If anyone deserved to shed some tears of joy and relief when the Bucs beat the Packers in the NFC Championship Game two weeks ago, it should have been Lavonte David. And the linebacker, in his ninth year with the organization but appearing in his first postseason, said he was close to doing so.
Then Tom Brady spotted another teammate showing similar emotion.
"I heard [Brady] say: ‘What the [expletive] you crying for? We’re not done yet,’ " David recalled in an interview on the "All Things Covered" podcast with Patrick Peterson and Bryant McFadden this week. "I had a little two tears, I wiped my [tears] quick. I heard him say that, and I said, ‘I’m trippin’, man. We still got work to do."
Brady, of course, knows the routine. Sunday will be his 10th Super Bowl appearance. And there are others on the roster who have been there with other franchises, including Jason Pierre-Paul (Giants), Ndamukong Suh (Rams), Shaq Barrett (Seahawks) and Rob Gronkowski (Patriots).
But for David, the whole experience is new.
In his first eight seasons with Tampa Bay, he made the Pro Bowl and an All-Pro team. He was recognized as one of the top linebackers in the league.
But he’s also played under four different head coaches, none of whom lasted more than three years with the team. His starting quarterbacks included Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown, Mike Glennon and Josh Freeman. In those eight seasons, the Bucs had one winning season — 9-7 in 2016 — and were a combined 45-83.
"I’ve seen some tough times, some times where I’d be like, ‘Man, this is what the league is all about. This is what my career is gonna be,’ " David said during his Super Bowl week media session.
Then Brady showed up. And David and the Bucs are in Super Bowl LV.
"Just weathering the storm, man, staying strong, still having the love for the game that I have being in this moment right now, that got me here," he said. "Now I have an opportunity to go win a Super Bowl for this program."
It may be his first and last chance in Tampa. David is playing the final game of his current contract with the Bucs and they might let him test free agency.
The team certainly has the foundation to continue as a championship contender beyond Sunday. Brady and coach Bruce Arians have said they will be back; every member of the starting secondary, as well as nose tackle Vita Vea, is still on his rookie contract, and even Devin White, David’s fellow inside linebacker, is just a second-year player.
There is no guarantee David will be part of the Bucs’ future, but he said he isn’t worrying about that now. He’s fulfilling his job as leader of the team.
"I was telling the young guys, ‘Don’t take this for granted,’ " he said. "Guys who are in their second year, guys who are in their first year, telling them, ‘Don’t take it for granted because this doesn’t happen often.’
"Look at myself, for example. It took me nine years to get here. I don’t know if it’s going to take me another nine or whatever, but you definitely have to embrace this moment."
Maybe even with some well-earned tears, but only at the very end of the journey.
Notes & quotes: WR Antonio Brown (knee) and TE Cameron Brate (back) are questionable for Sunday, the only Bucs players on the final injury report of the week. That means David, safeties Jordan Whitehead and Antoine Winfield Jr., all of whom were being monitored in recent days, will play in Super Bowl LV . . . "They’re ready to roll," Bruce Arians said of the team after Friday’s practice. They’ll have one more walk-through on Saturday, then bus to the team hotel on Saturday afternoon for the long wait until kickoff. "We’ve been telling them you’ve got to control your emotions until game time," Arians said.