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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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It's a bird, it's A-Train
Mike Alstott doesn't plan to fly over the goal line; it's instinctive, he says. To others, it's amazing.
By STEPHEN F. HOLDER
Published November 23, 2005
Bucs fullback Mike Alstott soars for a second-quarter touchdown in the win over Washington.
TAMPA - All that separated Mike Alstott from the end zone was 1 yard - and 11 bloodthirsty defenders.
There would be no running between the tackles. But that would not stop Alstott from going over them.
Over his offensive line, over the Falcons' front four, over linebacker Keith Brooking, who practically was looking up at the soaring fullback. The Atlanta defense was helpless to stop the flying mass of humanity.
When Alstott finished his orbit, the Bucs led 20-17. Meanwhile, the Falcons likely were wondering what their high school science teachers neglected to tell them. How could the laws of physics allow a 6-foot-1, 248-pound man to launch himself over a massive pile of bodies?
Somehow Air Alstott does it on a regular basis, leaving his own teammates in disbelief over his athletic ability.
"What is he trying to do, take off from the 4-yard line?" flabbergasted left guard Dan Buenning said. "Unbelievable."
Alstott has no answers either. In a short-yardage situation, it is never his plan to outjump the defense. But if he runs out of more practical options, his instincts take over.
Then it's up, up and away.
"I think my attitude is to get into the end zone any way possible," said Alstott, who has a team-high five rushing touchdowns. "Maybe it's over the top, through people or by walking in. I don't even think about it. It's not a thought process. I read defenses and I understand where the hole is supposed to be and the blocking techniques. But when it comes to a pure decision, it's not that. It's instinct. It just happens when I receive the ball. Then the end thought is, "Did I get in?' "
These days, the answer has been a resounding yes.
It was affirmative in the Bucs' previous game against Washington, when Alstott scored in the first quarter by leaping into the end zone from 2 yards out. He took the ball from quarterback Chris Simms and saw a wall of bodies forming in front of him. Alstott immediately turned to his uncanny leaping ability and flew over his obstacle. By the time Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington, Washington's last line of defense, fought off a block from Jameel Cook, Alstott had broken the plane of the goal line.
"There's really no trickery whatsoever when it comes to the goal line," Alstott said. "It's either you're in or you're out. I love that situation and I take a lot of pride in it."
Not everyone would be so willing to dismiss all concern for his body and launch himself into the air against NFL defenses. When a defender times his approach properly, the result can be a nasty midair collision, the sound heard throughout the stadium.
Left tackle Anthony Davis offered one possible explanation: Alstott is, well, different.
"You have to be a little crazy because they're trying to hit you and take you out when you're in the air," he said. "But (Alstott) likes it. He gets up from the pile smiling and pumped up. He looks forward to it. The beauty of it is the other team knows he's going to do that and they still don't stop it."
What makes Alstott's leaps all the more amazing is that they are longer than they sometimes appear. Though the ball may technically be placed at the 1-yard line, as it was on the touchdown against Atlanta, Alstott takes the handoff several yards behind the line of scrimmage, turning a 1-yard run into a 4-yard flight.
Everyone seems baffled by Alstott's feats except Alstott. He doesn't put any more emphasis on his aerial acrobatics than his blocking duties. Rest assured both abilities are valued by others.
"I ran behind him a lot on Sunday," said Cadillac Williams, who rushed for 116 yards. "I think people forget about that because he does so much in the running game. He does a hell of a job blocking."
Said Alstott: "I get satisfaction from going in there and blocking for a tailback's touchdown, leading them through the hole and being able to escort them."
It's all part of the job. He applies the same logic to running and blocking.
"With me, it's all about the end result," he said. "It's not about the style points or the way it's done. It's about scoring that touchdown and winning ballgames. It kind of typifies our team character and attitude over the past two weeks. When adversity hits us, we find a way. It's the same way with me."