The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who moved their football operations to South Florida to avoid Hurricane Ian, hope to return home to face the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night.
The team practiced Wednesday at the Miami Dolphins training facility, describing the experience as different but insisting the disruption to their routine will not hamper their ability to prepare for the team that they beat in the Super Bowl two seasons ago.
Family members, and even some pets, accompanied players and coaches on their move before the storm made landfall on Florida’s west coast.
“The biggest challenge, I think we’ve already solved, is just keeping their families safe. Everyone’s loved ones are safe, and that’s number 1. Houses and monetary things, you don’t really worry about. If the family is safe, you can kind of focus on the football,” coach Todd Bowles said.
“What we’re doing is a very little entertainment for people who are going through a lot of tough stuff, and hopefully we can provide that,” Bowles added via a Zoom call from the Dolphins’ Miami Gardens compound. “But it’s more than just a football team.”
NFL executive Jeff Miller said Wednesday the game was still scheduled to be played in Tampa on Sunday night.
If the teams can’t play at Raymond James Stadium — a decision that could be made as late as Friday — the highly anticipated game between quarterbacks Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes will be moved to Minneapolis.
This isn’t the first time the Bucs have evacuated players and families as a hurricane approaches.
Hurricane Irma forced the postponement of a Week 1 game against the Dolphins in 2017, when the Bucs flew some players and their families to Charlotte, North Carolina to wait out the storm.
Others chose to drive to destinations in North Florida, Alabama and Georgia, while the NFL postponed the game to a goodbye date shared by the Bucs and Dolphins .
“Anyone who wanted to come could come, family or otherwise, including pets,” Bowles said, adding that the club initially explored moving training to West Virginia.
“But I think people would always have been away from their families. Even if families could have come there, it would have been a bit farther in terms of hotels,” Bowles said. “Miami came along, and it looked like it wasn’t going to be hit as hard. … It was an easier trip, and people who had pets and stuff, and older grandparents who were with them, could get out in the car to be closer to their families.
One player — linebacker Devin White — was unable to take his animals to South Florida with him. He has a stable or horses and is an avid rider.
“I think my barn is more expensive than my house,” White said. “I’ve been looking at the cameras, and I have someone who works at the barn who stayed behind. So hopefully everyone out there is safe and we can move on.”
Bowles said the thoughts of the players and coaches are also with the community they left behind.
“Our thoughts are with the city of Tampa right now. Where we have to play – hopefully it’s Tampa and it’s okay. That means we’re not too damaged,” Bowles said. we have to go and play somewhere else, we just have to concentrate and lock ourselves in. No one is going to feel sorry for us. We have to be ready to play.”
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