It's this simple for Bucs: 'We did it!'
Maybe they were supposed to win. In the bedlam of the moment, with Warrick Dunn lying in the end zone with the winning touchdown, with 48 seconds left, with Raymond James Stadium exploding, there you had it. Maybe they were supposed to win. The Bucs, that is.
Maybe it was supposed to happen, even with all that did happen. Maybe they were supposed to win, even when they blew the 10- point lead, even after the St. Louis Rams - yeah, them again - sucked the air out of a community with another touchdown pass designed to break hearts and make nightmares. Maybe it was supposed to be this way.
You knew maybe they were supposed to win when Dunn was being tackled for a 14-yard loss on second-and-10 on what would be the Bucs' final drive of the night. He was about to go down. The Bucs were about to go down, along with maybe their whole season. Rams win. Green Bay, ice hanging off it, was in the wings. Deep freeze. And then Warrick Dunn saw Shaun King. And Shaun King saw Warrick Dunn. And a season lived.
How to describe what happened after Dunn's desperate lateral to King? How to describe King running 29 yards? Or the personal foul after he was hit out of bounds? How to describe a miracle, a play that wasn't supposed to happen? Destiny doesn't always come with instructions. Maybe they playoffs were just supposed to happen. Well, they have.
WARRICK DUNN WENT left and leapt, trying to clear a pile at the goal line. He did. Just the facts will do. An 80- yard drive in the dying minutes. A lateral turned to scramble. A fourth-down run by King a little later, diving for the first down. A remarkable 22-yard catch by Reidel Anthony down to the 2-yard line. Warrick Dunn running left, jumping high. Flipping. Falling in.
So ended perhaps the wildest and just about most memorable night in Bucs history. A night when the ghost of Ricky Proehl's catch and that NFC title game grew a little less scary. A night when hearts pumped. A night when the home team refused to lose. Maybe that's all it was. Maybe the Bucs just decided it wasn't going to happen again, not at the hands of the Rams. Maybe it's simple like that sometimes. How else do you explain it?
They came to seize this game. They came to say this was their season after all. It was their season when they took a 24-14 lead, two of the scores on catches by Keyshawn Johnson, who finally had his big game here under the bright lights. They came to say this was their season as Dunn ran 52 yards for a touchdown for a 31-21 lead. Most of all, they came to win even when the defense, which almost always makes them win, couldn't stop the Rams. A 31-21 lead turned to 35-31 deficit. Kurt Warner hit Torry Holt on a quick slant for the last St. Louis points. Holt ran and ran, with Bucs chasing and chasing. Seventy-two yards. Touchdown. Just 5:18 left. "We thought maybe we were out of it for a second," Dunn said. "The crowd maybe thought we were out of it for a second."
They weren't. "Do or die," Keyshawn said. "Do or die." His legs cramped near the end. He needed medical help when it was over. He didn't care. His team was breathing. "We did it. We did it."
MAYBE IT WAS supposed to happen. Maybe Dunn was supposed to make that lateral. Remember him last year in the playoff game against Washington? He scooped up a fumble on third down and kept the winning drive alive. Right place, right time. Maybe he was supposed to be there again, smart enough to toss it to his quarterback. Later, maybe King was supposed to see that hole and race for that first down on fourth-and-four. Maybe Anthony somehow was supposed to come down with the ball. Maybe Dunn was supposed to leap just high enough.
And so there are no maybes about it: The Bucs are in the postseason. And maybe the demons that were the defending Super Bowl champions have grown weaker. The Rams might not even make the playoffs. Green Bay doesn't sees so cold anymore. The Bucs will go there next Sunday, looking to finish 11-5, just like last year. Looking to win eight of their last nine, just like last year. Maybe the postseason will haunt them again. Maybe it won't. Maybe it will be below 40 degrees in Wisconsin. Maybe it will be below zero. Maybe they Bucs win anyway. Who says anything can't happen after Monday night? Who says? They did it. They did it.
Martin Fennelly The Tampa Tribune December 2000