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How the Bucs mobilized 300 people, 28 dogs and a rabbit to south Florida

TAMPA — Tim Jarocki got home this weekend in time for his family to host a birthday sleepover for his daughter and nine of her 10-year-old girlfriends. They played games, and before it was over, he was coated in Silly String.

But the Bucs director of team operations was never more happy to be back in Tampa. He was grateful for some normalcy after undertaking the task of relocating the Bucs for four days to avoid the potential path of Hurricane Ian.

About 300 players, coaches, trainers, support staff and their families — even 28 dogs and a rabbit — moved into the Marriott Biscayne Bay or a spillover hotel for four days so the team could prepare for Sunday night’s game against the Chiefs.

The self-described “sky is falling ops guy” said he watches the Weather Channel from May to November. When Jarocki saw the tropical disturbance pop up by Venezuela, he sent emails to the Bucs’ hurricane contingency group.

“As it got close, we started communicating it to (head coach) Todd (Bowles) and (general manager) Jason (Licht) and (chief operating officer Brian Ford), Jarocki said.

Bucs linebacker Lavonte David runs out of the tunnel carrying the state of Florida flag before Sunday’s game. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

The Bucs had been through a similar experience when Hurricane Irma canceled the season opener against Miami in 2017 and the team evacuated to Charlotte, North Carolina.

“Based on Irma back in ’17, we came up with a plan,” Jarocki said. “I knew at that point, a city in each time zone where we could think of going, depending on where it was going and what part of the schedule it was hitting. Do we have a home or an away game or whatnot?

“Based on the track that was showing, I started looking at my East Coast options as well as central. I was looking at Charlotte, where we went back in ’17. The first option for a lot of teams is the Greenbriar Resort in West Virginia.”

The good thing about Greenbriar was it had everything the Bucs’ needed — 120 rooms, two grass fields, a turf field, locker room and meeting space.

But to fly large aircraft into the area, they would have to land in Richmond or Roanoke. The Dallas metro area also was an option with the Rangers’ old baseball stadium in Arlington, Texas.

When Hurricane Ian began tracking away from south Florida, Miami became the best option.

How many would be traveling? “I had almost 400 just because we were in the process of RSVPing,” Jarocki said. “Who are you bringing? Who are you evacuating? At the same time we were getting pets. Rabbits and horses.”

Wait, rabbits? Who had a rabbit?

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Rookie guard Luke Goedeke has had a rabbit named Cletus for three years.

The Bucs chartered two plans to Miami International Airport on Tuesday. Some chose to drive. Everything was set up in 24 hours.

But by Tuesday night, feeder bands dumped rain on Miami.

“The defensive meeting room started leaking and we had a waterfall,” Jarocki said. “The hotel was under construction. Throughout the week we’re dealing with them renovating sleeping rooms, people’s babies trying to sleep with jackhammering going on and obviously the one meeting room with water everywhere. Luckily it didn’t start coming down in the meal room.”

Everyone adapted. “Tuesday night when we got there, it was like a family atmosphere,” Jarocki said. “It was actually very comfortable seeing the kids running around.”

They created a family room so kids could have a place to play and run around.

It wasn’t perfect. Players had to walk through the main entrance. They strolled in and out of the hotel carrying helmets and wearing cleats.

In fact, because the game could have been relocated to Denver or Minneapolis, they had to pack all their uniforms and equipment.

They had to make contingency plans to get families back to Tampa Bay if the game was played elsewhere. There was a traffic impasse due to flooding on I-75 and it took the Bucs’ equipment truck 12 hours to return home Saturday morning.

But the Bucs got three days of practice at the Dolphins’ training complex.

Back in Tampa, they needed more hotel rooms in case people were unable to return to their homes.

“Honestly, we did our best to turn it into a road game,” Jarocki said. “At times, you could tell it wasn’t.”

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