The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 3-4 and just defeated their division rival Atlanta Falcons 23-20 in overtime, to send Matt Ryan and company to 6-2. This isn't the story of the game.
Buccaneers rookie linebacker Kwon Alexander is 21 years old and was a 4th round pick out of Louisiana State. He has started all seven games this season and he posted 11 tackles, an interception, and ripped the ball out of Julio Jones' hands as a forced fumble. He had a second interception in the end zone and he returned it 93 yards, but it was called back due to an offsides. That's an incredible day and you can watch the highlights here.
What elevates this game into something transcendent was the circumstances surrounding Alexander. Less than 48 hours before the game, his 17-year-old brother was killed.
"It's been hard, man," Alexander said, via ESPN. "He was my little brother, but I know he'd want me to be strong for him, and I came out here and dedicated this game to him. [I was] very determined because [he] wanted me to do it. All he wanted me to do is ball, so dedicated it to him."
A special moment came after the game when former New England Patriots offensive guard Logan Mankins presented Alexander with the game ball. Head coach Lovie Smith called Mankins to the center of the room.
"What this guy did today was something special," Mankins said, placing his arm around Alexander while the rookie buried his face in a towel. "Playing under those circumstances, my hat's off. And to play the way you did? Two turnovers? Man, I got a lot of respect for what you did today."
Leadership is knowing when to speak and when to listen, understanding what has to be said, and what has to be done. In such a raw situation as the postgame locker room, Mankins physical presence was more important than what he said.
"Just losing my brother, and them being there, my brothers, I appreciate them," Alexander said, via ESPN. "It means so much to me that they're there for me."
It's unfortunate that any player should have to play under these circumstances, but I thought you would all appreciate the leadership that Mankins showed at a crucial moment.
"He's just everything you're looking for in a leader," head coach Lovie Smith said about Mankins before the season. "I'm talking about a guy that's going to set the right example, say things that need to be said at the perfect time."
My thoughts are with Alexander as he continues his emotional journey, but with people like Mankins surrounding him, I'm sure he'll have the perfect support network to carry on.