Celebration Bowl has NFL players excited, nostalgic

by Donal Ware

Tampa Bay Buccaneers kick returner/defensive back wishes he were playing in the Celebration Bowl on Saturday, the game that pits the SWAC champion against the MEAC champion.

“I do wish that,” said Smith who was selected in the fourth round from North Carolina Central by the Buccaneers in this year’s NFL Draft.  “I feel like we should have went last year… I am just happy the school is on the map and getting the respect it deserves. I’m really happy their making history.”

So does Indianapolis Colts punt returner/wide receiver Chester Rogers formerly of Grambling.

“Man, I wanted to play in it so bad,” said Rogers who signed with the Colts as a free agent in May and is the Colts primary punt returner and second on the Colts depth chart at receiver.  “To come up short [last year], it hurt me, but I had to understand that we were building a bridge for the guys behind us.  They’re going to go to Atlanta and handle business.  They’re ready.  I have all the confidence in them.”

Both players’ former teams will participate in the 2nd Celebration Bowl on Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.  The game will decide the HBCU national champion.

Both were members of their school’s respective teams last year as both teams came up just short of playing in last year’s game.  Alcorn State and North Carolina A&T faced off with the Aggies winning a 41-34 thriller.

Smith’s Buccaneers control their own destiny for a spot in the wild card and still have a chance to win the NFC South.  Smith has progressed over the course of the season and is the primary kick returner for the Buccaneers.  He mostly plays special teams and downed a Bryan Anger punt at the one on Sunday against the Saints, a key play in the Buccaneers victory.  The play earned him the nickname Smooth Criminal in social media circles as the video of the play went viral.

“My whole deal was to keep the ball in bounds.  I didn’t think it would blow up like it did.”

The Colts sit in third place in the tight AFC South, just a game behind the Texans and the Titans.  Because of injuries at wide receiver, Rogers playing time has increased.  He has 12 receptions for 177 yards on the season.  He has 11 punt returns and averages 7.2 yards per return.

Both players say they will be watching the game on Saturday.

Note: Both Smith and Rogers will appear on FROM THE PRESS BOX TO PRESS ROW w/ Donal Ware this weekend.  Click here to wind a radio station in your area that carries the program or tune in Saturday 9a ET/8a CT/7a MT/6a PT on SiriusXM Channel 142.