Griese Giving Bucs A Reason To Dream
Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune, published 8 November 2004

By the time he relinquished the joystick Sunday, there was joy most everywhere at Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs, of all teams, outscored the Chiefs 34-31 in ``Madden NFL 2004.'' If you like football, you loved this game. They had fun. Jon Gruden had that Super-season Chucky twinkle in his eye.

The man most responsible for it, for saving this season at 0-4, the man from nowhere, named neither Johnson nor Simms, the comeback story, left the field with a child's glee. Not always known for sharing, he pounded teammate Derrick Brooks on the shoulder pads. Fans cheered the quarterback's name and they didn't stop. It has been a while. ``Felt great,'' he said.

Doubters still wait for Brian Griese to wake up one morning and realize he's Brian Griese. Meanwhile, Bucs and Bucs fans dream. Suddenly a 3-5 team doesn't seem like a 3-5 team. Suddenly it's three wins in the last four games. Suddenly next Sunday in Atlanta has some meaning. Suddenly one man, more than any other, is making the difference. The season seemed all but dead when Griese replaced Chris Simms, who'd replaced Brad Johnson. Now this.

Griese is rolling right, rolling left. He is seeing the defenses - seeing right through them. He's making all the right calls, all the right reads. If a Buc is open, even barely, a Griese-thrown football finds him. It's nothing against Johnson or Simms, but Griese's first four games as a Buc are a revelation. It's not just six touchdowns against just one interception. Or a 69 percent completion rate. Or that quarterback rating of 106.9, whatever that means.

The truly relevant statistic: 3-1. That's the Bucs' record since Griese started playing. Sunday simply took it to another level. The Chiefs were in town, having scored 101 points over their last two games. We think they came off the bus Sunday with seven points. Time to teach the Bucs some Chiefs 101. Only they didn't. There were many reasons why, so very many when the Bucs had the ball. There was Michael Pittman. And Michael Clayton. And the improved offensive line. And confidence, so much confidence.

It all flowed from Griese, who completed 22 of 34 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns. There was precision and poise, no turnovers, no mistakes. Kansas City scored four touchdowns. Griese's guys scored five. And not just because Kansas City's defense is suspect like O.J. is suspect. ``I don't give a damn who you're playing, that's good football,'' Gruden said.

Griese audibled on about a third of the Bucs plays, including the short scoring pass to Ken Dilger. Griese saw Dilger uncovered and called off the running play. He's seeing everything right now. Everything. ``We really needed this game,'' he said. ``If we were going to be serious about trying to make the playoffs and, more important, making a statement as to where we wanted to go as a football team, we needed to win this game.''

That Griese is making any statement is amazing. He's in his seventh NFL season. In his first five, in Denver, he couldn't replace John Elway. Who could? Last season in Miami, he couldn't replace Jay Fiedler. His career seemed lost. Now this.

Bob Griese, famous father, who made his NFL mark while carrying his outward emotions in a thimble, smiled widely in the Bucs' locker room after the game. The son is like the father in so many ways. Gruden loves that. ``He's an iceman,'' Gruden said of Brian. ``He has no sense of emotion.''

Yes, there was Brian Griese in the huddle Sunday, cool, calm and ... excited? ``He was getting a little fiery,'' Dilger said. ``We needed the points,'' Griese said.

It's easy to say he has something to prove. He says hasn't proven a thing. ``I don't feel vindication,'' Griese said. ``Ask me in six or seven weeks. Ask me at the end of this year. My work here is just beginning, hopefully.''

Chris Simms remains the future. Where does that leave Griese?

It didn't matter Sunday. Sunday is what mattered Sunday. Suddenly there is hope, and Brian Griese is behind it. Out of nowhere. The crowd roared. They had that much fun. It made you wonder what isn't possible. Maybe that's a lie. The Bucs can't come back, can they? Then again, Brian Griese has.