- Saturday, June 07, 2008
We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. Weare perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.
— 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
IT WAS TIME. I figured I had waited long enough. Darkness had fallen on that winter evening, two days after our team’s business had concluded for the season. The building was otherwise deserted as I pulled up and parked at the small wooden shack guarding the entrance to One Buccaneer Place.
One Buc, as we all called it, stood quiet. The one-story, stucco and concrete block building was located on the edge of the Tampa International Airport. The color of butter pecan ice cream, this was the original building that housed the newly formed Buccaneers in 1976. Rather than expand the building as the organization exploded in size over the years—as personnel were added for coaching, scouting, marketing, public relations, ticketing, and other functions—the Bucs had simply added a series of trailers on the other side of a small parking lot in the late 1990s. The trailers were collectively known as Two Buc.
Oscar, the guard on duty, escorted me through the locked gate on the side of the building; my security code no longer worked. Silently I gathered six years’ worth of my professional life from my office—three-ring binders with notes, play diagrams, and play-calling sheets; various books and photographs; my sons’ video games; and a couple of Buccaneers hats, although I’d never wear them again. I was lost in my memories as I placed these things rather haphazardly in cardboard boxes thoughtfully left out for me by my administrative assistant. No, I realized, Lora is somebody else’s administrative assistant now.
I stopped to contemplate a wood-framed picture in the stack. It had been taken our first year in Tampa, and we were all beaming: my daughter, Tiara; my sons, Jamie and Eric; my wife, Lauren; and me. The stadium grass behind us was a vibrant green, the shade of an Irish meadow, sliced into five-yard increments by crisp, white stripes. A teeming throng of humanity, dressed in orange and red and squinting in the unforgiving Florida sun, filled the stands in the picture’s background.
The summer of 1996 had been a long time ago.
Now, in the winter of 2002, that same Florida sky was dark. Dark, cold, and damp. The mist that had begun in the afternoon had turned to light drops. The weather mirrored my dark inner world on that night of January 14.
I finished packing the last of the items. Not that much, really. A few boxes stood by the door, ready to be carried home. Nothing else of note remained. That office of mine had been lived in pretty hard, I had to admit. Most of the homework completed by my sons Jamie and Eric over the previous six years had been done in there, and the office had seen countless games of catch, video-game competitions, and other pursuits geared around young boys.
I later learned that Rich McKay, general manager of the Bucs during my tenure as head coach, had asked the facility manager to clean and paint the office that week, noting that my replacement was “about to move into an office that two boys have been living in every day for the last six years.”
As I wrapped things up, I noticed that the light drops falling outside had turned into a heavy rain.
I should have just walked out, since by then it was getting late. Instead, I wandered out of my office and through the building, stopping in the coaches’ locker room. Standing in the middle of the room, I let my gaze sweep over the cramped, worn twelve-by-fifteen room. I looked from locker to locker, reading some names, imagining others.
Monte Kiffin. Chris Foerster. Clyde Christensen. Rod Marinelli.
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