It was 2007, or was it 08?
I think it was one of those years. The Bucs were still conducting training camp at Disney’s Wide World Of Sports Complex in Orlando, FL. It was such a miserable day. It had rained hard early that morning and when I got there it was still drizzling at a fairly good rate. Solid overcast with no sun (wasn’t complaining about that last one though). Just one of those days that’s perfect for crawling back in bed and getting that deep, replenishing sleep. But there I was, with an Umbrella and my son in law in tow. There weren’t too many people there because of the rotten day, I presume, maybe 30-40 tops. So we found a good seat in the bleachers with an awning. The practice was basically uneventful and Coach Raheem Morris called it a little early.
Morris calls practice early
The players all had to come by this gate that about 20-25 of us fans were standing at trying to get any players’ attention. About 12 of the people hollering, were kids. The players lined up and were making their way into the locker room. They had to pass by an opening of about 15 feet long that opened to a space of about 50 feet between the fans and the players. Lined on one side by another fence, and the other side by the building they were entering. So here we all are calling out to them, trying to get anyone, any player at all to come the 50 feet and greet us. The players were all muddy, dirty, sweaty, and soaked from head to toe. You could tell they were ready to get a shower and get back to the hotel.
Waving and hollering
The line was getting shorter and shorter as they disappeared into the locker room. Many of them laughing and joking with each other. Some said nothing to anyone, head down and trudged in like they were heading to the gallows. A few of the players waved our way and said hey. Most though paid no attention at all. That is fair, in all actuality they owed us nothing. They don’t get paid to walk 50 feet after a crappy practice weather day and stroke my ego, make me feel good, and sign my crap. There were about 6 guys still to go in, and I spotted a Gator player that I recognized right off and started hollering his name to come sign my National Champions hat. I just happened to have a Bucs shirt on, but topped with a 1996 National Championship Gator Hat(the player was a first-team All American team, player that year). I had brought it and a Bucs hat as well and forgot to swap them before going in. I digress, that Bucs Receiver, came out of that line and made his way over to us fans with light rain still falling.
One man took the time that day
I backed away from the fence and let the kids get up there first. He signed any and all stuff people had to sign, including my hat. He shook everyone’s hand, talked for a minute or two and then he trotted off to the locker room. He was the only player that came over to the fence that day. Many probably know who I’m speaking of. It was Ike Hilliard, the former Giants player that had come over to Tampa in the ’05 free agency.
I never will forget him, or that day
He didn’t have to do that. He took time out of his day to connect with the fans and make their day. He sure made mine. To this day he is still one of my favorite Bucs receivers and Gators. He never set the world on fire for us. He wasn’t a big touchdown guy here, but he was a big target on 3rd downs. Of his 62 receptions in 2007, 37 of them went for first downs(over half). That is impressive in my book. He was a guy you could count on to get open when you had to have it. Little did I know he would be the only guy I could count on to go out of his way for the fans on that crappy day. So now, years later, I get to write about it and pay him back in a way. He is now the Receivers Coach with the Washington Redskins, and I’m sure still a heck of a nice guy.