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

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

But the Bucs director of team operations has never been happier to be back in Tampa. He was grateful for some normalcy after taking on the task of moving 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 rundown hotel for four days so the team could prepare for Sunday night’s game against the Chiefs.

The self-described “sky-falling operations guy” said he watches the Weather Channel between May and November. When Jarocki saw that a tropical disturbance had opened up over Venezuela, he emailed the Bucs hurricane response team.

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

Bucs linebacker Lavonte David runs through the Florida State flag tunnel before Sunday’s game. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

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

“Based on Irma in ’17, we developed a plan,” Jarocki said. “I knew then that there was a city in every time zone that we could consider going to depending on where it was going and what part of the schedule it was. Do we have a home or away game or not?

“Based on the track shown, I started looking at my Central options as well as the East Coast. I was looking at Charlotte, where we went back in ’17. The first choice for many teams is Greenbriar Resort in West Virginia.”

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

But to fly the big planes into the area, they had to land in Richmond or Roanoke. The Dallas metro area was also an option with the Rangers old baseball stadium in Arlington, Texas.

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

How many people would travel? “As we were in the process of RSVPing, I had about 400,” Jarocki said. “Who are you bringing? Who are you evacuating? At the same time we bought pets. Rabbits and horses.”

Wait, bunnies? Who had the rabbit?

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

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

But on Tuesday night, feeder groups rained down on Miami.

“The defense meeting room started leaking and we had a waterfall,” Jarocki said. “The hotel was under construction. Throughout the week, we’re renovating dozens of bedrooms, people’s babies trying to sleep with knights, and obviously dealing with a boardroom with water everywhere. Luckily he didn’t start down the dining room.

Everyone adapted. “When I got there Tuesday night, it was like a family atmosphere,” Jarocki said. “It was really comforting to see the kids running around.”

They created a family room so the kids could play and run around.

It wasn’t ideal. Players had to go through the main entrance. They walked in and out of the hotel wearing helmets and ties.

In fact, they had to collect all their uniforms and equipment because the game could be moved to Denver or Minneapolis.

They had to make contingency plans to get the families back to Tampa Bay if the game was played elsewhere. Flooding on I-75 snarled traffic, and it took the Bucs equipment truck 12 hours to get home Saturday morning.

But the Bucs had three days of practice at the Dolphins’ practice facility.

Back in Tampa, people needed more hotel rooms in case they couldn’t get back home.

“Honestly, we tried our best to make it a road game,” Jarocki said. “Sometimes you could tell it wasn’t.”

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