Michael Casey part 1
I arrived at Pennyhill Park to be greeted by glorious sunshine, after a two hour car journey from my home in Newport (thank you sat nav for getting me there on time). There was a great atmosphere amongst the Bucs UK members in the car park and a feeling of excitement of what may unfold before us in the next few hours.
Paul called us all together and we all waited on a small grass bank waiting for the team to take to the training field. The players started emerging from the hotel, some in groups, and some on their own. What an interesting insight it was into how NFL players turn up for training. Some looking like they just fell out of bed, others wearing bobble hats that were nearly falling off the back of their heads (a bit like noddy), and Frank Okam shuffling along in a pair of brown slippers. Most were quiet except for Blount and Mason Foster who seemed in good spirits.
And then Josh Freeman started walking towards us with those expensive headphones on that mop of curly hair. Paul started talking to him and Josh removed the headphones to say hello to us (I'm sure I could hear London Calling by The Clash through the headphones, but I may of been mistaken).
Finally Coach Morris was chauffeured past us in an extended golf cart and Paul called him a lazy sod. (I was filming on my camcorder and it can clearly be heard Mr Stewart!). I'm sure if the Bucs play over here again Raheem will not be praising him so much in the match programme again.
We then seemed to be waiting forever until we got the OK to go in and watch them practising. A claxton sounded and I looked around for lightening in the area, but to my relief it meant we could file into the practice area, and not run for cover.
The team stared stretching and it looked a bit disorganised and not to strenuous. Where were the 100 yard sprints, piggyback relays, and star jumps from my playing days? Josh Johnson took some snaps and was releasing the ball in around 9.7 seconds, which was far too slow, and if the D was allowed to hit him, the next time the England team used the same field for training they may well have found bits of his body still embedded in the turf.
Mark Dominik and Brian Ford came up to greet us, shaking hands with everyone and genuinely pleased to see us, they also brought up a huge trunk which contained Buccaneer goodies and told us to help themselves. It's interesting to see how people behave when an invitation like that is given.
Anyone fresh from the riots around the country would be diving in and would be grabbing armful's and running for the hills, but luckily the members of the Bucs UK are more reserved and made sure everyone got something. Being a shy natured person I only nabbed one Buc badge that could be pinned to a jacket, and three towels, however upon hearing how many towels some members ended up with at the Mexican meal I should have 'filled my boots' a bit more! So anyone trying to sell them on eBay better send some on to me first.
As the special teams started practising the sun suddenly vanished but that was not due to the sun disappearing behind any clouds, it was caused by the huge frame of Gerald McCoy blocking out the sun and heading in our direction. For some reason he headed straight for Tim Lewis, was it due to him wearing a number 93 jersey? or did he think the call of "ladies and gentlemen...Mr Gerald McCoy" had come from him and not Paul.
Gerald must have been missing some affection on this trip as he gave Tim a massive hug, though I'm sure he wondered what language Tim spoke as "thanks butt" registered a blank look on his face. Tim and Gerald then got into a discussion regarding the Welsh rugby captain Sam Warburton being sent off against France and I'm sure I heard Gerald say he should not have been sent off and only deserved a yellow card.
I managed to have a picture signed by Gerald (we'll all be looking on the internet to see what Isaiah 54:17 means) and he happily posed for photographs with everyone. Being a contact lens wearer myself I asked Gerald what type of lenses he wore for match days, to my surprise he said he didn't wear any even though he is short sighted. "Everything is right in front of me" he stated.
I've looked at the glasses he wears and I'm off to the bookies to put money on him doing a Jim Marshall. (hopefully not)
If meeting Mark Dominik and Gerald McCoy wasn't enough, up strolled LeGarrette Blount. I rushed towards him to get an autograph and under normal circumstances he would have hurdled right over the top of me, but that nasty knock on his left knee against the 49ers had left him grounded, so I was fine. What a nice happy guy LeGarrette is. He probably stayed with us for about 30 chatting and signing away, and what was amazing was that with all the excitement of meeting Gerald and LeGarrette we had missed about 45 minutes of the Bucs practicing!
And then the moment that will be forever etched in Bucs UK history happened before our very eyes. The Bucs lined up about five yards from the goal line, 30 supporters from the Bucs UK started a "Donald" chant, the said Donald Penn the huge left tackle, blocked and then "sprinted" for the end zone and Josh Freeman lofted the ball in his direction. This play had resulted in a touchdown for Donald against the 49ers in the 2010 season but would he hold on to it today?
Of course he would, and he threw the ball in our direction. The ball was coming straight at me and in normal circumstances I would have leapt like a Salmon and grabbed that bad boy, however I was filming it on my camcorder and routed to the spot as bodies from the Bucs UK flew in front of me trying to snaffle it. Was that really Gary Bottley being hoisted up by his partner like he was jumping in a line out? Was that Phil Jones putting on a vintage Buccaneer Hemet, and knocking people out of the way a bit like John Riggins trying to get the ball?.
Sadly, a young whippersnapper from the London Blitz team (who had also been invited to the practice) ended up with it after he had used a technique that was similar to a player jumping on the back of the long snapper while attempting to block an extra point. Unfortunately there was no referee there to throw a yellow flag, as the officials were holding a practice session themselves in readiness for Jeremy Trueblood on Sunday.
And then practice ended and we filed down to the field to meet the players. I headed straight for K2 and got him to sign a photo I had of him, I also managed to obtain signatures on my 10x8 glossy photos of Josh Freeman, Earnest Graham, Mike Williams, Ronde Barber and Adrian Clayborn and at least 20 other players on a photo that had the Buccaneer flag on it.
The players were amazing and even handed out gloves and sweatbands to those who asked for them. Josh Freeman is a class act and ensured everyone got an autograph before he had to head off for an interview session.
And then it was all over, was it some wonderful dream, or did we watch our Buccaneer team practice and meet them? As we streamed out of Pennyhill Park to the local fish and chip shop, I put my camcorder safely away as Mark Dominik had informed us that we had watched 'plays' that would be in the playbook for Sunday and not to discuss them with anyone.
As I had on film a play that anyone from the Bears' organisation would be extremely interested in, I looked out for any shady characters that may come out of the woods and kidnap me. I then headed up to the Travelodge at Wembley which would be my 'home' until Sunday morning, and experienced the joys of travelling on the M25.