Go-to guys for the to-go crowd

Veterans' demands run the gamut for Bucs' rookies, who have little choice but to respond: Have it your way.

By Times Staff Writer
Published September 25, 2005

Ever feel as if you're always behind the guy with the milelong list of special orders at the local fast-food joint?

Next time, take a closer look and make sure it isn't Bucs rookie Anthony Bryant.

There's a good chance his senior defensive-line teammates have sent him on another infamous food run. And if you have the misfortune of being next in line, get comfortable.

"The rookies have to get food for the road," Bryant said. "And it's always like, this guy wants three wings spicy, this guy wants six legs mild. It's always something. They do it on purpose, I think. Sometimes they'll want 10 sandwiches, but it'll be one with mayonnaise, one with mustard, one with this, one with that."

Being a rookie can be a humbling experience in the NFL, something the Bucs' first-year players are learning quickly.

This isn't the kind of hazing that happens on some college and high school campuses. This is just good, innocent fun. It's veterans taking the opportunity to put the kid in his place.

Often, that place is Chick-fil-A. Other times, it's Popeyes Chicken and Biscuits. Either way, it can be inconvenient for the rookies, not to mention, pricey.

"I think I average $100, $150 a week just on buying food," Bryant said.

Much of that is spent at Popeyes. That appears to be the cuisine of choice for travel days. The demand for the chicken is so high, the rookies practically race each other to the nearest franchise. The object is to order before they run low on chicken, which apparently happens. That's no surprise considering the orders amount to something around 200 pieces.

Family meals don't come that big.

"They love to see us coming in there," rookie tight end Alex Smith said, noting that the cash register works overtime when he and his fellow rookies come around.

Linebacker veterans have made it Barrett Ruud's duty to supply Chick-fil-A sandwiches for Monday meetings. And bottled water, too. Actually, Ruud gets pretty much whatever Derrick Brooks asks for. Even if he asks indirectly.

"Any request, usually it's from him, but it's told to me by somebody else," Ruud said. "He puts it through channels."

Rookie errands go far beyond food. Their daily routine includes hauling in veterans' helmets and shoulder pads after practice. For guard Dan Buenning and Bryant, who play in units with big numbers (offensive line and defensive line), that can mean lugging eight to 10 pairs of sweaty, smelly shoulder pads.

And in the Bucs' cramped quarters at One Buc Place, where position meetings are regularly held in coaches' offices, space can be hard to come by. That means if a rookie has a seat and a veteran doesn't, guess what?

"You get up and sit on the floor," Bryant said.

Being a rookie just wouldn't be the same without also occasionally being the punch line.

"If they see a rookie out somewhere with a girl, they'll come back and tell everybody, "Oh, man, you should have seen her! She was sooo ugly!' " Bryant said. "And that's when she looks good."

The key? Have a sense of humor.

"It's all right," Bryant said. "It's all in fun."