Oct 20, 2008 - The large orange jersey, mounted on the left side of an enormous plaque, was bright and clean and well-preserved, and a conduit to years of happy memories.
It was also spelled wrong.
To be precise, the name on the back of the jersey was misspelled, dropping the first "T" in what was supposed to be "ALSTOTT." It stood out glaringly against the bright red jersey on the right side of the plaque, which had the accurate spelling.
Upon seeing the double-jersey plaque with the disagreeing nameplates, retired Tampa Bay Buccaneer great Mike Alstott had a one-word assessment for the gift being presented by team Owner Bryan Glazer: "Beautiful."
Alstott wasn't upset about the mistake on the jersey; heck, he had played almost two full games in it before realizing the error himself. As Glazer described that turn of events during Alstott's memorable 1996 rookie season complete with video evidence on the boards of Raymond James Stadium it brought back wonderful memories for the six-time Pro Bowl fullback. The orange jersey, warts and all, is now a treasured keepsake for one of the most popular players ever to wear the winking pirate or the windswept flag.
Having the orange and red jerseys mounted together reminded Alstott of what a long and wonderful trip it had been during his 12-year playing career.
Honestly I didn't realize it 'til after I put it on and was playing," recalled Alstott with a smile on Sunday evening. "Being the young rookie, you're thinking about other things [like] trying to impress and make plays. Stuff happens, you know what I mean? People make mistakes, players make mistakes, but it's kind of weird. It's a beautiful piece, the beginning to the end together. I'll cherish that forever.
Glazer's presentation to Alstott occurred at halftime of the Buccaneers' 20-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday evening. It was the centerpiece to a night spent in tribute of the fan favorite, the man known ever so affectionately as the A-Train throughout Central West Florida. Glazer, Buccaneers Radio Network announcer Gene Deckerhoff and Alstott himself addressed the crowd before and after the presentation, and all agreed that there was a special connection between the fans and #40.
Hearing the crowd chant his name once again was as special to Alstott as receiving Glazer's gift. At one point, it caused him to get a bit choked up. But, with his family flanking him on the Raymond James Stadium field, Alstott gathered himself and enjoyed the moment. He later called it "indescribable."
Going back to the old days, the fans have embraced me and given me such support and love," said Alstott. "It's an unbelievable feeling to have 60,000-plus out there to do that. I loved playing in front of them when we were home. It was an incredible feeling running out of that tunnel and there's no question they energized me and helped me be a better player. The way I came every Sunday to work was we needed to win in front of our fans.
The stadium's videoboards showed a variety of tribute items to Alstott throughout the evening, from celebrity and teammate well-wishes to highlight packages to warm retrospectives. The evening also took an emotional turn early when Alstott joined the starting offense in being introduced to the crowd, then gathered the team around him for the pregame pep speech.
That part was special for Alstott, too.
Pads on or pads off, I get emotional every time," he said of the pregame introductions. "I tried holding it back a little bit, but being able to go out there and break down the huddle and fire up the guys one last time is a dream come true, and that's what it's been these last 12 years. The support, between the fans, the organization, family, friends I couldn't ask for anything better. You couldn't script it any better and I've been really fortunate.
Alstott might still be playing if he hadn't sustained a second neck injury before the 2007 season. He had memorably fought his way back from a first neck surgery that cost him most of the 2003 season, but when another round of problems arose in '07, it became medically impossible for him to continue. He remained a vital part of the team last season as it battled its way to the division title, then announced his retirement during a January press conference at team headquarters. Later, in March, he was the guest of a honor at a retirement party that brought back hundreds of former teammates and acquaintances for a celebration of his career.
But Sunday night's game was his chance to share the same feelings with his fans one more time. That helped him put a cap on a career that was completely satisfying, even if it did end earlier than he had intended.
"It's closure for me, yes," said Alstott. "Going to camp and being hurt and having a private retirement, talking with the Glazers and with their support for me, to be able to come out here and thank the fans, it is definitely closure.