Galloway The Go-To Guy
We often need the perspective of time and distance to appreciate fully individual achievements during a long season, but not so with Joey Galloway. It has been right there in front of us - and usually behind a defensive back - all season long. So it was Sunday, as the Bucs beat New Orleans 27-13 to win the NFC South championship. Galloway caught four passes - two of them for touchdowns, and one for 20 yards early in the fourth quarter that set up a field goal after the Saints had pulled to within four points.

Galloway's locker area was crowded once again after the game. "He's 34 years old and playing like he's 24," Jon Gruden said afterward, and no one can possibly argue that. There were many who believed Galloway's days as an impact wide receiver were finished after injuries limited him to 33 receptions last season, but with Sunday's effort he finished this time with 83 catches, fifth most in Bucs' history, and a team-record 10 touchdowns.

The numbers are standalone good, but the way Galloway accomplished all that is even more impressive. You start with the change in quarterbacks in midseason from Brian Griese to Chris Simms - from a right-handed thrower to a left-handed one -and then consider that fellow wideout Michael Clayton had a big drop-off from his rookie year. Everyone in whatever stadium the Bucs played in knew the ball was going to Galloway, but that didn't seem to matter. He still made catches. "It feels terrific," Galloway said. "We were at home in front of our fans, and to have a chance to do what we did today is important for us and for them. More importantly, we come back next week with another home game."

That would be Saturday afternoon, when the Bucs will play their first postseason game since winning the Super Bowl. It's time to think of such things now, and Galloway is a large reason why that's possible. Galloway's first season here was essentially a bust after being acquired from Dallas for Keyshawn Johnson, mostly because injuries kept him off the field. But he showed enough after coming back that Gruden was convinced Galloway could be a playmaker - provided he stayed healthy.

So Gruden limited Galloway's work in training camp and in the exhibition games, and Galloway paid him back by quickly re-establishing himself as one of the league's top receivers. Galloway remembered Gruden's preseason tactic after Sunday's game. "It worked wonderfully," Galloway said. "I appreciate that. I told Coach that after the game. I really thank him, No. 1, for bringing me here, and for the plan and the way it worked out."

Simms spoke afterward of the way he and Galloway have mastered the art of unspoken communication, something that can take years to develop. Take Sunday's second touchdown, for instance. The Bucs led 7-3 at the time, early in the second quarter, and had second-and-goal at the 4-yard line. "Joey and I have a very close relationship; we talk about routes like that all the time," Simms said. "When we come up to the line of scrimmage in that situation, we have two routes in mind."

It happens so quickly. If Galloway gets bumped coming off the ball, the pass goes to one spot. If not, it goes to another. Simms trusts that Galloway will be where he is supposed to. Galloway trusts the ball will be there. That's what happened on this play, as Galloway broke free and caught his record 10th touchdown of the season. "The short amount of time [Simms] has progressed is probably as quick as I've seen a young guy do that," Galloway said. "We all knew he was talented, we all knew he was a player, and we all knew where he came from. But to go out there and do it is a different story. He has played extremely well. When a young guy comes in, it's a situation where you don't know what to expect or how quickly he'll grow up, but he has definitely grown up. We don't even think about that anymore."

As the final seconds wound down Sunday, Galloway signaled for his young quarterback to grab the Gatorade jug and head for Gruden. Simms wisely called an audible, allowing other players to participate in the ritual drowning of the head coach. Galloway just smiled. Afterward, in the locker room, he spoke of the satisfaction that comes with being on a championship team. Certainly nothing like this was expected from the Bucs back in training camp, so they have earned the right to let us know what they think - Galloway especially.

Satisfied? Darned right. "I don't think anybody outside these walls really gave us a chance. To be standing where we are compared to where we were last season makes you feel terrific," Galloway said.

It's not over yet, of course, and that's the good part. There is at least one more week to play, one more chance to show the doubters once again how wrong they were. All Galloway needed was good health and he'd do the rest. All anybody else had to do was watch and enjoy a special ride that hasn't finished yet. No matter how much longer it lasts, it's been fun getting this far.

Joe Henderson, The Tampa Tribune 2 January 2006