Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Antony Auclair, of Canada, watches the special teams during an NFL football practice Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris O'Meara

Canadian Antony Auclair, Tampa Bay Buccaneers preparing to face Chiefs in Super Bowl

Canadian Antony Auclair, Tampa Bay Buccaneers preparing to face Chiefs in Super Bowl

Canadian tight end Antony Auclair is still having trouble accepting that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be the first team in NFL history to play in a Super Bowl in their home city.

The Buccaneers punched their ticket to the NFL’s marquee game with a 31-26 road win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. So Tampa Bay will have home-field advantage when its faces the defending-champion Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 7 at Raymond James Stadium.

“I just don’t realize it fully yet,” Auclair said Thursday during a video conference. “I haven’t been sleeping well the past couple of days, I’m so excited, man.

“It’s just a crazy year with COVID and all the protocols we’ve been through. Not having that many fans at games, it has felt so much different but it’s unbelievable to be here.”

The six-foot-six, 256-pound Auclair, in his fourth season with Tampa Bay, will become the 17th Canadian to appear in a Super Bowl. If the Buccaneers win, the 27-year-old native of Notre-Dame-des-Pins, Que., will become the 10th Canuck to play on a victorious squad.

Guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, of Mont-Sainte-Hilaire, Que., was a starter last year in Kansas City’s 31-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. But Duvernay-Tardif, who received his medical degree from McGill in 2018, won’t appear in this year’s game.

Last summer he became the first NFL player to opt out of the 2020 season, choosing instead to work as an orderly at a Montreal long-term care facility. Another Canadian, offensive lineman Ryan Hunter of North Bay, Ont., was also on the Chiefs’ 53-man roster last year but was inactive for the Super Bowl and is currently with the Los Angeles Chargers.

All three players share the same agent, Montreal-based Sasha Ghavami.

Auclair said Duvernay-Tardif has yet to reach out to him. But Auclair’s goal this year was to meet up with his provincial counterpart in this year’s Super Bowl.

“That would’ve been sick just to play against him in the Super Bowl,” Auclair said. “It might be in another year.”

Tampa Bay made headlines this off-season with the addition of quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski. Brady, 43, who won six Super Bowls with New England, will make his 10th career appearance in the NFL’s marquee game and is just the fourth NFL quarterback to reach the title game with multiple franchises.

“He’s got to be the greatest teammate of all time,” Auclair said of Brady. “It gives you a lot of confidence to know this guy trusts you.

“That’s big as a rookie, that’s big for a player like me who’s not even from the States. Just to get his confidence and trust in you, that’s a lot for me and a lot of guys.”

Gronkowski has established himself as one of the NFL’s tight ends but Auclair said he also comes by his fun-loving persona honestly.

“I’m with Gronk all day every day and this guy is funny,” Auclair said. “Gronk is always smiling, it’s hard to be down when you’re around that guy.

“It’s cool to be around those guys. They work so hard and they’re consistent with their work. They’re very good examples for me.”

Auclair signed with Tampa Bay as an undrafted free agent out of Laval and is the first player in that school’s rich football history to crack an NFL roster. Auclair has started 20-of-40 career NFL games and is used primarily as a blocking tight end, having recorded just 10 career receptions for 84 yards with the Bucs.

Auclair said not being very involved in the Bucs’ passing game is sometimes difficult to accept.

“Sometimes it’s tough because you don’t get as much credit blocking big guys,” he said. “If I block a D-end and Gronk is catching the ball 30 yards downfield and scores, they won’t see me out there blocking for him but it’s called an assist.

“Sometimes it’s hard but I don’t really mind it because I love my role and playing football.”

Auclair, who played quarterback before joining the Rouge et Or, credits Laval and head coach Glen Constantin for preparing him to make the huge jump from Canadian university football to the NFL.

“The way he prepared me, the whole organization prepared me to get here just by doing things in a professional way,” Auclair said. “The biggest difference was the speed of the game.

“I used to play Canadian football in college and now I’m here in the NFL trying to figure out my English, the rules, everything was kind of hard at first. But I used to play football all the time growing up, I used to play Madden all the time growing up so I kind of knew those nuances.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2021.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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