Coach has had hand in lifting both teams

From Raiders to Bucs, Gruden leaves his mark

January 20, 2003|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers served up the Super Bowl no one expected yesterday and the matchup no one can resist.

And we're not talking about the Bucs' No. 1-ranked defense against the Oakland Raiders' No. 1-ranked offense, classic though it is.

No, the matchup that will consume San Diego in the Super Bowl on Sunday is Bucs coach Jon Gruden against his old team and his former boss, Al Davis.

Gruden's fingerprints are all over both teams. He coached the Raiders for four years, from 1998 through 2001, winning two division titles and making an AFC championship game appearance in 2000 against the Ravens.

Yet, rather than coach the final year of his Raiders contract without an extension, he wound up with the Bucs in a startling offseason deal for an exorbitant price. The Raiders received four high draft picks and $8 million in cash.

After yesterday's 27-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship game, the Bucs had to feel like they had gotten the better of the deal.

In his finest professional hour, Gruden was deferential to his Tampa Bay predecessor, Tony Dungy, and respectful of his former players.

"That will be exciting," he said before the Raiders won the AFC title with a 41-24 win over the Tennessee Titans. "I have not talked a lot about how I got here, but I respect where I came from.

"I know there's some players that maybe don't feel that, but I'm proud of my experience there and I have a lot of respect for the players there and what they have done to get to this game they are in today. It would be an honor to play them."

Asked if he would have surrendered such a steep tariff for himself, Gruden had this deprecating response: "I wouldn't probably give up a size 9 1/2 pair of turf shoes for me, to be honest with you."

Gruden is as colorful and outspoken as Dungy was quiet and unobtrusive during a six-year stint in Tampa that reshaped and revitalized the Bucs. The Bucs fired Dungy after the 2001 season ended with a 31-9 wild-card loss in Philadelphia.

More than once last night, Gruden paid homage to that groundwork that Dungy laid for him.

"I don't know what difference I made other than I just did the best I could," Gruden said. "You know, Tony Dungy, the job he did here was unbelievable. Where he took the Tampa Bay football team, it speaks for itself."

What Gruden's Bucs did in eliminating the top-seeded Eagles speaks volumes, too. The last time the NFC's No. 1 seed failed to reach the Super Bowl was four years ago, when the Atlanta Falcons ousted the Minnesota Vikings.

Curiously, 1998 was the last time the AFC's No. 1 seed advanced to the Super Bowl, when the Denver Broncos beat the New York Jets. The Raiders were the top seed in the AFC this season.

Matchups?

There is Gruden against his former offensive coordinator, Bill Callahan, a first-year head coach.

There is Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon, 37, against Tampa quarterback Brad Johnson, 34. Gannon was the league's Most Valuable Player this season and was second in the NFL passer ratings. Johnson was third in the ratings. Both are former Washington Redskins quarterbacks, at that.

And there is the top passing offense against the top passing defense.

"We are on a path of destiny and we don't want to mess it up," said Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, whose 92-yard touchdown on an interception return secured yesterday's win.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.