Greg White wanted to believe it, but he wouldn't let himself.
Friends had called him Saturday night after Tampa Bay's 53-man roster was unveiled. White was on it. Congratulatory calls were met with skepticism by White.
You see, when you've spent your entire pro football career on a first-name basis with "The Turk," the grim reaper of the NFL, you're not inclined to believe what you hear.
"Saturday night I had people calling me saying, ‘Hey we were on the Internet and we saw that you made the team,' And I was like, ‘Yeah, uh, thanks,'" White said. "That's the Internet, you know what I mean? That's not always true."
So White showed up at Tampa Bay's training facility at 7 a.m. Sunday morning, long before the rest of the team. He had to know for sure.
The first stop? The locker room. He poked his head in to see if his locker was still there.
Next stop, the equipment room. He had to check on one more thing.
"Then I went to go talk to the equipment manager and I said, ‘Hey, can I change my number?'" White said. "And he said, ‘Yeah.' And I was like, ‘All right!' That's when it hit me."
Actually, it may still be sinking in.
"I still don't think it's totally hit me yet," White said, with a Buccaneers visor setting crooked on his head and a big smile on his wide face. "I don't think it will until we're in Seattle on Sunday. I'm going to be like, ‘I'm really here.' So I'm excited. I'm really excited."
White tried for 10 more minutes to describe his excitement about making his first pro football roster. It wouldn't have surprised anyone to see White do one of his patented standing backflips. The 6-foot-3, 285-pound pass rusher can actually do that.
But his journey better illustrates the payoff.
Just a couple of months ago White chased quarterbacks around the Arena Football League for the Orlando Predators. The league's coaches named him the AFL Defensive Player of the Year after setting league records for sacks (15) and tackles for a loss (17) in a season. He also earned AFL Lineman of the Year and First-Team honors.
That was enough to earn White a tryout with Tampa Bay on Aug. 4, thanks to his Predators head coach, Jay Gruden, the brother of Bucs head coach Jon Gruden.
"He didn't necessarily want to come try out," Jay said. "I had to make him do it. He was happy in Orlando. He was making good money there. He was our highest paid player. But I felt this was something he had to do, and deep down inside I think he knew this was something he had to try one more time."
At that time, he was nothing more than a footnote, camp fodder if you will.
But as White played, coaches noticed. Teammates noticed. Fans noticed. And he did something he never expected.
He made the team.
"I really didn't think I was going to make the 53-man roster, but I just kept pushing," White said. "Don't get me wrong — I'm tired right now, but I'm ecstatic. I'm just tired. Even when we're doing walkthroughs, you have to go lift afterward. I'm tired."
White is the type of lineman the Bucs like when it comes to creating depth. His position in the AFL was an end, but in reality it's the AFL's version of the under tackle, because White lined up shaded over the center and tackle-guard.
Tampa Bay has used White as a pass-rushing end and tackle during the preseason and he notched seven tackles and a sack, in addition to a pass defended.
"Monte's (Bucs defensive coordinator Kiffin) really happy with that kid, and I am, too," Jon Gruden said. "Greg won us the game the other night with the late pressure and had a couple other pressures, high-effort plays. If you don't discriminate and you just keep the best players, Greg White is one of the best. He's an explosive man, he's got natural pass rush. I just think the more he plays and gets acclimated to the 11-man game and his overall conditioning, he's a threat. He's a threat to rush, he's a threat to play and we're really pleased with what he's shown."
But it could have happened so much sooner for White. He just never seemed to catch the right break.
Houston drafted him 2002 in the seventh round. He bounced from practice squad to practice squad. Washington, New Orleans, Tennessee, Atlanta and — yes — Tampa Bay had him for a time. Chicago signed him in 2005 and allocated him to NFL Europe. He nearly made the team with the Bears that year.
He got as far as the meeting room that time.
"The year I was in Chicago, there was a nine o'clock meeting and nothing had happened," White said. "They let me get all the way to the meeting room — and they say once you're in the meeting room, you're safe. I got in and was tapped on the shoulder and the guy said, ‘Come with me.' So I wouldn't have been surprised if I had come in Sunday morning and said I wasn't on the team because I've been there."
He joined Orlando in 2006 and was an all-rookie selection. He overcame a shoulder surgery in the offseason to become the AFL's top defensive player in 2007.
Jay Gruden said the decision to recommend White to the Bucs — who were looking for extra pass rushers after the release of Simeon Rice — was an easy one.
"He'a s guy that never complains about anything," Jay said. "He comes to work every day and he tries to get better. He's talented. Very easily in our league (AFL) he could have just been a bad guy to be around because he's such a dominant guy. But he came out and practiced hard, was a good captain for us and when you see a guy like that get rewarded it makes you feel like you're doing something worthwhile."
White can't stop working, though. He's a fringe player on a team that went 4-12 last year. The Buccaneers are always looking to upgrade their roster. There's plenty of reasons for White to look over his shoulder.
But this week, it's all about Seattle. It's all about the journey.
It's all about the payoff.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is also a contributor to the Scot Brantley Show from 4-7 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1490-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.