Bush Breaks Bucs' Backs
Monte Kiffin shook his head forlornly in April when he heard the Saints drafted Reggie Bush with the second overall pick. On Sunday, it was Rich Bisaccia's turn.
The Bucs had contained the Heisman Trophy winner on his first 22 touches Sunday at the Superdome. In nine rushes, 11 receptions and two previous punt returns, Bush hadn't posted a gain of more than 10 yards as Tampa Bay grabbed a 21-17 advantage.
But on touch No. 23, the former Southern Cal superstar burned the Bucs for a 65-yard punt return, providing the winning score in a 24-21 triumph as a crowd of 68,183 broke into chants of "Reggie, Reggie."
Bush dashed down the right sideline untouched for his first pro touchdown as a half-dozen Bucs were mowed down in succession with 4:17 remaining.
It was the first punt returned for a touchdown against the Bucs since Green Bay's Allen Rossum went 55 yards in 2001, a year before Bisaccia joined Jon Gruden's staff as special teams coach.
Bisaccia said he needed to look at the film today to judge what went wrong, but linebacker Ryan Nece already has an idea. "They set up a wall to the right all the way on the return," Nece said. "We pride ourselves on staying in our lanes, but we had a couple of breakdowns and you can't do that against a guy like Bush. He's a sparkplug for that entire franchise. He gives them hope."
Since Deuce McAllister has returned from injury to reassume the featured back role, Bush is utilized most often as a receiver. Despite rushing for only 23 yards and averaging only 5.7 yards per catch, he still found a way to make a profound impact. "Give their special teams coach [John Bonamego] the credit today," Bucs defensive end Greg Spires said. "He's the one who put their money guy in a situation where he could make a play."
On the sidelines, Saints middle linebacker Mark Simoneau had a premonition.
"Mark said Reggie's going to run this back for a touchdown," fellow linebacker Scott Fujita said. "I had no idea what he knew, but he knew something."
Even as Bush reached the end zone, a flag went down on the other side of the field, threatening to wipe out the return.
"When it happened, I saw that flag go down," Fujita said. "I was dog cussing everybody on the sidelines. That was exciting for the whole city."
Especially for a unique rookie who always will remember his first pro touchdown.
"I was just trying to get the crowd hyped," Bush said. "Obviously, it was a big play and I just wanted to get the people on their feet. A lot of credit goes to my teammates. Really, all I had to do was make one guy miss."
Bush's late score overshadowed Tampa Bay's solid efforts to minimize his production as a runner and receiver.
"Whenever he's got the ball in his hands, he's a threat to score," Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "Basically, we held him in check, but the last time he touched the ball, he hurt us."
Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune October 2006