Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Alterraun Verner rarely shows emotion on or off the football field. If he has gotten beaten for a touchdown or grabs the game-saving interception, Verner is usually as calm as a gentle breeze.
But Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks was different for Verner and the Buccaneers. Verner’s father Robert Lee Verner passed on Friday, and there was his son, taking his spot in the Buccaneers’ secondary in nickel situations. It would have been what his father had wanted and it is what Verner himself has displayed since his arrival to Tampa Bay, being a professional despite everything around him. So wearing a shirt underneath his uniform that showed him and his dad together, Verner played.
And when Verner picked off a Russell Wilson pass late in the second quarter and was mobbed by his teammates, the seventh-year corner out of UCLA became visibly emotional.
“I just knew what his response would have been with some of the stuff that was going on out there,” Verner said following the Buccaneers’ 14-5 victory. “He just would have been smiling and been very, very proud. I was just thinking about how he was reacting, so I was definitely thinking about him.”
“My dad was my biggest fan,” he said. “He made so many sacrifices for me to get to where I am today and I just know he wouldn’t want him to be the cause for me not to play, so that’s why I decided to play. I wanted to honor him knowing all that he did to try to get me to where I am today.”
He ended up with two pass breakups, two tackles and the interception against Seattle. It was by far his most impactful game of the season for the Buccaneers.
“That was incredible,” said Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. “I looked up and it was almost like Atlanta last year, when you watched (linebacker Kwon Alexander) play when he lost a family member. It was almost the same thing and we’re just happy for him, that passion. You knew he was hurting but he played his heart out.”
Verner was going to play because he knew no other way. He was always raised to be his best even when odds were against him. And his time with the Buccaneers hasn’t been the easiest.
After making the Pro Bowl in 2013 with Tennessee, Verner signed a free-agent deal with the Buccaneers in 2014. In 14 starts, Verner had 76 tackles to go with nine pass breakups, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
The following season, however, Verner found himself in then coach Lovie Smith’s doghouse. He played in all 16 games but lost his starting job and was shuffled from starter to nickel to reserve. But Verner didn’t argue. He just continued to work.
This season has been just as tough. He began the season as a starter but lost his job to rookie first-round draft pick Vernon Hargreaves. He was moved to playing on nickel downs but soon found himself just playing on special teams and not seeing any action on defense.
Still, Verner didn’t raise a peep and kept working. He got back into defensive action last week against Kansas City after Brent Grimes went down with an injury and ended up with two pass breakups and three tackles.
With Jude Adjei-Barimah starting to serve a four-game suspension, Verner was going to be back into the rotation at nickel for the Seattle game. Then his father passed.
Yet, Verner had no intention of missing the contest. That is how he was taught. That is how he is made. When tough times come, he becomes tougher.
“Like I said, he sacrificed so much for me to reach my goals,” Verner said. “Not even just from a football sense but just life sense and advice and just being there for me and just caring for me. He was everything for me and I’m just happy to continue to try to make him proud and I know he’s looking down on me.”