TAMPA – Having lived in Florida long enough to have experienced a few hurricanes, I know that no matter the degree of the storm, what you strive for most in the wake of one is normalcy.
You want the plywood off your windows, you want your family photos back on the walls and you badly want to get back to the same old boring routine you were taking for granted before the storm came your way.
The Dolphins and Buccaneers, their players reassembled now after the threat of Hurricane Irma forced them to scatter like leaves blown in the wind, got their first dose of normalcy in at least a week on Wednesday.
For the Buccaneers, it was as close to a full dose of normalcy as anyone could hope for, their entire team back together, meeting and practicing at the team’s One Buc Place headquarters in Tampa just like always.
For the Dolphins, it wasn’t quite “business as normal’’ as defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh put it. Instead of practicing in Miami, they were in Oxnard, California working out at a Dallas Cowboys training facility.
Since last Friday, when owner Stephen Ross evacuated the team en masse and foot the bill for it, that has been their home, so it was probably as close to normal as they could hope for, too.
The common denominator for both is that football has become a priority again. Not necessarily THE priority, but for a few hours at least now it is enough of a priority to serve as an escape.
“I know for me, football is a getaway from my everyday life,’’ Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “It’s my escape, even though it’s stressful at times because you’ve got to focus (and) your body is hurting.
“I mean, mentally you know nobody cares what you’re dealing with. They just want to see you perform. When you’ve got all that on your mind it gets stressful, but it’s still my getaway.’’
In the wake of Hurricane Irma, football has become Suh’s escape too. He flew into Oxnard on Monday to get a head start on preparation for the Dolphins game against the Chargers but also to regain that all-important sense of normalcy.
“I’ve been watching film the last couple days and we’ve had our first couple meetings here so it’s an opportunity to take my mind off a little bit of what’s going on back home in Florida,’’ he said.
Nothing will take the players’ minds off what’s happening in Florida completely. Too many lives have been turned inside out, possibly forever, for that to happen.
But another thing you quickly come to realize in the aftermath of a hurricane is that outside of the storm’s path of destruction, life goes on, and in the NFL that means games will be played on Sunday.
The league won’t wait for the Dolphins and Buccaneers to regain their focus. The players will have to do that on their own amid all the adversity, and that too was part of what Wednesday was all about.
It was a day devoted to getting back into the routine of football, a day in which the payers were reminded that this is one of those times when as difficult as it may be, they have to perform like the pros they are.
“I think our guys are handling it well,’’ Dolphins coach Gase said of the challenge. “When we got here, our guys seemed focused, ready to go. I think they’ve been itching. I think they’re just ready to play some football.’’
Isn’t everybody? Surely the players are. The fans, too. It’s an escape, after all. Even better, it’s a return to the routine they’ve grown comfortable with, a slice of normalcy in a world suddenly turned upside down.