Gerald McCoy had a career-high five sacks in 2012 and led the Buccaneers’ defense with 16 quarterback hits. He racked up nine more tackles in the opposing backfield and was a linchpin in the NFL’s top-ranked rushing defense. He was rewarded in December with his first Pro Bowl berth and by some measures was among the best defensive tackles in all of football in his third pro campaign.
Beyond all those stats and honors, however, is one number that meant the most to McCoy, to the point that he almost choked up a bit before and after the Buccaneers’ season-ending win in Atlanta two weeks ago. That number is 16, as in games played in 2012, as in all of them.
McCoy, of course, was the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft and a player assumed to be destined for greatness after his spectacular college career at Oklahoma. And he most definitely showed signs of that potential stardom during parts of 2010 and 2011, especially in the first month of his second season. Unfortunately, the most memorable part of the story of McCoy’s first two NFL years were a pair of bicep injuries, one to each arm, each one bringing a season to an end.
Those freak accidents, which occurred relatively late in 2010 but early in 2011, not only suppressed his raw numbers but also had several other unfortunate effects. They unsurprisingly kicked off whispers of McCoy being “injury prone,” and they meant his first two full NFL offseasons were as much about rehabilitation as refinement of his game.
And so he made no secret of the fact that playing in all 16 games in 2012 was a major goal of his, no matter what other numbers might follow. He knew he wasn’t injury prone, but McCoy, who leans heavily on his faith, also did not know what God’s plan for him was. He desperately wanted to experience Week 17 in the NFL – preferably with a playoff spot on the line, but not everything went according to plan – and that’s why he had some raw emotions in Atlanta on December 30.
“I kind of got emotional in the locker room after the game,” he recounted. “I started thinking through everything I went through to get to that point. I told the guys before the game – the D-Line always does a little breakdown – I told them, ‘Man, you’ve got to look at this game as a privilege and a blessing and an honor to play, because I’ve never seen this week before.’ This is my third season and it’s my first time seeing it. I kind of got emotional.”
“It was a long journey. To a lot of people, it may not mean anything, but if you’ve never been through what I’ve been through then you wouldn’t understand.”
So now, no more whispers. And, even more importantly, McCoy gets to walk into the 2013 offseason with a fresh slate and nothing holding him back from the field. He made impressive strides between his first and second season and between his second and third, despite the necessary rehab, so there’s reason to believe that a more comprehensive spring and summer of work will push his game to yet another level.
However, he does have one more game to play, after all. His Bucs aren’t in the playoffs this month, but he’ll be headed to Hawaii at the end of January to take part in the 2013 Pro Bowl. So maybe McCoy’s favorite number of 2012 was actually 17.
“It’s going to be great,” said McCoy of his upcoming Pro Bowl experience. “It’s not the game I’d rather be playing in but, shoot, I definitely don’t mind it. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m just going to take it all in enjoy it and just have fun with it.”