Rob Gronkowski dances as he and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrate their Super Bowl 55 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs with a boat parade in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday. Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times via AP

TAMPA, Fla. — Even on the water, it seems the connection on and off the field between Super Bowl champions quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski cannot be denied.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers held a boat parade Wednesday to celebrate their championship on a sun-splashed day with thousands of fans lining the Hillsborough River near downtown Tampa.

At one point, Brady was captured on video tossing the NFL’s Lombardi Trophy from his boat across the water to a shirtless Gronkowski in another boat. That brought wild cheers from fans and players.

Of course, Brady threw two touchdown passes to the player affectionately known as “Gronk” in their 31-9 Super Bowl win over the Kansas City Chiefs. They connected numerous times when both were New England Patriots, and Brady lured Gronk out of retirement to play for the Buccaneers.

As the parade came to a close, Coach Bruce Arians said the Buccaneers could easily repeat as champions if the team stays intact. Brady already said he’ll be back.

“We have the best coaching staff in the NFL. And we damn sure have the best players in the NFL,” Arians said. “We’re going to keep the band together.”

Mayor Jane Castor had emphasized that people attending the parade needed to wear masks outdoors and observe social distancing rules.

It appeared many abided by the mask order but many others did not. There were also dozens of people on private boats, kayaks and other watercraft crowding the river to catch a glimpse of the team. They were directed to stay at least 50 feet from the boats carrying players.

After Tampa Bay’s win over Kansas City in Sunday’s title game, throngs of people gathered in the city’s entertainment districts. Many were seen maskless despite the orders requiring them.

For the Tampa Bay players and the team’s fans, celebrating their first Super Bowl win since 2003 was the main attraction on Wednesday.

“We just made history in all the world,” said linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul. “This means so much to me, I’ll do it again. We’re gonna do it again.”

Wide receiver Chris Godwin said the team came together at the right time. After a sluggish start, the Buccaneers reeled off eight straight wins to claim the championship.

“We fought all year. We stuck together. And now we’re world champions,” Godwin said.

Brian Ford, chief operating officer of the Buccaneers, said in video announcement that fans should heed the rules as they celebrate the team’s victory.

“It’s essential we do it the right way,” Ford said. “We want to do our part to ensure it’s done in a safe and responsible manner.”

Also Wednesday, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis lashed out at the news media when he suggested there is bias in coverage of the pandemic, particularly at the Super Bowl in Tampa.

“You don’t care as much when it’s a peaceful protest,” he said at an appearance in the city of Venice, south of Tampa. “You don’t care as much if you’re celebrating a (President Joe) Biden election. You only care about if it’s people you don’t like.”

DeSantis attended the Super Bowl and was photographed at times not wearing a mask despite a requirement to do so.

WASHINGTON: Taylor Heinicke re-signed with Washington on Wednesday, a two-year deal worth $8.75 million. The 27-year-old who was out of football and taking college classes online when he joined the practice squad as “quarantine quarterback” in December now has a full-time job and potentially a chance to compete for the starting role.

Heinicke went toe to toe with Tom Brady in Washington’s wild-card round loss to the Buccaneers. He was 26 of 44 for 306 yards, a touchdown pass and an interception and rushing for a team-high 46 yards and a score. Now he’ll be in Washington’s QB mix, which remains very much in flux. Coach Ron Rivera indicated Kyle Allen will be back but was noncommittal about Comeback Player of the Year Alex Smith being on the roster in 2021.

TEXANS: Jamey Rootes, Houston president for more than 20 years, has resigned in the team’s latest move in an offseason of upheaval. The announcement was made Wednesday and said that Rootes was leaving to pursue interests as a writer, public speaker, consultant and professor at the University of Houston.

Rootes was hired in 2000 as the Texans began preparations for their expansion season in 2002. He was responsible for all of the team’s business functions, including stadium naming rights and sponsorships, ticket sales and coordinating radio and TV broadcasting relationships.

His departure continued the Texans’ offseason turnover. The team hired Coach David Culley and General Manager Nick Caserio last month to replace Bill O’Brien, who held both jobs and was fired after an 0-4 start. The Texans also face uncertainty on the field with star quarterback Deshaun Watson requesting a trade last month.

Houston finished 4-12 last season after reaching the playoffs in the previous two years.

JETS: Former New York Jets star running back/kick returner Leon Washington has been hired by new coach Robert Saleh as a special teams assistant.

Washington’s hiring was announced Wednesday by the team. The 2008 All-Pro returner was also selected to two Pro Bowls during his playing career, which began in 2006 as a fourth-round pick of the Jets out of Florida State and included stints with Seattle, New England and Tennessee.

The 38-year-old Washington will work with special teams coordinator Brant Boyer, who is expected to be retained by Saleh.

Washington spent the last two seasons on Detroit’s staff as part of the team’s William Clay Ford Minority Coaching Assistantship Program. He worked with the special teams and offensive staffs, as well as assisted in the weight room.

BRONCOS: The Denver Broncos are releasing cornerback A.J. Bouye after one tumultuous season, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press.

Bouye’s injury-riddled season in Denver was cut short when he received a six-game suspension in December for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. His suspension still includes two games next season.

Before the suspension, the 29-year-old Bouye was plagued by injuries. He missed four games with a shoulder injury and another with a concussion, plus parts of two other games when he got hurt. Bouye finished the season with just 23 tackles and no interceptions.

Bouye was acquired by the Broncos in a trade with Jacksonville on March 18, 2020. Factoring in roster bonuses, he made about $10.3 million in 2020 and was scheduled to earn in the vicinity of $12 million next season.

BEARS: The Chicago Bears hired former Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine as a senior defensive assistant.

He will work under Sean Desai, who was promoted to replace the retired Chuck Pagano as Chicago’s defensive coordinator.

Pettine had been Green Bay’s defensive coordinator for three seasons – taking over one year before Coach Matt LaFleur’s arrival. The Packers announced he would not return after they lost to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC championship game.

The Packers gave up 56 more points during the 2020 regular season than in 2019, but they improved in most other defensive areas.

Green Bay ranked ninth in total defense and tied for 13th in run defense in 2020 after finishing 18th in total defense and 23rd in run defense a year earlier.


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