By Ben Morse, Wayne Sterling and David Close, CNN
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers practiced for the first time in Miami on Wednesday having relocated to south Florida as Hurricane Ian made landfall.
The team moved their football operations to Miami this week because of the impact Ian could have. It made landfall along the southwestern coast of Florida near Cayo Costa as a powerful Category 4 storm on Wednesday, but has now weakened to a Category 1 storm. It’s one of the strongest hurricanes to make landfall on the west coast of the Florida peninsula.
After practicing at the Miami Dolphins facility in Miami Gardens for the first time — the Dolphins traveled to Cincinnati where they will face the Bengals on Thursday — Bucs players and coaching staff spoke about the effect the storm has had on them and on their families.
“First of all, our thoughts and hearts go out to everybody in Tampa that’s still there, hoping that they recover well and it doesn’t hit them very hard,” head coach Todd Bowles told the media. “That’s the biggest thing. What we do is really small entertainment for people that go through a lot of rough things, and hopefully we can provide that.
“It’s bigger than just a football team, number one. Number two, it’s just making sure the players’ families are safe and the coaches’ families are safe and everybody on the staff is safe so they can concentrate on football. So we brought a lot of them down here. Everybody that wanted to come could come, family-wise and otherwise, including pets. We’re going to make sure those people are fine first because you really can’t concentrate on football without taking care of your family.”
On Thursday morning, hurricane and tropical storm warnings across southern Florida were dropped as Hurricane Ian moves farther north, according to an update from the National Hurricane Center. The storm remains at Category 1 with sustained winds of up to 75 mph.
Bucs running back Leonard Fournette, who was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, remembered the impact and devastation Hurricane Katrina had when it hit the Gulf Coast in 2005 and took the lives of 1,833 people.
“I’ve been through Katrina, as a kid,” Fournette said. “I know how severe and serious it is … I think the Bucs did a great job with evacuating everyone, making sure everybody’s and families okay. And I hope you’re doing okay too, look like some of you are at home. But I just know how it is … and I just thank God that we got out there and we’re just praying for the families up there in Tampa.”
For star linebacker Devin White, he’s got more than just his house to look after. The 24-year-old also has a stable full of horses to worry about.
“I guess you just gotta pray, but I think my barn is more expensive than my house,” White said when asked how he plans to keep his horses safe. “So I think my barn for … these type of things, hopefully nothing comes too close … I’ve just been watching the cameras and I have somebody working at the barn that stayed behind so, hopefully, everybody they’re just safe and we could just get past this.”
The Bucs are scheduled to host Sunday’s Week 4 clash with the Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, but the lingering impact of Ian has led the NFL to select US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis as the contingency venue should the game need to be moved.
The stadium, which is home to the Minnesota Vikings, isn’t scheduled to be used on Sunday as the Vikings travel to London to face the New Orleans Saints in Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
“It’s standard procedure, as you know, for us to have contingency plans in place and to identify other NFL venues that could possibly host a game in any given week if needed. And in this case, should the hurricane necessitate a venue change,” NFL executive vice president Jeff Miller said Wednesday. “This is only as a contingency, but we will remain nimble and adaptable.”
White said if it was safe, he’d love to face the Chiefs in front of the Bucs home crowd, primarily because of the “energy” the Bucs players “feed” off.
“I would love for it to be a home game just because … it’s one of our night games,” he said. “I don’t know how many we have, but I love for it to be in front of our fans, especially going against a good team like this.
“You really need to, fans on your side … to kind of help you get that momentum in the game and kind of feed off the energy. But I mean whatever it is, I think the safety comes first … The game of football don’t really matter when you’re talking about people’s lives … people in the community being affected by something like this.”
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