St. Petersburg man gets 600th Tom Brady touchdown ball, gives it back
Bedecked in an old school Mike Evans No. 13 jersey, Byron Kennedy was standing at the intersection of surreal and historic when the two converged Sunday afternoon. In that improbable moment, Kennedy, a 29-year-old St. Petersburg High alumnus, literally was handed a priceless NFL memento by Evans himself — only to hand it right back moments later. "I was hesitant to give it back," Kennedy said.

Seated in the front row of the north end zone at Raymond James Stadium with longtime buddy (and season ticket holder) Riley Carvalis, Kennedy watched Evans snag a 9-yard Tom Brady touchdown pass in the first quarter's waning moments. Unbeknownst to him — and Evans, evidently — it was Brady's 600th touchdown toss.

"I was taking a video, and I switched it to my face, and then I went to switch it back to facing (the field), and when I did that, Mike Evans was running at me," said Kennedy, a resident at Largo Medical Center. "Right when I looked down, he jumped up and gave me a hug and handed me the ball."

Shortly thereafter, a Bucs staffer approached Kennedy, indicating Brady wanted the ball. "I said, 'You're going to have to go give that guy two jerseys to get that ball back,'" Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. "It was like, 'Either give him two of Tom's (jerseys), but you need to get that ball back for him.'"

Kennedy said late Sunday night he hadn't yet received anything from the Bucs, who were believed to be putting together some type of reward package for him. Brady, who brought the ball (concealed in a duffel bag) to his postgame news conference, called Kennedy's gesture "pretty cool." "He's going to get something nice in return, so we'll get him a helmet or a couple of jerseys or some other stuff," Brady said. "It was really cool of (Kennedy) to do that."

Evans wasn't made available to reporters after the game, but later tweeted: "Sorry big bro glad that priceless legendary item was retrieved," followed by praying hands and goat emojis. Ken Goldin, founder of Goldin Auctions (specializing in collectibles, trading cards and memorabilia) indicated via Twitter that the ball "easily" could go for $500,000. "I knew how much it meant to Tom," said Kennedy, who was given a different ball after handing over the historic one, "and I was willing to trade."

Joey Knight, The Tampa Times, published 25 October 2021