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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Who is this man behind Raineymania?

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Published:   |   Updated: November 22, 2013 at 10:15 AM

Raineymania has gripped Tampa. That occurred to me the other day, as I drove down Bobby Rainey Highway (proposed) and past the future home of Bobby Rainey Middle School (proposed) on the way to Bucs headquarters and a chat with our mystery guest.

“Hi, I’m Bobby,” he said, extending his hand.

But who is this guy?

And who wasn’t shaking their head as they asked that question after last Sunday’s game, another victory for the Bucs and for small people and big dreams everywhere? Fresh off fourth string, before that the scrap heap, before that undrafted, overlooked, counted out, all his life, too small. Rainey, listed at 5-8 (a tall tale) has electrified the Bucs, Bucs fans and, for now, this Bucs season. Raineymania is 2-0.

But who is this guy?

Let’s take a stab at it.

In the beginning: Bobby Rainey Jr. was born at 6:02 a.m. on Oct. 16, 1987, at Spalding Regional Hospital in Griffin, Ga. He was a whopper: 8 pounds, 15 ounces. His mother, Janice Davis, said, “When he was born, he was so chubby. The nurse said, ‘You have yourself a little football player.’ ”

The inspiration: Griffin, population 23,643, about 45 miles from downtown Atlanta, is a sports cradle. Rainey’s alma mater, Griffin High School, has produced dozens of pro athletes, especially in football: NFL Hall of Famer Rayfield Wright, Willie Gault, Jessie Tuggle, Sherrod Martin, Chris Clemons, to name a few.

Don’t forget baseball. Rays infielder Tim Beckham, the No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft, played at Griffin. Bobby Rainey was a baseball and basketball teammate.

“Bobby’s the man,” Beckham said. “He’s one of the best athletes and hardest workers. I haven’t come across an athlete with as much heart as Bobby, ever. I can’t even begin to put into words how happy I am he got this chance. If Bobby’s story doesn’t lift you up, you can’t get lifted up.”

The mindset: “Never let any man tell you what you can or can’t do, under any circumstances,” he said.

The nicknames: B. Rainey, Rain Man, Let it Rainey. Or just plain “Man” — that one was given to him by his mother. “He was always just this little man, all grown up,” Janice said.

The competitor: “Bobby competes at everything,” says his fiancée, Kareema Roach. She gave birth to their first child, Kyvee, in late October, six days after Rainey was claimed off waivers by the Bucs. Bobby and Kareema met at Western Kentucky. Bobby was a football star. Kareema ran track. Bobby wanted to race her, right away.

“Bobby is going to try and beat you,” Kareema said. “Bobby is a very strong-headed person. Once he puts his mind to something, he’s going to succeed. He’s very competitive. If you say he can’t do something, he’ll prove you wrong.”

“He’s always out to win,” said Griffin High football coach Steve Devoursney. As a Griffin junior, Bobby played every snap of every game in leading the Bears to the state semifinals. He ran for more than 2,200 yards, played safety and threw most of the passes. “We’d just toss it to Bobby and he’d let it go,” Devoursney said.

The ballad: Rainey ran for more than 1,500 yards for Western Kentucky in both 2010 and 2011. His dashing, darting style prompted Hilltoppers teammates to compose and dance to the song, “Do The Bobby Rainey.” It’s on YouTube ...

Do the Bobby Rainey ... Stop — pose for the fans.

“It was a catchy tune,” said South Florida coach Willie Taggart, who coached Rainey at Western Kentucky. “Everybody was doing the Bobby Rainey, fans, cheerleaders, everybody. Bobby is just one of those guys, always a smile on his face.”

The worker: “Nobody believes like Bobby believes,” said Sidney Harris, Rainey’s lifelong friend and his teammate on the Griffin High teams. “We’d compete at who could throw more paper balls into a garbage pail, or anything,” Harris said. “Bobby had the kind of work ethic that made you look bad if you didn’t come ready. You had no choice but to bring it when Bobby was around.”

Harris added, “I’m a half-inch taller than Bobby.”

The faith: Rainey pounds his chest and points at the sky after touchdowns. “I give all praise to God,” he said.

Before every game in high school, college and the NFL, Rainey has prayed, in person or over the phone, with Robby Milner, the pastor at United Christian Fellowship Church in Griffin. Milner was also an athletics supervisor in Griffin. Rainey would work as a summer camp counselor.

“Kids just gravitate to Bobby,” Milner said. “He tells them they can do anything they put their mind to do. Everybody around here loves ‘The Bobby Rainey Show.’ That’s what we call it.”

The competitor II: “He believes he’s the best one out there,” Taggart said. “He thinks he’s better than Adrian Peterson. Seriously.”

Rainey played behind Ray Rice in Baltimore, Trent Richardson in Cleveland — way behind.

“I don’t look at it as Trent Richardson, Ray Rice or whatever,” Rainey said. “It’s competition. If you’re in front of me, my goal is to get in front of you. Period.”

In the beginning: Kyvee Jolie Rainey was born at 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 27, 2013, at Lourdes Hospital in Kareema’s hometown of Paducah, Ky. She weighed 6 pounds, 14 ounces.

“Words can’t describe it,” Bobby said.

However, there were complications during the delivery. Not with Kyvee, but Bobby.

“Bobby was my breathing coach,” Kareema said with a laugh. “He was sitting right in front of me, doing the breathing with me. The doctor wanted me to stop pushing, but Bobby told me to keep pushing. Like Bobby knew more than the doctor. Bobby thought he did.”

Bobby lets his daughter sleep on top of him.

“She likes to be on my chest,” he said.

Last Sunday: Bobby Rainey’s daughter attended her first football game. Her daddy went wild, 163 yards rushing, three touchdowns. Everyone in his world wasn’t surprised, at all, that he made it, that he did the Bobby Rainey. “Go, Man, go,” Janice yelled as her son ran. Kyvee slept, hardly opening her eyes, “even when the cannons went off,” Kareema said.

Raineymania remains wide awake.

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