Commentary | Tampa Bay Buccaneers find blessing in Bobby Rainey

November 18, 2013 

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Houston Texans' Brandon Harris (26) is called for pass interference as Oakland Raiders' Rod Streater (80) catches a pass during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, in Houston. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

TONY GUTIERREZ — AP

TAMPA

Meet Bobby Rainey, street walker turned savior.

For those who never heard of Rainey until about a week ago, his notoriety is a flash in the night.

To the Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back, it was slow and painful.

A simple phrase kept Rainey going.

"No man can tell another man what he cannot do," he said Sunday after leading the Bucs to their 41-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium.

NFL teams were frightened by his size at 5-foot-8 and 212 pounds when Rainey left Western Kentucky as the school's career rushing leader after the 2011 season.

Rainey was an undrafted free agent who signed with Baltimore last season and never saw the field.

He played a little with Cleveland this year and was cut, finishing with 34 yards rushing.

Rainey kept walking the streets and waiting and hoping.

Beset with a slew of injuries, the Bucs were desperate, and Rainey got himself a job.

He was the third-string running back behind Mike James and Brian Leonard.

He seemed like a nice acquisition to provide a little insurance. After a few workouts, that perception changed.

Gerald McCoy saw enough of Rainey in practice one day to know the Bucs latched onto something special in the guy he describes as tiny, but stout and strong.

"He shook me so bad one time in practice, I was like, 'Man if they ever put him in the

game, he's going to kill it. I was like man that's not a scout team running back," the Pro Bowl defensive lineman said.

Rainey might be small, but he doesn't think small.

He learned the playbook quickly. He had a feeling.

Last week, James broke his ankle, and Rainey backed up Leonard and ran for 45 yards on eight carries and a touchdown.

Rainey ran himself into the hearts of every Tampa Bay fan Sunday, rushing for 163 yards and two touchdowns while adding a four-yard TD reception.

After the game, Rainey was running along the stands slapping fans with high fives while wearing the biggest grin.

"I felt like a winner, and I loved giving the fans something to cheer about," Rainey said. "Coming off the big win last Monday and then to come back and do it again, it's not just for us. It's for the fans."

The fans may have enjoyed it, but this was for Rainey and all those running backs who measure under 5-8. He heard so many times how he couldn't.

"That is my motivation, people telling me what I can and cannot do. You can do anything," Rainey repeated.

The Georgia native was just 7 years old when he played his first game of football. He grew up idolizing those smallish running backs like Barry Sanders and Warrick Dunn.

"Us little guys have to stick up for each other," Rainey said. "I always thought I could play in this league. I saw myself doing it when I was a little kid. It's hard what I went through last year, but you have to be patient."

Rainey is hard to find running behind those mammoth offensive linemen. When he gets into the open he is hard to bring down because of his shiftiness. He is easy to miss, but Rainey says that's by design.

"I am small, and I don't like to take a lot of hits," Rainey said. "I try to avoid hits because that's how you stay in the league. Guys like Dunn never took a lot of hits."

If your glass is half full, the Bucs are 2-0 for the second half of the season.

They lost their first eight games, and in head coach Greg Schiano, there are mixed emotions. In Rainey, there is nothing but love.

He has becoming a symbol of hope. He is proof that you don't ever give up.

With victories over dysfunctional Miami and injury-riddled Atlanta, it's hard to tell if the Bucs are improved or benefactor of a nice two-game stretch in the schedule.

We will find out soon.

There is Detroit and Carolina on the road coming up next. They will provide the answer.

Right now Rainey is The Answer. Move over Allen Iverson; you are retired.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter at@ADellSports.

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