Putting the “It was Dungy’s team” myth to rest

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As a lifelong Bucs fan that’s worn the creamsicle and pewter colors since 1976, my “back gets up” as they say here in the South (I’m a Yankee living behind enemy lines in SC) when I hear any under-informed Bucs fan or a casual sports fan say “it was Dungy’s team that won the Super Bowl”.

Let me put this to bed once and for all.

Consider where we were in the late 90’s early 2000’s. We were winning games, sure, 6-3, 12-10, etc. Our dominant Defense kept the scores low, and gave our inept vanilla Offense a chance for victory. In those early years of the late 70’s and 80’s into the 90’s there was always one thing any Bucs fan could be assured of, our defense was going to hit you, hurt you and you would “feel the game” days afterwards. We got sacks, we got interceptions from the early days of Mark Cotney and Batman Wood, into the era of guys like Wayne Haddix and Hugh Green, and later with the likes of Hardy Nickerson and eventually Sapp, Lynch Brooks. Our Defense came to play. But oh, our poor, poor Offense. Couldn’t get out of it’s own way. Signing big names like Alvin Harper or Bert Emanuel did little to stop the malaise on Offense.

In the late 90’s we ended up in another NFC Championship Game versus the Rams. It was reminiscent of an earlier title game versus the Rams in 1979. A defensive, low-scoring struggle. Rams won late on a long TD. We just couldn’t score any points, it seemed. Shaun King wasn’t to blame. Besides a strong run game, we couldn’t beat an air-show like the Rams with dink-and-dunk screens to the RB out of the flat. We needed Offense.

It was the demise of Tony Dungy-a great guy and players’ coach, but with a pedigree in Defense, not Offense. He inherited 2 GREAT future Hall of Famers from his predecessor Sam Wyche (that’s correct, Wyche drafted Sapp and Brooks, not Dungy). But nothing on Offense. The new Owners wanted more.

Looking around the league we see this brash young MANIAC in Jon Gruden. He had taken the Raiders from cellar-dwellers to AFC prominence once again. In fact, if not for one HORRIBLE “tuck rule” call against New England he may have won a Super Bowl with them. But he did not gel with the very “hands on” Owner Al Davis, so a divorce was imminent. Along come Malcom Glazer and his checkbook.
We signed Gruden and instantly he went to work. Gone were Warrick Dunn and in was a pounder with speed out the back field and the ability to catch passes in Michael Pittman from Arizona. He added Ken Dilger (Gruden loved, loved, loved his Tight Ends), he went and got two GREAT Wide Receivers in Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicious. And he shored up the O-Line with veteran Linemen Roman Oben.

He then instilled a playbook that was both complex and effective. 2001 we were 27th in turnovers. 2002 Gruden’s first year with a new play book and new players, we moved up to 24th. But we also played a first-place schedule. After losing our first game of the year in overtime against the Saint’s, we went on a tear.

A huge part of that streak was the number 1 ranked Defense. Gruden made them better as well. He challenged the cocky and arrogant (and deservedly so) defense to not just stop an offense, but score on them. An interception was good, a score on defense was better, and Tampa scored nine touchdowns on defense that year, with Brooks winning NFL Defensive MVP.

But it was Gruden’s ability to see the defense and exploit their weaknesses. The biggest cheerleader for Gruden was Brad Johnson-a journeymen QB who was reborn under Gruden’s playbook. Spreading the ball around to all his new weapons- Johnson become a field general much like Gruden’s other rehab project, Rich Gannon. In fact, Gannon brought the Raiders to the Super Bowl with Gruden’s playbook and execution-and ironically it was Gruden who used that to their demise-tipping off his defense with what to look for and what the cracks were to exploit.

So, it wasn’t Dungy’s Team that won us our one and only Super Bowl (so far). It was all Gruden-Gruden’s players, Gruden’s playbook and Gruden’s keen eye on how to beat certain Defenses, just ask Donavan McNabb. We had lost to the Eagles repeatedly, then we played them under Gruden-and he figured them out. Ironically neither Oakland nor Tampa has smelled the playoffs since his departure. Oakland made an appearance this year (after beating us in OT no-less), but we are still the hapless, “wait till next” year Bucs.

One must wonder had ownership not listened to the detractors and media and kept Gruden, the possible dynasty we could have had here in Tampa like New England’s. Back to back 9-7 WINNING SEASONS sounds good right now.
Can we put this to bed now forever? Most of people who say the mantra “It was Dungy’s Team” just really liked Tony Dungy-and so did I, he was a nice guy. Some people blame Gruden for “taking” Dungy’s job-but remember Gruden wasn’t the team’s first choice-that was Bill Parcells-but he passed on us AGAIN. Once in the early days with Hugh Culverhouse.

But I’d rather have a trophy and a dominant schoolmaster than a buddy as Head Coach. It was the pieces Gruden added and the attitude to be winners on Offense and Defense that got us the hardware.

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