Bucs honor 2002 team with halftime ceremony
Warren Sapp stood on the sideline, snapping pictures of the pregame flyover at Raymond James Stadium. Keyshawn Johnson playfully put Jon Gruden in a headlock and asked a photographer to capture a Kodak moment. John Lynch hustled down from the Fox TV broadcast booth at halftime to spend a few more precious minutes with former teammates who are linked forever in pro football history.
It was that kind of afternoon as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers honored their 2002 championship team during Sunday's matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. Although the Eagles spoiled the ending by rallying for a 23-21 triumph, Sunday's halftime ceremony capped a memorable 10th anniversary weekend.
Sapp, the fierce defensive tackle who recently made the semifinalist list for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2013, saluted Bucs fans for their passionate support.
"I just wanted to come back and say thank you for everything they did for us because without them, we wouldn't have had a shot," said Sapp, who waved a white towel when Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy registered a sack on the game's third snap.
The Bucs welcomed back dozens of players and coaches from the 2002 team, including Mike Alstott, Derrick Brooks, Brad Johnson, Joe Jurevicius and Simeon Rice. The 2002 team captains — Brad Johnson, Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson, Keenan McCardell, Sapp, Brooks and Jeff Christy — participated in the pre-game coin toss.
Ronde Barber, the only active NFL player remaining from the championship club, exchanged hugs and handshakes, then went out and led all players Sunday with nine unassisted tackles.
Twenty-one starters from the 2002 club were introduced by name, running onto the field one at a time amid smoke and fireworks. Appearing last, Gruden received a warm ovation. He ran out of the tunnel brandishing the Vince Lombardi Trophy in his right hand before handing it off to Sapp.
"I'd like to thank the Glazer family for reuniting this football team," Gruden said as an announced crowd of 64,941 roared. "We could not have done it without you, Tampa Bay. Please give this group of players the same support you gave us and you'll be back."
Before the game, 43-year-old Seminole resident Jay Collman was eager to engage in some Bucs nostalgia. "I can't believe it's been 10 years," Collman said. "Gruden will get cheered today, and he should. I love the fact we're celebrating the 2002 team with Philly in the house."
A few feet away, 64-year-old Eagles fan Richard O. Erisman of Port Charlotte and his grandson were proudly wearing Philadelphia jerseys. "I've been an Eagles fan for 50 years and I got the tickets online a few months ago," Erisman said. "I wasn't going to miss this one. I have to admit, I'm not thrilled with this 10-year reunion today. I'm not going to clap for those Tampa guys, but I'm not going to boo them, either. They beat us fair and square in the playoffs that year."
On Saturday night, the festivities began with a reception and dinner at team headquarters attended by former Bucs general manager Rich McKay. "It was great to see a lot of players and coaches that shared a really special year," said McKay, who was seated next to Gruden on Saturday evening. "Thanks to the Glazers for putting on a first-class reunion."
Before Sunday's halftime ceremony, Jurevicius acknowledged a huge ovation from his perch in a luxury suite. "Everybody's still got a headache from last night," he quipped. "All in all, it's been a heck of a weekend."