Players Respond To Gruden's Message
On the Monday after losing to New Orleans, he was all business. Jon Gruden's first game with the Bucs didn't go the way he wanted, but he wasn't acting pitiful about it. "The thing I liked is that a lot of coaches would have come in here 0-1 and scared out of their minds,'' safety John Lynch said. "He just said, "Forget about all that … you go physically dominate them and if we don't come up a winner, put it on me. Attack them.' "That message was loud and clear.''
Sunday, Lynch and the Tampa Bay defense delivered. First, a shutout. Then, a game ball, on which indelible ink will make for a simple, permanent testimony: "September 15, 2002 … Tampa Bay 25, Baltimore 0.'' For now, Gruden will put the ball with the message out of sight somewhere and go back to work, just like he did last week. Who's got time for giddiness when there's tape to study? "There's not a lot of time in the National Football League to be sentimental,'' Gruden said. "You've got the St. Louis Rams waiting on you. It's a great challenge, a great responsibility to be here. This is a good football team and we've just got to enjoy the plane trip home and get ready to work [today].''
Most of the sentiment on Sunday, it seems, was spread around the Tampa Bay locker room, where expressions illustrated how quickly the Bucs and their new coach have bonded. As much as anything, they won it for him. "We would like to have had it last week at home, but it's tough in this league. I think it made the team more hungry to come up here to Baltimore and get the job done,'' said Karl Williams, whose punt return for a touchdown got the game ball rolling Gruden's way.
As a first-year head coach at Oakland, Gruden also lost his first game, then earned his first career NFL victory in Week 2, beating the New York Giants 20-17 in Oakland on Sept. 13, 1998. That was followed by another loss, then a five-game winning streak for the Raiders. "I don't remember much about my past. I live in the future. That's how I'm going to be and I'm real excited to be here and this is a great feeling to win with these guys,'' Gruden said when asked if he could recall the first victory in Oakland. "We needed the game [Sunday] and we wanted this win desperately. We had to have the football game and our team responded.''
The response grew Saturday night, when Gruden delivered a speech that gave defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin goose bumps. "He sent a good message,'' Kiffin said. "I tell you what, he had a Knute Rockne [Saturday] night. Oh boy, I loved it. Man, I was ready to play.''
Kiffin, who is as close to Gruden and his family as anybody on the Bucs staff, said there is a special meaning for Sunday's victory, even if Gruden isn't showing it at the moment. "I think it's very important. Jon had a long week,'' Kiffin said. "Boy, he was down all week. To lose that game in overtime last week, you know, wow, you don't want to come back home 0-2. Our players have really taken to Coach Gruden, and I think they felt bad about that last week.''
So bad that Lynch went scrambling afterward Sunday to find a ball to commemorate a moment Gruden may one day want to look back and reflect upon. "I remember the first one we gave to Coach Dungy and [Gruden] sure deserves it,'' Lynch said. "It's a big win for him. There was a lot of pressure and he led us this week and put us in the right frame of mind. There's going to be a lot more wins with him.''