TAMPA, Fla. -- He left the locker room Saturday evening with tears glistening in his eyes, and his collision-cratered football helmet under his right arm, and Tampa Bay fullback Mike Alstott conceded he will spend the next few weeks considering his future.
From the tone of his voice, it certainly sounded like the man known as the "A-Train," one of the most popular players in Bucs history, was headed permanently to the depot.
"I don't know yet," said Alstott, a 10-year veteran and six-time Pro Bowl performer who played well in 2005 after regaining his spot as the team's short-yardage specialist. "I know that a decision has to be made, and it definitely will be, but it's hard to talk about it after a game like this one. But it's coming."
For perhaps the final time, Alstott repeated what has become a ritual at every home game this season, returning to the field for a game of touch football with son Griffin, 6. As his wife Nicole watched, joined by thousands of empty seats, Alstott frolicked with his son, and then concluded the faux game with Griffin attempting a field goal, before the three drove off in a golf cart.
There could be plenty of golf in Alstott's future if he decides his body has absorbed too much for an 11th season. While his teammates clearly want Alstott back, Bucs officials have remained mostly silent about whether he is in the plans for 2006. Alstott had to restructure his contract for this year just to remain with the club and his $2 million base salary for each of the next three seasons might not squeeze into the typically tight cap situation with which general manager Bruce Allen will again have to navigate.
Beyond that, the Tampa Bay roster includes some talented, younger fullbacks.
"If he [retires]," allowed defensive end Simeon Rice, "it won't be the same. He's been one of the main guys around here for a long time. He sort of [personifies] this team. He pretty much represents the mindset we've had around here."
Where his mindset is right now, only Alstott knows, but it may be that the rigors of the game have taken a toll. As his beat-up helmet would attest, Alstott, 32, spent most of his career leading with his head and in 2003 he underwent neck surgery many felt would end his playing days. He appeared in a career-low four games that season and, even though he was productive in 2005, when he scored seven touchdowns, his role has been reduced.
In his first six seasons, Alstott averaged 15.3 starts. Over the last four seasons, he has started only 30 contests. He has appeared in 142 games and started 122 of them.
The former Purdue standout, a second-round choice in the 1996 draft, has rushed for 4,917 yards and 55 touchdowns on 1,299 carries. Alstott also has 284 receptions for 2,199 yards and 13 touchdowns. His 68 touchdowns are a franchise record and his rushing yards are the second most in Bucs history.
Alstott will take a little time, after a season that ended abruptly with the Saturday loss to the Washington Redskins, a defeat that left Bucs players stunned, to mull his future. But he will not drag out the decision or over-agonize on his plans. In fact, it certainly seemed, as he spoke principally in the past tense Saturday evening, that Alstott is leaning toward putting the helmet he carted out of the locker room on the mantle, not on his head again.
"It's been fun," Alstott said. "A lot of fun."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.