Friday, December 14, 2007

Gruden, Gruden Gruden!

By ANWAR S. RICHARDSON, The Tampa Tribune

Published: December 8, 2007

TAMPA - There could have been no greater sign of Tampa Bay's emerging unity than after last week's victory against New Orleans.

The players never gave up despite trailing by three points with less than four minutes remaining. Defensive line pressure forced Reggie Bush's bad toss on a reverse. Coach Jon Gruden showed faith in his players and went for it on fourth-and-1 with two minutes left. Backup quarterback Luke McCown then threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to forgotten tight end Jerramy Stevens to give the Bucs a 27-23 victory.

After the win, players in Tampa Bay's locker room unified for one exhilarating chant:

"Gruden! Gruden! Gruden!"

The show of support was from a group of players that loves their coach for believing in them. It's a group of players that has learned to believe in themselves and trust each other.

And most importantly, it was from, finally, a "team."

"That was awfully nice of those guys and whoever started the chant. It was probably my son," Gruden said. "We have a lot of interest in the same thing and these guys mean a lot to me. I think they know that, but I also expect a lot out of them. I think they were just happy as a staff that we showed confidence in our football team and let them go out there and do the things they are capable of doing.

"It was flattering, but I tried to put a stop to that as soon as possible. It's the players that are getting it done, and it will be the players who get it done if we are going to continue to win."

Tampa Bay's team concept has evolved primarily because of injuries.

Running back Earnest Graham emerged after Cadillac Williams was placed on injured reserve and Michael Pittman suffered a severe ankle injury. Left tackle Donald Penn evolved after Luke Petitgout's injury. Fullback B.J. Askew stepped in for Mike Alstott, who went on injured reserve in the preseason. Cornerback Phillip Buchanon has made 10 starts because of Brian Kelly's injuries. Gaines Adams has adequately replaced Greg Spires at defensive end. Maurice Stovall has become a special teams standout since Torrie Cox was placed on injured reserve. And McCown stepped up when quarterback Jeff Garcia could not play last week.

"With the attitude of Coach Gruden and the coaching staff and the work they put into preparation every single week, and how they come to work and give an all-out effort, for players not to match that in some way would be an extreme letdown - to our coaching staff, to our team and to this city," Garcia said. "I believe that players have been hungry for the opportunity to play ... and they're taking a no-looking-back attitude in a sense that they're trying to make the most of it."

A rare positive attitude by the local Tampa Bay area press about the Bucs. Props to Anwar.

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