Men Walked On The Moon As Bucs Claimed Victory
Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune, published 20 January 2003

Men walked on the moon Sunday. It didn't matter that the moon was 240,000 miles away. The Bucs are going to the Super Bowl.

It was early evening, and the art of fiction was as dead as the Philadelphia Eagles and their arthritic ball yard. In the last football game at Veterans Stadium, the Bucs burned the place to the ground, along with every demon that ever haunted them. The National Football Conference champions' buses roared to life. The horns would be pounded all the way to the Philadelphia airport, a honking brotherly reminder to Eagles fans that their city did not belong to them until the Bucs handed it back. There were no more ghosts. The only history that mattered was the history just made, winning 27-10 against the team they couldn't beat in a place they couldn't win, surrounded by a chill and a crowd and a world that didn't give them a snowball's chance in - you know, that place that just froze over. The Bucs are going to the Super Bowl.

There would be a crowd waiting in Tampa. They've been waiting 27 years. This was their night, too. Wave your flags. Bang your pots and pans. Make like Chucky, the man of a thousand faces who delivered the game of a lifetime. Go Jon Gruden crazy, folks. Nothing is silly. No one will laugh at you. Or your football team. The Bucs are going to the Super Bowl.

Men walked on the moon Sunday. They kissed and hugged and cried and remembered those who went before them, men who people laughed at. The Bucs defense sealed the day. There was poetry in that. Ronde Barber stepped in front of a Donovan McNabb pass. It was 92 yards to the end zone. Barber ran in total silence. ``You couldn't hear a sound,'' Bucs safety John Lynch said. ``The stadium noise stopped. There was that sweet silence. There was nothing to say.''

There will be enough to say this week in San Diego, about everyone and everything, starting with the head coach who used to coach the Oakland Raiders, the Tribune has learned. Sunday wasn't about that. Sunday was about a franchise that had finally risen so far above its deep, dark orange past that there was nothing else to do but call them champions. This wasn't just for them. This was for all those old Bucs, men like Richard ``Batman'' Wood and Paul Gruber, who were honorary captains Sunday. Old Bucs who'd fought the good fight but never had their hands raised in true victory.

This was for teams that couldn't win, teams in the creamsicle uniforms, teams with the winking pirate on their helmets, teams of Mr. C and Sam and Booker Reese. And for fans who suffered those days at Tampa Stadium. It wasn't the heat, it was the humiliation. The Yucks. No more.

They began the game with their backs against the wall. Then those backs were in the wall. Philadelphia broke off a kickoff return and scored a touchdown two plays later. The game wasn't a minute old. The same old Philadelphia story. Last year, in a similar situation, they rolled over and quit. These Bucs would not quit. They would not roll over. Warren Sapp sat at his locker. His right eye was nearly swollen shut. It took five stitches to stop the bleeding after he caught a finger above the eye. His vision was blurred, but he still saw things clearly, ``We wrote our own history out there,'' Sapp said.

This day really began as a short pass from Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson, who journeyed far and wide, without much notice, to this moment. The ball was caught by Joe Jurevicius. If this game was about heart, his was among the biggest. Jurevicius arrived in Tampa this season. He arrived in Philadelphia a day later than his teammates. He missed practice during the week. His wife, Meagan, gave birth to their first child Tuesday, a boy named Michael William. But there were complications. Now Joe Jurevicius ran across the middle and down the sideline, 71 yards, deep into the Philadelphia territory. The Bucs scored a few plays later. This Sunday would be different. ``Joe was really moving,'' John Lynch said. ``I bet his son had something to do with that.'' William Michael is doing OK. ``He's a fighter,'' Jurevicius said.

There would be no stopping this team. The Bucs won physical battles all day. And there was one of the world's 50 most beautiful game plans by the man in the visor. Jon Gruden outcoached Philadelphia's Andy Reid all afternoon. He found mismatches. He used motion and play action and spread the ball around and let the record state that the winning points were scored on a touchdown by: Keyshawn. Go figure. Turns out Jon Gruden was a steal. He was brought here to put the Bucs over the top. Consider the rock pounded.

When it was over, Gruden mentioned the man who coached before him, Tony Dungy. The man who first made people stop laughing at the Bucs. Him and men like Hardy Nickerson. A little piece of Sunday belongs to a whole lot of people. It was right that the defense sealed it. It had first lifted this franchise from the football netherworld. Now it had dominated the Eagles. And when it came time for Gruden to get doused from a bucket, the men behind the bucket were Lynch, Sapp and Derrick Brooks. That was right, too. Lynch joined the Bucs in 1993. Brooks and Sapp arrived two seasons later. They lived through the end of the nightmare. The locker room was nearly empty. Brooks walked into the shower. Sapp, his eye swollen shut, his eyelid stitched, joined him. The last man in was Lynch. Just the three of them. Lynch stuck his tongue out. They all roared. ``Yucks,'' Sapp yelled. ``Called us the Yucks.''

Their laughter echoed out of the showers and back across 27 years and all those orange ghosts. It carried into the Philadelphia night. Their night. Your night. The Bucs are going to the Super Bowl.