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Sunday, September 28, 2008
Matt Bryant's strength goes beyond the game

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

 
 Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
 Tampa Bay's Matt Bryant showed up for work Sunday to kick a game-winning field goal just one day after burying his baby son.

TAMPA, Fla. -- As he stood outside the media room in Raymond James Stadium, Matt Bryant had a game-winning field goal in his back pocket and the most blank look you've ever seen on his face.

On the other side of the door, coach Jon Gruden was praising the Buccaneers for their 30-21 victory over the Green Bay Packers. In the hallway, Bryant alternately eyed four reporters and a Coke machine for a few minutes with no expression, nothing even close to a hint that his 24-yard field goal with two minutes, 26 seconds remaining had put the Bucs ahead to stay.

Gruden finished, Bryant stepped into the room in front of the cameras and the microphones and that's when his emotions started spilling out.

It had to be done, Bryant said.

"I wanted to honor Tryson's name," Bryant said. "I didn't think it was very fair for his life to end so short. This is the best way, I believe that I could get out and honor him. I miss him. I wish he was here. But he was here with me. He helped out."

Tryson is Matthew Tryson Bryant. He was born June 16 and was the youngest child of Matt and Melissa Bryant. He died Wednesday.

Tryson was buried in Texas on Saturday. On Sunday, his dad did the only thing he could. He kicked.

"Today was his day," Bryant said. "It was all about him for me. I talked with him personally in my head throughout the game. I just want to remind him that he's my baby boy and he's with me all the time."

The conversation with Tryson might have been the only thing Bryant heard very clearly. He knew the fans cheered louder than normal when he kicked off to start the game and as he made three extra points and three field goals. He pointed to the sky after each one, but, afterward, Bryant just looked numb.

"I was so drained and tired," Bryant said. "I tried my best it wasn't that great, but we got the win."

Bryant's voice trailed off as he mentioned the win. There was no sound of consolation. Five nights earlier, Tryson had gone to bed a healthy and happy baby. Four mornings ago, Tryson didn't wake up.

The Bryants -- and the world -- don't know why. It will take several weeks for an autopsy report to be completed. All Matt knows for sure is the three months he had with Tryson were special.

"He was an extremely happy baby," Bryant said. "He smiled. All you had to do was talk to him, talk softly."

Bryant talked softly in the five minutes or so he spent with the media. But, out on the field, his leg did plenty of talking about his character. His teammates spoke with amazement at his performance.

"It's the story of the day," quarterback Brian Griese said. "I'm really happy for him. I'm not too philosophical, but having a two-year-old daughter myself, I don't know how you progress through something like that."

Nobody knows. All Bryant and his family can do is try to go on.

"My heart goes out to him, but my hat goes off to him," defensive end Kevin Carter said.

Maybe Sunday was the start of the healing process or maybe it didn't mean much at all to hearts that are broken and numb.

"I really didn't know what I needed today," Bryant said. "I mean, I just buried my son yesterday. I guess it was good to get out in the sun. It worked out ok."

The idea of sitting out the game crossed Bryant's mind briefly. That didn't happen as he traveled to Texas and back and showed up in the locker room Sunday morning.

"I think this game may have helped keep his mind busy, not even take his mind off of it, not even something to help him get over it," center Jeff Faine said. "I think it just helped keep his mind busy for a minute or two."

In those moments he stood outside the media room, Bryant asked the reporters what date it was. He then realized Monday is his son Tre's second birthday. Bryant knows he must go on and Monday will be for Tre.

But Sunday was for Tryson.

"I didn't want to have a bad game today," Bryant said. "I wanted to be focused to lift Tryson up, to put him in the spotlight. I was going to go 3-for-3 today. It didn't matter. I wasn't going to let anything screw up the day when I had the opportunity to acknowledge him again."