This was the team we've been waiting for all along
We thought we had seen it all. We had seen the greatest half of football in Buccaneers history. We had seen the crowd at Raymond James Stadium give a standing ovation for a Bucs incompletion, because at least it was a long Bucs incompletion. But we hadn't seen it all. That didn't happen until late in the third quarter of a stunning 41-14 victory. After the Minnesota Vikings finally scored, they kicked off. The football rolled around like a head. Finally, it lay at the very large feet of one Todd Washington, 25, a 6-foot- 3, 324-pound Bucs reserve offensive lineman.
People continue to rub their eyes over what happened next. Washington scooped up the ball. And ran. And ran. Until he reached a dead end, whereupon Todd Page Washington lowered his helmet and laid out Vikings 235-pound rookie linebacker Fearon Wright. Todd Washington travelled on, into legend.
Washington made a spin move, 324 pounds twirling. He switched the ball from one hand to another. You know, like a running back. He was mobbed by his team-mates after his 22 yards of massive symbolism. What can't be done? This was the day the Bucs saved their season. It wasn't just a game for big names. It was for 53 names. One happened to be Todd Washington. He tried to explain himself. "I just felt like somebody had to make a play."
Where was this team the first five games? It took 30 minutes of football, as crisp as the weather, to remind us that it was there. At halftime, the Bucs had 28 points and the Vikings had no first downs. At halftime, Bucs were standing in line, waiting to make more plays.
This was the team Rich McKay envisioned. This was the hunger Tony Dungy wanted. This was the team Bucs fans dreamed of while sweating in bleachers at training camp. This is the team that can beat the Rams, the team that can beat anybody. The team we hadn't seen all season. It always seems to take the Vikings to bring the Bucs back from the dead. The Vikings in Tampa, that is. You know, if the Bucs could finish this season at home with the Vikings, Vikings and the Vikings, they'd be in business.
But before you start melting down your watch to make a championship ring, know that this could be a one-week reprieve. The Bucs might return to earth as soon as next weekend, since they are travelling to the part of earth called Green Bay. This team could be 3-4, again, next Monday morning. But this was about Sunday, a powerful reminder of what this team can do. If only it didn't always need to be pushed to the brink. Who knows what they'd accomplish?
It wasn't just Mike Alstott churning for yards and touchdowns. It wasn't just right-handed Brad Johnson, with a Viking on him, completing a left-handed shovel pass to keep a drive alive in the most Favre-ian of ways. It wasn't just the screen pass called by Clyde Christensen, suddenly full of ideas, or the run to the end zone Aaron Stecker made after the catch.
It wasn't just the offensive line, which finally made a wall, or Reidel Anthony, who turned a seemingly doomed reverse into a first down. It wasn't just the defense, swarming, menacing, winning. It was everywhere. It was on Daunte Culpepper, on Randy Moss, on Cris Carter, on fire. It wasn't just Dungy, motivating his team, challenging them, making us wonder what in the names of Bill Parcells and Steve Spurrier were we thinking.
Offense. Defense. Play after play. For once. The complete package. Not to mention what was inside the package. The Bucs found it this week. Maybe it was all the criticism. Maybe it was the bunker they huddled up in. But they found it. "Pride," Jerry Wunsch said. "That's what it was about - pride."
We'll see if pride makes the trip to Green Bay. It could happen. Heck, Todd Washington did. And did. And did. "I played some fullback in high school," Washington said. "The big fella is sweet, ain't he?" Warren Sapp said, grinning over Washington's moves. It was high school again in the Bucs locker room. Nothing but laughter and games they couldn't wait to play. And possibilities. At last.