TAMPA, Fla. - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were back in their building Wednesday, practicing for the first time since Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida and brought hurricane-force winds and flooding to nearly the entire state.
Players admitted to getting a real scare out of the whole ordeal. Many had never been through a hurricane before. Irma's projected path shifted last week from Florida's Atlantic coast to its west coast. Had the storm not been weakened traveling over Cuba, battered the Florida Keys, made a second landfall at Marco Island or veered east toward Polk County as it traveled up the state, it could have been far worse.
The storm was a Category 2 by the time it hit the Tampa Bay area, with minimal damage to the majority of homes. Most of the destruction came in the form of fallen trees, twisted street signs and tattered storefronts. Some streets are inaccessible because of debris, and traffic signals in many places still don't work.
"We were staying on our phones looking at the radar the whole time," said wide receiver Adam Humphries who, along with tight end Cameron Brate and quarterback Ryan Griffin, went up to Clemson, South Carolina. They attended the Clemson-Auburn game and stayed at a place Humphries owns up there.
"The whole time we were checking on Tampa and seeing how everything down here was doing," Humphries said. "It was good to see that we didn't get hit as hard as we thought. The only really thing here is the power outages around. Obviously we were fortunate to get what we ended up getting."
Defensive end Ryan Russell had never been through a hurricane before and feared for his family's safety.
"I had my grandad with me so that was my biggest concern," Russell said. "He's 94. He can't really move around too well. His memory is pretty good but he still gets confused sometimes. ... So I was more scared for my grandad than I was for my house or my possessions or anything."
They had originally planned to ride out the storm together in Tampa. Then he got a phone call Saturday. The Glazer family, who own the Bucs, managed to secure four charter planes for players and their families and were headed to Charlotte, North Carolina.
They left that afternoon, just hours before Tampa International Airport shut down at 8 p.m.
"It just means everything," Russell said of the team's gesture. "I was in shock. I've never been in an organization that cared so much, not just about players -- I mean there's a mutual relationship there -- but for families too, our pets, the things we care about, it's also important to the organization. That's huge."
Family was the first thing on wide receiver Bernard Reedy's mind too: his mom and his little sister. He stayed behind in St. Petersburg, his hometown, to take care of them. He also wanted to go to work at his side job, providing wheelchair transportation services for a company called Care Ride. They needed his help with evacuations Saturday.
"You have people who can't help themselves. I had to get them to a safe place," Reedy said. "I'm able to run and stuff, but some of these people can't run. If it comes, it comes, but I was making sure I was staying home to be with my mom and sister."
"I knew I wasn't going anywhere," Reedy said. "It was a no-brainer. I got a couple calls saying that the team was evacuating, but I told them, 'Naw, I'm gonna stay.'"
Wide receiver Mike Evans rode out Hurricane Ike in his hometown of Galveston, Texas, in 2008. He, his wife Ashli and their two daughters, went back there for Irma. Given what happened to the Houston area with Hurricane Harvey just a week earlier, they expected the worst for Tampa.
"It was difficult," Evans said of leaving Tampa. "We just wanted our families and our homes to be safe. Most people came out pretty clean. ... There are a lot of cities that need help that were affected by Irma and still, Harvey, they need help as well still. It's going to take a long time to rebuild."
As someone who experienced the horrors of a hurricane firsthand, Evans hopes their play on the field can give the community something positive to think about.
"Sporting events bring people together," Evans said. "They bring the city hope. They bring a lot of people hope. We're excited to get out there and give our fans something good to watch."