Bucs’ O.J. Howard beams over postseason crowd at Rays game

The tight end drew attention after catching a foul ball, but he got caught up in the frenzied atmosphere
Bucs tight end O.J. Howard (80) runs a route in the second half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday. Butch Dill  |  AP
Bucs tight end O.J. Howard (80) runs a route in the second half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday. Butch Dill | AP
Published October 9
Updated October 9

TAMPA — The viral buzz over O.J. Howard’s catch of a foul ball at Tuesday’s Rays-Astros playoff game continued to reverberate on Wednesday.

Howard, however, was equally enthused about the Game 4 atmosphere at Tropicana Field.

He got a taste of what Tampa Bay fans would bring to the Bucs if they ever reached the post-season.

“I mean, that’s what we need,’’ Howard said. “I was telling the guys on the team. It wasn’t about the catch, it was about like 30,000 or whatever and it was awesome. I mean, everybody screaming, yelling. We got (Justin) Verlander pitching, we got him off the mound quick.

“You know what your fans and what the city can do when you’re bringing the energy of the playoffs. Hopefully we get a chance to keep playing strong and get that enthusiasm in our stadium.”

The world of the Rays and Bucs collided during the divisional series. Howard, a spectator sitting in right field, made a one-handed catch with his left hand of a foul ball struck by Austin Meadows in the eighth inning.

“I was just talking to my buddy and everybody said, ‘Foul ball!’’’ Howard said. “I saw the ball and I was like, 'Wow, this ball is close. I’m not catching it. My hand is going to be hurt.’ Then it got to where it look like it was going to hit me so I figured I got to do something so I just reached back and caught it. So that’s how it happened. It was a moment.’’

So far this season, the football hasn’t found Howard, who was wearing a Rays cap. He had only a 10-yard reception and was targeted only twice in the Bucs loss to New Orleans Sunday.

Howard has just 11 catches for 141 yards and no touchdowns this season. Tight end Cameron Brate has only 10 catches for 72 yards and a touchdown.

“We’ve had five to eight plays scheduled to go that didn’t look good so we didn’t call them because we didn’t like what we were seeing in areas of the field they can be used,’’ coach Bruce Arians said.

“They’re not doing anything wrong. You’re trying to get the mismatches.’’

Howard played baseball as an outfielder in high school in Alabama. He said the grab was his best of a baseball in his career.

“Oh yeah, by far,’’ Howard said. “I would probably say that beat the state championship in high school right there. At the moment, it was in the playoffs. Big game, big catch. Everybody saw it, so yeah.

“Shoot, I was in right field right there so it was the same type of play,’’ Howard said. “I tucked it in a little bit and brought it in like a football. Things on the field translate to everyday life.’’

Howard has received scores of reaction on Twitter, including one from Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Arians said he was only concerned with the well-being of Howard’s hand when he was watching the Rays game on TV.

“It was like, ‘Okay. Just checking his fingers.’ Everything was okay,’’ Arians said.