To many onlookers, rookie linebacker Kwon Alexander may have been saying hello. In reality, he was saying goodbye.
A day after younger brother Broderick Taylor was shot and killed back home in Alabama, Alexander led the Bucs to an upset win over Atlanta, only their third victory of the season and their fifth during the past two seasons. Afterward, in a moving scene in the team’s locker room, teammate Logan Mankins presented Alexander with a game ball.
“I thought what you saw in that locker room is what was real, unscripted,” Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. “Mankins, one of your captains … When you’re on the football team you don’t get a chance to share as much time with all of your teammates. An offensive lineman and the linebackers don’t hang out and go to dinner each night, but sometimes when you go through something like Kwon is going through, for him to find out just how much he really means to the group.
“Logan asked me if he could do that. It wasn’t just Logan. [He] of course handed him the ball and presented the ball to him, but all of his teammates were feeling for him the entire game. When I say we have a special group of men, I can go on the rest of the day. We have a special group of men, we really do. Sometimes when things like this happen you get a chance to see it, but it’s kind of what we see daily.”
For the game, Alexander had 11 tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception. He had a second interception called back by a penalty. It was the best game all year for the rookie from LSU.
“No doubt it’s a special game for all of us,” Smith said. “There were a lot – you talk about the emotions of a game – but it seems like that’s life in the NFL, too. As you all know, first, to go on the road is tough, get a lead, the lead leaves us, evaporates, then you have to make some plays at the end. But sometimes when things are going along you need to be put in tough situations to see exactly what you have, to see how the football team will respond. If you just go back to – I say just move on, but I’m going to go back to a week ago – to know what all the team was going through, to be able to get it together like that and to finish the way we did just says a lot.
“Let me go back – I don’t go out with every coach on our staff, either, but that doesn’t mean [we aren’t close]. Before any of this happened, this was a close team. The team doesn’t need anything else to bring them closer. It’s just sometimes, as a man, you don’t let it out how you feel about someone always. It’s no more than that. I don’t think this team can get any closer. They like each other. They know that there’s a responsibility that you feel to do your job for your teammates, so I think we’re already there. But what is happening with our football team, yeah, we need to keep taking steps and we’ll do that.”
Smith saId he learned more about his rookie linebacker because of the tragedy.
“I think when you see someone go through a tough situation, whenever you see someone go through a different situation, you learn something about them always,” Smith said. “And, yes, we have [learned more about Alexander]. And what I’ve seen from Kwon as he’s handled the situation is what, really, I knew. There’s a reason why we put him into this role, the type of man he is and what he believes, how he plays. I knew a lot about his family and how he’s been raised just kind of based on that.
“Again, we could talk about Kwon for a while, the football part of what he’s doing. He played an outstanding football game yesterday and that’s the bottom line.”