MUNICH — Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside linebacker Devin White burst through the A-gap and pummeled Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith late in the second quarter before blowing a kiss to the sky and making the sign of the cross.
He’d do the same thing in the third quarter, but this time coming around the corner and stripping the ball from Smith, who threatened to score at the Tampa Bay 9-yard line, in a play that helped salvage the Bucs’ 21-16 victory and quite possibly their season.
“It was just like, ‘This one is for you,” said White, 24, who pushed aside the pain of losing his father three days ago to play. He made two critically important plays, including the Bucs’ defense’s first takeaway in five games.
“It was very hard to play,” White said. “Just a lot of emotions. But I tried to turn them into good emotions and just keep a great spirit. That’s the relationship we had — just all about ball, all about just going out there and being the best and just getting this thing turned around.”
Just two hours before the Buccaneers’ chartered flight departed for Munich, Germany, White got a phone call around 3 p.m. that his father, Carlos Thomas, had unexpectedly died at the age of 45. The circumstances surrounding his death remain a mystery to White, who said the whole experience has been “unreal.”
“For him to even get on the plane, it happened right before we were leaving, and he still got on the plane to play the ballgame,” coach Todd Bowles said. “Lose your dad right before you’re getting ready to go to Germany and to come out and still play says a lot about the guy.”
Grieving hasn’t been an option the past three days. Football has provided a distraction for White, especially with his job as not only a captain of the defense but the player responsible for wearing the green helmet sticker and communicating the calls on defense.
“I kept it to myself because I’m a person that just can back myself up into a corner and handle everything and figure it out later,” White said. “Getting to the hotel and I was back by myself, it was a little tougher, but while I was at practice it was just about doing the correct things to go out and win the football game.”
“It was very hard to play. Just a lot of emotions. But I tried to turn them into good emotions and just keep a great spirit. That’s the relationship we had — just all about ball, all about just going out there and being the best and just getting this thing turned around.”
Devin White, on playing Sunday just three days after his father died unexpectedly
White has also come under criticism as of late for his level of play. Pro Football Hall of Famer Warren Sapp publicly criticized White on Instagram last month, saying he should be stripped of his captaincy. It was already a lot of pressure to bear, beyond the loss of his father.
White wound up leading the team with eight combined tackles, two sacks, a tackle for loss, three quarterback hits and a forced fumble.
“That’s an amazing testament to him. Prayers for him and his family,” wide receiver Julio Jones said. “We support him. We’re glad he made the trip.”
“At the end of the day, I knew I had a job to do, and I just wasn’t going to accept no pats on the back and stuff, so I just put my head down and just kept going forward,” White said.
It wasn’t the first time White’s life had been touched by tragedy. In June 2011, White’s brother J’Marco “Jae Jae” Greenard died in a motor vehicle accident on a church field trip when he was 19. White was 13 at the time. The two had been inseparable. White has said he has long felt Greenard was his guardian angel, which is why after Sunday’s game, he said he had, not one angel, but “angels” watching over him.
White said that from Greenard, he had learned about keeping a positive attitude and having a strong work ethic. And from Thomas, White said the greatest lesson was learning how to press on and finding his purpose.
“He told me to always push forward in life,” White said. “I have a text from him that says, ‘One of the greatest joys in life is just understanding life and pushing forward and being who you are called to be.'”
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