Drawing attention and even a few star-struck glances in the hospital lobby for their enormity and blazing red Buccaneers jerseys, the rookies look around in wonder. Flash bulbs light up. Excited families begin to circle. The players are led with a red wagon overflowing with fuzzy Bucs bears, to the patient floors of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital for a holiday visit.
No. 31, Jordan Whitehead, 21, is a safety from Pennsylvania. He is still adjusting to his new celebrity, his new team and his sunny new life down south. In fact, all of the players stop in their tracks as they exit the elevator on the patient floor. They look beyond the colorful signs and playful art, out the wall of windows to see Tampa Bay sparkling back at them.
Whitehead, with tons of charm and a wall of sparkling teeth, is born for these moments. He is loving it and the kids love him. But his demeanor changes slightly as he moves through the hospital. It is a bit of a flashback to his own childhood hospital experiences. He is remembering his fear of the unknown as a 7-year-old and how much it meant to have a safe, smiling face stop by his room as he recovered from an appendicitis.
He gets it. These kids, whether they are able to physically show it or not, are really appreciating a bunch of big, goofy guys trying to remember the words to Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town as they hand out bears.
The players are led into a room with the smallest incubator housing the tiniest infant. The players circle around, noticing the chest and breathing tube as the boy sleeps right next to them.
Whitehead exits the room in awe of this moment. “You just don’t realize babies are going through this,” he says, now almost a whisper. “It puts it all into perspective.”
Suddenly, the smile returns. He grabs a bear and heads into the next room for the next big performance with his teammates.