WHEN THE BUCS set out to build the best practice facility in pro football last year, they started from an always-interesting place to be in the NFL: the bottom of the pile. Their 30-year-old cinder block building, known as One Buc Place, was among the grungiest headquarters in the league. Space was so tight that in preseason, players tripled up on lockers. There were only five working showerheads for the entire team, and the weight room was so small that most equipment was outside under a tarp. Then there were the vermin, whose life was enhanced by players having to eat meals in a hallway. "There were so many rats, we started naming them," says former Tampa Bay linebacker and current scout Shelton Quarles.
Some $30 million later the Bucs have One Buc Palace. Some perks of the new, 145,000-square-foot facility: three pristine bermuda-grass practice fields; a 10,000-square-foot weight room with 70 machines, many programmed for players' specific workouts; a plush lounge with a 60-inch flat screen TV; two pool tables; a bank of video games; and an 88-seat dining room where players are served three meals a day prepared by a chef trained at the Culinary Institute of America. There are also more than 50 computer stations where players can pull up film of any play from any NFL game from the past four seasons.
The Palace is a particular boon to trainer Todd Toriscelli, who has 12 training tables (up from five in the old place) as well as a cutting-edge "hydro-room" with a 50° pool, a 105° pool and a pool with a treadmill floor for players rehabbing leg and back injuries—such as QB Jeff Garcia.
Coach Jon Gruden believes the Palace will be a "great selling point" in luring free agents, and the facility may be one reason why Tampa Bay, 9--6 after losing to the 49ers on Sunday, won the NFC South this season. Several Bucs say the facility has helped the team bond and get in better shape. "You're more willing to hang out longer and train longer," says cornerback Ronde Barber. "It's actually pleasant to come to work now."
The Pop Culture Grid
How do sports stars fit in?
Favorite holiday song
New Year's Resolution
Celeb that should take it easy in 2008
Gossip story of the year
On New Year's Eve, I plan to ...
MO WILLIAMS Bucks G
To have as stressless a day as possible
The Barry Bonds situation
Be in Miami ... on the beach
JASON WITTEN Cowboys, TE
The 12 Days of Christmas
To win the Super Bowl
Anything Tony Romo
No plans yet
CORY STILLMAN Hurricanes, LW
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
To keep improving
Britney Spears. She needs to watch herself
Play hockey and win
MICHAEL HEAPE (TAMPA BAY)
BUFF AND BONDED Barber, far left with Quarles, Mike Alstott and Derrick Brooks, says the new facility has led to a fitter, and closer, team.
WATERFORD CRYSTAL/AP (CRYSTAL)
HARAZ N. GHANBARI/REUTERS (VICK)
HEINZ KLUETMEIER (BONDS)
JOHN IACONO (TROPHY)
ILLUSTRATION BY DANIEL JIMENEZ (RUDOLPH)
KARL DEBLAKER/AP (STILLMAN)
BOB ROSATO (WITTEN)
DARRELL WALKER/ICON SMI (WILLIAMS)