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Alstott goes on IR with neck injury that could end career

TAMPA, Fla. -- Mike Alstott's season, and perhaps his career, is over.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday placed the six-time Pro Bowl fullback on injured reserve with a neck problem. Alstott said it is not related to a career-threatening injury that required surgery in 2003.

» Rushes: 28, vs. Minnesota, Oct. 28, 2001
» Rushing yards: 131, vs. Denver, Sept. 26, 1999

» Rushing TDs: 3 (twice), vs. Minnesota, Oct. 28, 2001; at Cincinnati, Dec. 27, 1998

» Long run: 47 (for TD), at Atlanta, Nov. 9, 1997

» Receptions: 8, vs. Oakland, Nov. 10, 1996

» Receiving yards: 91, vs. New Orleans, Nov. 24, 1996

» Long reception: 44 (for TD), at New Orleans, Dec. 1, 2002
» Receiving TDs: 2, vs. Miami, Sept. 21, 1997

Alstott also ranks at, or near the top, of a number of prestigious Buccaneers team career lists. Below is a breakdown ...

"It is what it is. The facts are the facts. I can't put on the helmet and jersey this year," the 33-year-old Alstott, flanked by Bucs general manager Bruce Allen, said during an emotional news conference at the team's headquarters.

"One thing is, you don't mess with the neck. There are always situations where it can be worsened by playing. It is a severe injury and it's a situation you don't mess with."

But Alstott, arguably the most popular player in team history, couldn't bring himself to say that he may have played his last game. He shrugged off several retirement-related questions, saying that's something that will be answered in time.

The team's second all-time rusher with 5,088 yards had been preparing for his 12th season, but became concerned when soreness in his neck persisted as training camp progressed at Disney World.

Tests performed by team doctors revealed a new problem, and the decision to place him on IR was made after Alstott consulted with his personal surgeon, who operated on the fullback during the 2003 season.

"I just want to tell everyone I was ready to play football this year. My mind was set: `I'm playing this game and I'm helping this team.' It's not like I went out there and the body wasn't working," Alstott said.

"Camp was going great, the team was doing great, I was playing well. But some things in life don't allow you to do things sometimes."

Although his role in the offense has diminished every year since the Bucs won the Super Bowl five seasons ago, Alstott is the club's career leader in touchdowns (71) and rushing touchdowns (58). He was selected to appear in six straight Pro Bowls from 1997-2002.

"It's quite emotional because the man loves football, period," Allen said. "Mike is a key component of the Buccaneers. He has been and will be. He's still a member of the team. He will be involved in a lot of the team activities from the injured reserve list."

Alstott, known for his bruising running style, has never been a traditional fullback. His knack for breaking tackles established him as a fan favorite, and his reduced workload has made coach Jon Gruden a target for criticism.

He walked off the field when Tampa Bay's season ended last New Year's Eve, not knowing whether he fit into the team's plans for 2007 or if he even wanted to return after starting 15 games but carrying the ball only 60 times for 171 yards and three TDs.

The Bucs signed him to a one-year, $1.5 million contract during the offseason. He was listed as the starting fullback on the initial depth chart this week, a role that now shifts to B.J. Askew.

Alstott missed the final 12 games in 2003 after undergoing neck surgery. Over the next three seasons, he never had more than 67 carries or gained more than 230 yards while being used primarily in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

He said the latest injury did not occur on any particular play.

"Everybody knows how the first 10 days to two weeks of training camp are. There's a lot of banging, a lot of soreness to the body," Alstott said.

"Your body has to get acclimated to hitting again. There wasn't any one particular situation. It was just soreness and fighting through it. The rest of the body was not sore any more, but the neck was. When that didn't clear up after doing whatever we could do as far as treatment, we got further tests."

Alstott stressed he plans to be around the team as much as possible during the upcoming season.

"I'm a Buc, I always will be a Buc," said Alstott, one of eight players remaining from the Super Bowl team, along with Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly, Greg Spires, Ellis Wyms, Jermaine Phillips and Michael Pittman.

"It's my team. It's Brooks' team. It's Ronde's team. We grew up in this organization and we're going to turn this thing around together and win another Super Bowl, even if I can't put on a helmet this year. They need me. I need them."

Gruden did not attend the press conference, but issued a statement.

"Any time you lose a player for the season, it is a difficult situation," the coach said. "And when you are talking about the A-train, his loss will be felt not only on the field, but in the locker room."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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