During eighth game, Bucs finally get a call
For the first time, officials rule in Tampa Bay's favor after coach Tony Dungy asks for an instant-replay review. Replay, review, regret. That had been the story for the Bucs in their first seven games. The NFL's new instant-replay system for officiating had led to only heartache. Blown calls and unfavorable judgments were the norm for the Bucs. Coach Tony Dungy had not won a challenge. He was even fined $10,000 for his critical comments about the system after a Week 1 loss to the New York Giants. Last week, it cost the Bucs a touchdown.
All that changed in the 31-16 victory over New Orleans Sunday. The system reversed a call and maybe the team's season. In an instant, replay took the Bucs from a 10-7 deficit to a 10-3 lead. Warrick Dunn was sweeping around left end when linebacker Wayne Martin delivered a jarring blow that sent Dunn flying backward. "I'm still amazed I got hit like that," Dunn said. "The guy came out of nowhere. It surprised me. I was just shocked I got hit like that, because I haven't been hit like that before."
But Dunn, who had his first fumble in nearly a year earlier, held on to the ball until he hit the turf at the Superdome. The ground forced the ball to pop up and safety Sammy Knight picked it up and made a lateral to Fred Weary, who raced 75 yards for a touchdown. Dungy issued the challenge instantly, knowing if the Saints kicked an extra point, the Bucs wouldn't be able to have the touchdown reviewed. He learned that lesson the hard way against Detroit last week when his team failed to line up for an extra point, and the Lions had a Bucs TD reversed.
The decision rested in the hands of referee Ed Hochuli. Yes, the same Ed Hochuli whose crew blew three critical calls in the Giants game, the same Ed Hochuli who prompted Dungy to say after that game, "If he can't make the right call, how can he be in charge of a crew?" Guess what? Hochuli reversed the call. Two plays later, rookie Martin Gramatica kicked a 35-yard field goal to make the score 10-3. "It took us eight weeks to get a call, but that was big," Dungy said. "I thought Warrick was down. You can't tell, it was a bang-bang play. That ended up being a big swing because we scored after that, they don't get the touchdown. Instead of being down 10-7, we end up going up 10-3. That really helped us and didn't allow their crowd to get into the game."
Asked his opinion of Hochuli, Dungy said he met with Hochuli and apologized for his earlier comments. "I talked to Ed before the game. I said some things out of frustration after the first game of the year," Dungy said. "It was totally unprofessional. Hopefully, he accepted my apology."
Hochuli's crew did miss a call, however, and the replay system failed to correct it. Saints quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver threw a pass to Keith Poole. Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber and safety Damien Robinson went up to defend the pass in the end zone. Barber appeared to intercept the pass and got up and started running out of the end zone. It was a ruse. "Did I get up to make it look like an interception when it actually hit the ground? Yeah I did," said a laughing Barber, who had ice on his right shoulder. "Replay was inconclusive. That was when I messed up my shoulder on the interception. If I hadn't got it, I would have been upset."
Hochuli did not see the angle that showed the pass was incomplete. When the replay booth came up with the correct angle, Hochuli ruled the 90-second limit had been exceeded and the play could not be changed. "I don't know that you could do that if it cost somebody in the Super Bowl. I don't know that 90 seconds makes any point," Saints coach Mike Ditka said. "Correct it. That's all I'm saying."
Ernest Hooper , The St.Petersburg Times 1999