I have been a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan for a long time. I know that many people say that about certain teams, saying things like, “Oh, I liked them waaay before this or that…” But with the Bucs, we old timers went through a lot of pain… more than any fan should have to endure. We were the underdogs and if we lost it was expected of us but when we won… it was so sweet.
During our first two seasons we couldn’t win a game. On one such loss coach McKay was asked about his team’s execution and he fired back with, “I think it’s a pretty good idea!” Brief successes only twisted the knife in those early years, we couldn’t get a break even with coaches like Ray Perkins and Sam Wyche.
I remember watching Doug Williams play. He brought excitement every time he touched the ball and could scramble out of the pocket and throw on the run better than anything. Unfortunately we lost Doug because of a salary dispute with Hugh “tight purse strings” Culverhouse (he was being paid less than some backups playing the position) and he eventually went to the Redskins, winning a Super Bowl.
But in those early years there were some highlights. Steve DeBerg at quarterback was one of the toughest guys I have ever seen play the position and remains to be one of my all time favorites. Ricky Bell, James Wilder and Lee Roy Selmon were our earliest stars. I remember during one game Archie Manning of the Saints (Payton and Eli Manning’s pop) had declared “It would be disgraceful to lose to the Bucs” only to end up losing the game to chants of “It’s disgraceful!! How disgraceful!” from our defense. Still makes me smile.
We drafted Bo Jackson but he refused to play for us and sat out the season playing baseball instead. Which was too bad because when he did play finally (after he had been traded) he suffered a career ending injury. We lost Steve Young who went on to win the Super Bowl with the 49’s. Come to think of it, we dumped Trent Dilfer who went on to win a Super Bowl with the Ravens and we dumped Tony Dungy who went on to win a Super Bowl with the Colts. Actually both Dungy and Dilfer COULD have won a Super Bowl together in 2000 except for a play called on the field that was reversed and cost us the game when we were playing the Rams for the NFC Championship. That pass interference call should have put us first and goal and we probably would have scored because we had the momentum. Such is the life of a Buccaneers fan, a lot of what if’s or if only’s. What if Vinny Testaverde would have had decent protection?
I remember players like Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Mike Alstott, Brad Johnson, Simeon Rice, Joe Jurevicius, Dexter Jackson and Keyshawn Johnson… all gone now. I remember players like Brad Culpepper who played his guts out only to be traded to the Chicago Bears. Warren Sapp kept his seat open on the bench the year he left. That was class.
We did, however, win one Super Bowl in 2003… and what a game that was. There has never been a #1 ranked defense (Tampa Bay) meeting a #1 ranked offense (Oakland) in a Super Bowl before or since and we clobbered them. But our chance at a dynasty was short lived. For some reason the following season our first game was a road game, which was unheard of. Usually the reigning Super Bowl champs play their first game of the season at home, but such is the life of a Buccaneers fan. We had to go play the Eagles first up. The Eagles were sore at us because we bounced them out of the playoffs and usually they handle us pretty good. So the probability of meeting them on their turf and beating them was shaky but we did it! We played the Falcons and beat them. We lost a very close game to Carolina which we should have won (missed the extra point that would have won the game) then had a buy week. Our next game was at home with the Colts and facing our old coach, Tony Dungy.
Tony Dungy did remarkable things for the franchise, he made us contenders and like I said, we should have been in the Super Bowl in 2000 under his direction. But here he was facing his former team under the coach who had somehow managed to get his job from him, Jon Gruden. We were mopping the floor with the Colts. For 3 quarters it wasn’t even close, 31-3. We had this game locked down and were sure to embarrass our former coach and the much bally-hooed Payton Manning. Then something weird happened. Our defense wasn’t in the game anymore. We let them get close and they took advantage of us. The end result? 34-31, a loss. A crippling loss, one we never recovered from, causing us to have a losing season that year.
Under Jon Gruden the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had their most success. Before Gruden was Tony Dungy and HE was our most successful coach. But football is about winning games and no matter how popular a coach is, winning is what it is all about. Never mind that players get hurt or bad calls are made on the field that you have to live with. I don’t think there is a person out there that put more effort into coaching than Jon Gruden, he made the game exciting to watch and our “Chucky” was a source of pride for several years.
But this year when we were 9-3 and tied for the division, we needed to win only one more game to make the playoffs. ONE MORE GAME! We had beaten Atlanta before, but lost to them on the road. We had beaten Carolina before and lost to them on the road. We played Oakland and San Diego (both teams had losing records at the time) at home, where we had been 6-0 this season, and lost both games. We finished the year at 9-7. We had winning back to back seasons for the first time since Jon Gruden became our coach, but it wasn’t enough. Gruden got a contract extension in 2007, but got fired after the 2008 season. Ultimately football is about winning games, not contracts or promises.
Is it a coincidence that defensive coach Monte Kiffin announced that he would be leaving on November 30th and we lost ALL our games in December? I don’t know, but I will say it was ill timed. You don’t make announcements like that while the season is in play and expect players like Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber not to be effected… but such is the life of a Buccaneers fan.
Coach Gruden will not have any problem finding a job and I would not be surprised to see him win another Super Bowl based on how others have found success after their time in purgatory with the Bucs. Williams, Young, Dilfer, Dungy … each man moved on and had that belief that he could achieve greatness. Jon Gruden has that belief and love of the game that will show once again that when a door closes the window of opportunity opens.
Jon brought the exuberance of youth to the Buccaneers. I still remember his hoarse voice when Jon handed the Lombardi trophy to Malcom Glazer declaring, “How ’bout that, Mr. Glazer?” and Jon Gruden is still one of the younger coaches in the league… even though his successor, Raheem Morris, is only 32 and never been a head coach before. I suspect that even Mr. Morris will eventually meet up with the turnstile that has become the norm at One Buc Place as he tries to rehabilitate the team. This is no cause for alarm because there have been cases of extreme euphoria from former employees of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at other locations and times in their careers.
Coach Gruden I wish you all the best. You are a model for other coaches to emulate. You are a student of the game. Thanks for your time at the head position of my team and the excitement you brought to us each week.
Where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be this time next year is anyone’s guess. I hope we are winners, I hope we are contenders. I hope we stick it to all those naysayers and make another run at the Super Bowl. We may meet Jon Gruden at the opposite side of the field and wouldn’t that be ironic? But based on our history, it is not inconceivable.
Such is the life of a Buccaneers fan.