It was inevitable, after all. But it didn’t make the scene at One Buc Place on Thursday any less heartbreaking for Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans.
Mike Alstott, the 12-year veteran who earned the nickname the “A-Train” for his fearless style of play, officially announced his retirement in front of a packed house of reporters, team officials and former teammates.
Alstott, who broke into tears in August when he announced he would spend the 2007 season on injured reserve with a second neck injury, brought his emotions to Thursday’s farewell.
Though mentally, I feel like I could continue, physically, I cannot," Alstott said. "I'm very sad to be walking away from this game that I love."
The second round pick from Purdue in the 1996 NFL Draft became the embodiment of the Buccaneers’ overall toughness as a team during his heyday, which included six straight Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl ring after the 2002 season.
But a first neck injury stole most of Alstott’s 2003 season, signaling the slow end to his stellar career in Tampa.
Alstott had surgery on his injured neck in 2003, as doctors removed a compressed disc and replaced it with the vertebrae from a cadaver. A titanium plate was used to fuse it together.
The titanium plate allowed him to play a few more years, with 2005 become his best post-surgery year. He only gained 80 yards, but he rushed for six touchdowns and scored a two-point conversion on a dive into the end zone against the Washington Redskins, giving the Bucs a 36-35 victory and one of Alstott’s most memorable moments as a player.
Alstott rushed for 171 yards in 2006, his final active season in the NFL.
Before the injury, Alstott was a terror for NFL defenses, as he used his 6-foot-1, 248-pound frame to bulldoze linebacker and defensive tackles.
He made six straight Pro Bowls from 1997-2002, marking the most appearances for an offensive player in club history. He never rushed for 1,000 yards though, gaining 949 yards in his best season in 1999.
But he retired with three key team records — most overall touchdowns (71), most rushing touchdowns (59) and most points for a non-kicker (432). He also retired as the team’s second-leading rusher (5,088 yards), behind only James Wilder.
He also caught 305 passes for 2,284 yards and 13 touchdowns.
He most certainly left his mark on the Buccaneers.
“Mike Alstott is a great talent," said one of his former teammates, quarterback Trent Dilfer. "He was a three-tier fullback. Mike was obviously a great ball carrier. He could have played solely tailback, and did play tailback for many games. He was a very good fullback from a lead-blocking standpoint. Then he was one of the best natural receiving backs in all of football. We weren’t a very talented football team in those days, but if it wasn’t for him and his versatility – he really started and ended what we were offensively. He was just one of the great football players that I’ve been fortunate to play with throughout my career.”
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.