NFL: Bucs kicker Bryant honors infant son with class, victory
By David Whitley
The Orlando Sentinel
By David Whitley
TAMPA, Fla. — Men have faced much longer kicks in conditions far nastier. But when he lined up for a 24-yard field goal Sunday, no kicker in history felt as much pressure.
"I buried my son yesterday," Bryant said.
He wanted to honor him the best way he could by showing Tryson that his old man could still get the job done.
Tryson never got to see that down here. He was 3 months old when he died Wednesday.
His mom had gotten his five brothers and sister up for the day. She went in to check on the youngest one.
He had died in his sleep. Tests may eventually show what killed Tryson, but we will never know why such things happen.
Bryant didn't show up for work Sunday to find that answer. He'd gotten back from the funeral in Texas late Saturday night and the Green Bay Packers hadn't exactly been on his mind.
But he'd told Jon Gruden he'd be at Raymond James Stadium to kick off. No explanation was needed.
"He is a man of few words," Gruden said. "He always has been, and always will be. This was very important for him to play. I think he needed the game today."
He needed it for one reason.
"I wanted to go out there and honor Tryson's name," Bryant said. "I didn't think it was very fair for his life to end so short."
Unfair is having a ref blow a call that cost your team a game. Tragic is going in to kiss your baby good morning and finding he won't move.
It's meaningless in comparison, but Bryant put people in an awkward position Sunday. The Bucs had no idea how he would respond. And what if kicks bounced off the uprights or sailed wide?
How can you boo a man who just buried his youngest son?
Bryant's teammates would have forgiven all. Most of them have children. They couldn't know what Bryant was experiencing, but they could imagine being in that position.
You don't have to be in the NFL to know that feeling. The joy that is coming home after a bad day and having it all washed away by the littlest grin.
"He smiled," Bryant said of Tryson. "All you had to do was talk to him and talk softly."
Bryant was talking to him Sunday. Cannons always fire when the Bucs get inside their opponent's 20-yard line. Bryant told Tryson not to be scared, that it was all part of the show.
So was Tampa Bay's inability to get inside the end zone. That meant Bryant was called on to kick field goals from 23 and 36 yards in the second quarter.
After both, he lifted his left hand to his mouth, looked to the sky and blew a kiss.
"I wanted to remind him that he's my baby boy," Bryant said, "and he's with me all the time."
The game took on a weird feeling of destiny. Green Bay rallied to take a 21-20 lead, then Aaron Rodgers hurt his shoulder. The Bucs got a late chance to come back, and ended with Bryant facing that 24-yarder with 2:26 left.
It was perfect.
For a little added drama, Bryant pooched the ensuing kickoff out of bounds to give Green Bay possession at the 40-yard line. Almost every defensive player came over and told him not to worry.
At 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds, Bryant is one of the smallest Bucs. It's as if his teammates were playing for someone even smaller.
They were not going to let the Packers take advantage of Bryant's mistake.
Gaines Adams intercepted Rodgers on the second play. Then Earnest Graham broke loose for a 47-yard gain to set up the final score.
"They bailed me out," Bryant said. "I appreciated that."
It was about as happy an ending as such a week could have. If you're lucky, you'll never know how hard it was for Bryant, or what it was like to go home to an empty crib Sunday night.
At least Bryant felt like Tryson was with him on the field and finally got to see him at work.
His baby boy must have been proud.