By ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 21, 2001
TAMPA -- After eight seasons with the Bucs, defensive end Chidi Ahanotu said he harbored no ill will to the franchise after it released him Friday.
Ahanotu, 30 said he understood that the decision was a financial one. He said he plans to continue playing and didn't count out the possibility of returning to the Bucs.
"I will always be who I am, a Buccaneer," Ahanotu said. "I'm one of the last of the Bucco Bruces and one of the original Pewter Pirates. I am one of the reasons we turned this franchise around. I had the honor of being named the franchise player and leading and representing this team.
"(Helping) turn this franchise from a doormat to a powerhouse. I will forever be proud of that. I will forever be happy and fulfilled that I helped to get this community respect. I will be forever gratified that I helped to get this team pride. I must leave, but I won't be gone forever."
Ahanotu, a sixth-round draft pick in 1993, appeared in 113 regular-season games, starting 104.
During his eight seasons, Ahanotu made 385 tackles and is tied for fifth on the team's all-time list with 31 sacks. Last season, Ahanotu had 63 tackles, 31/2 sacks and 3 forced fumbles in 16 starts.
His future seemed uncertain after Tampa Bay signed free-agent defensive end Simeon Rice to a six-year deal.
"I understand the business of it," he said. "When you're a young player, you're full of rah-rah. But if you want to last you have to look at it as a business."
Ahanotu, who missed all but four games of the 1998 season with a shoulder injury, said his body feels fine.