Still Count on Alstott to Deliver

Source: St.Pete Times
Mike Alstott turned to make the handoff, a bag of groceries in one arm and a 10-pound turkey in the other. He asked a small boy which he would rather carry, then offered him the brown bag, so tall it nearly blocked the boy's vision.

"You got it?" Alstott asked. "Can you see?"

Carrying the turkey, Alstott followed the boy inside a house at the Salvation Army Children's Village, which provides homes for children in the Pinellas County foster care system. It was the last of several stops the Bucs fullback and his family made Wednesday delivering Thanksgiving meals, complete with pumpkin pies, to children and families in need.

This will be the next phase of Alstott's glorious career. Eventually, he will make the full-time transition from Super Bowl champ to community champion.

"I believe outside the lines is just as important as inside the lines," said Alstott, who in May established the Mike Alstott Family Foundation with his wife, Nicole, and three children. "We're starting that new phase. We've been doing a lot of different charity work for the last 10 years, and we're still going to help those organizations, but we're going to do it through a foundation. I wanted to establish this for my family for years to come."

Alstott the football player is in limbo. In his 12th NFL season, he spends Sunday afternoons cheering his teammates from the sideline in street clothes because of a neck injury, but has not made an announcement about when he will retire.

He is on injured reserve, his one-year, $1.5-million contract set to expire after this season.

In light of recent scary events - the severe spinal cord injury sustained by Buffalo tight end Kevin Everett in Week 1, the midseason retirement of Seattle fullback Mack Strong then Kansas City running back Priest Holmes' retirement Wednesday because of neck injuries - it seems unlikely Alstott would risk returning to the field.

"You'll probably find out very soon," he said.

In 2003, Alstott had surgery to remove a compressed disc in his neck, which was replaced with the vertebrae from a cadaver and fused with a titanium plate. At the start of training camp this season, Alstott had stiffness in his neck, and tests revealed stress above the previously injured area. Surgery was not necessary, but Alstott said in August he wanted to see how his neck responded before deciding about his future.

Twelve weeks into the season, he has adopted a routine of arriving at One Buc Place early each morning, before teammates, to work out and rehab his neck.

"It's more range of motion and strengthen it right now, and we'll reevaluate it after the end of the year," said Alstott, who turns 34 in December. "It is what it is."

After his workouts, Alstott chats with running backs coach Art Valero, checks on the game plan and visits with players. On game day, he cheers, home and away.

"It's no fun," said Alstott, the franchise's leading touchdown scorer with 71 and second-leading rusher with more than 5,000 yards. "But, you know, it could be worse. We've experienced that with the Buffalo player.

"But I'm involved in the sense that I can be there and support them on Sundays, be around the locker room. Players see me; I get to talk to them. I'm somewhat inside the game plan as far as watching a little bit of film with Art, visiting with him, staying in touch with all the running backs. As much as I can be involved, I am involved."

Free-agent fullback B.J. Askew has taken over as the team's lead blocker and occasional pass catcher, the role Alstott was to have played this season. In Askew's locker on Monday was a poster of Alstott signed with these words: "It's your show now - represent well."

On Wednesday, while the Bucs were in Tampa preparing for Sunday's game against the Redskins, Alstott sat on a couch, one arm wrapped around 8-year-old son Griffin, the other around his little grocery helper. In the living room of the home designed to provide foster children with a long-term, stable family atmosphere, an impromptu karaoke session had broken out with performances of the Monkees'I'm a Believer and CCR's Bad Moon Rising.

Alstott smiled and clapped.

Everyone got high-fives.

Just as in football, small gains mean a great deal to residents of the Children's Village.

"I'm trying to teach my son and my daughters how fortunate we are," said Alstott, who has two daughters, Hannah, 5, and Lexie, 4. "We can offer something to these children who don't have some type of family. We can mentor them, provide food, put a smile on their face and let them show off a little bit with karaoke. It's just being present. "

While it's possible Alstott has carried a football for the last time, he plans to be a force in the community for years to come through his business interests and the foundation.

"We'll be around a lot," Alstott said. "We have some big events planned, some big fundraisers for some organizations that we think are going to be very important. We have a young family and the kids are getting involved at a young age in all the charitable aspects of life, helping other people.

"So, we'll be around."