Robert DuBoise's life has been returned to him after he spent almost four decades in prison for a murder he did not commit. Experiencing a rebirth of their own, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are helping the former death row inmate figure out what to do with it next.
By Jeffri Chadiha | Jan. 26, 2020
On the night of Nov. 23, as an excited crowd of 15,730 fans settled into their seats inside Raymond James Stadium, a 56-year-old man leaned over a railing and stared down into the tunnel where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gathered. He had thinning, grayish-black hair, and a pewter Bucs jersey bearing the No. 1 covered his slender torso. COVID-19 protocols stipulated that he keep his mouth and nose covered by a mask, but there was little doubt Robert DuBoise was smiling. After serving nearly 37 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, he was about to watch his first football game in person, as a special guest of the Buccaneers.
DuBoise's eyes lit up as the players huddled together before jogging out to face the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football. He scanned the group in search of Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa, two Bucs guards who had been so inspired by DuBoise's story, they arranged a Zoom call with him following his release in August. DuBoise eventually noticed another Bucs lineman who had been on that same call, left tackle Donovan Smith, who waved frantically to attract DuBoise's attention.
"He was right there," Smith said. "I don't even think he recognized me or even knew who I was at first until I yelled. I'm like, 'Yo, Robert, what's up?' And then you saw him smile."
Of all the people in that stadium that night, DuBoise might have been the only one who wasn't upset that the Bucs ultimately lost. His life had taught him far more about serious trauma: wrongfully convicted of murder as a teenager, caged with killers on death row for years, forced to watch decades pass by as so many people in power ignored his pleas for justice. Those Bucs players knew all this when they reached out to DuBoise. Like the three friends who attended that game with him -- as well as all the others who stuck with them through his journey -- they wanted to make sure his new lease on life started with as much support as possible.
So DuBoise was there because the Bucs wanted to make him feel good. What he couldn't grasp was how much of an impact he'd already made on them.
"The most shocking thing for me after talking to him was his appreciation," Marpet said. "I think it would be totally justified for him to be pissed off. And the most surprising thing for me is his gratitude for freedom."