences to see who can do the most and I won this year's contest by a mile. And then walking out of the players' tunnel with Kellen Winslow talking soccer, well it was just getting surreal by this point.
The game itself almost took a back seat to the day. Yes the Bucs lost 35-7 but no-one involved with the Bucs UK will ever consider the event anything short of a total success.
And for me personally, memories that will last a lifetime. I have been lucky enough to meet many famous people involved in the franchise and be at special events. For the first time, I was able to watch all of you experience those memories and that meant more to me than you can ever imagine.
Acknowledgements - please forgive me if I have forgotten anyone but here goes in alphabetical order:-
Mike and Nicole Alstott, Chris Anderson, Karl Baumann, Dan Berglund, Andrew Brown, Kevin Cadle, Denis and Amy Crawford, Roy Cummings, Gene Deckerhoff, Henry Doran, Brian Ford, Carter Gaddis, Bryan Glazer, Joel Glazer, Roger Goodell, Bob Hansen, Chris Harry, Wayne Hough, Damien Jarrett, Phil Jones, Jeff Kamis, Alistair Kirkwood, Dave Moore, Folley Ogundele, Ian Papworth, Mike Pepper, Shelton Quarles, Neil Reynolds, TJ Rives, Adam Ryan, Jeff Ryan, Lee Roy and Claybra Selmon, Gary Shelton, Carrie Skilton, Scott Smith, Kerrie and Tanith Stewart, Erik Story, Helen Thomas, David Tossell, Andres Trescastro, Jason Wahlers, Arlo White, David Whitley, Pat Yasinskas