This club bucks an old trend
It was the highest-energy, most heroic, most meaningful Bucs moment at Tampa Stadium since 1979 when Lee Roy Selmon, Doug Williams and their by-now-graying gang had monster wins over Kansas City and Philadelphia to leap into the NFC Championship Game.
Sunday appeared scripted by an angel wearing orange and working overtime.
These were nouveau Bucs delivering the critical plays. Creating the vital turnovers. Bringing a crowd of 55,703 to roars, even delirium, at a level of delightful decibels that has been amiss from the Big Sombrero for what seems a battered Bucs eternity. When it counted most, this self-styled 1995 Tampa Bay team with the "It's a New Day" slogan made its own decisive breaks. Hammering relentlessly to resculpt a ghastly old Bucs image as the NFL's most laughable losers.
To climax it all, in the 69th minute, the Bucs (5-2) kept up the latter-day winning as a 51-yard Michael Husted field goal went powering into a devilish crosswind; so pure and so perfect; tumbling dramatically through the victorious uprights. Am I overdramatizing? After 16 years? Hardly.
Bucs patrons have waited, waited and begged to cut loose with such positive screams, while seeing long-bedraggled Tampa Bay uniforms execute what Pro Bowl linebacker Hardy Nickerson called a "corner-turning win" over the Minnesota Vikings, keeping his Tampa Bay guys uncharacteristically but unflinchingly in the mid-October lead of the NFC Central.
It's not yet Halloween, much less New Year's and NFL playoff time, but on this uplifting Tampa Bay morning the pro football standings do quite remarkably show Da Bucs with a record a half-game better than Super Bowl champion San Francisco.
Dating to last season, the Bucs have won nine of their past 12 games, a pace equaled in the National Football League only by those 49ers.
Tampa Bay coach Sam Wyche, nor you, nor me, nor that angel in orange can't be sure how far this Tampa Bay escalation will go. But these Bucs clearly are not "same old."
Their defense is playing with grit and effectiveness that cannot be associated with any loser. Trent Dilfer, the kid quarterback, made a world of physical and mental strides against the Vikes. There also were tide-turning special-teams plays, with Husted deciding a second straight game with an 11th-hour field goal from 50 yards plus.
Tampa Bay's offense continues to beg for considerable improvement. Errict Rhett's life as a tailback has become a bruising, low-yardage problem. But high possibilities are unquestionably there. Meanwhile, the Bucs keep bouncing along as NFC Central bosses, using clutch defense as their primary springboard.
Sunday's new defensive hero was safety John Lynch, a Stanford man in his third NFL season, who twice intercepted Minnesota quarterback Warren Moon and then, in the second half, rebounded from severe leg cramps to contribute on into Husted's climactic 69th minute.
It was Lynch's first total-bore game as a safety. He had been alternating with Barney Bussey, who was missing against Minnesota due to a groin injury. "My body did get a bit drained," Lynch said. "I needed a refill."
Lynch left the field wincing in pain, retreating to the Bucs' locker room in the third quarter for an IV infusion. "I kept asking our trainer, `Can't you pump that stuff into me any faster?' I had to get back to work. "A couple of years ago, I had a choice between playing professional baseball, after one summer as a pitcher in the Florida Marlins organization, or trying to make my living in the NFL," Lynch said. "This ecstatic moment tells you why I chose football. What an exciting and dramatic and a huge, huge win."
Lynch was characterized as "a headhunter" by Vikings coach Dennis Green, who meant it as a compliment. Green said Lynch should be NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
They go way back.
For three seasons, Green was Lynch's head coach at Stanford. Dennis then left for the Vikings.
"Dennis and I are friends," Lynch said. "We've talked from time to time during my three years in the NFL. I always got the feeling that Dennis didn't have much respect for the Buccaneers. He'd better have some now."
Green isn't the only one.
Hubert Mizell, The St.Petersburg Times 1995