Spires, Defensive Line Lead Charge
Backup. It's right there in the Bucs media guide in the bio sketch of Greg Spires: ``Expected to serve as the top backup at defensive end.''
Signed as a free agent on March 22, the former Florida State Seminole represented insurance behind disappointing left end Marcus Jones. When Jones was injured in training camp, the Bucs turned to undersized No. 94.
``Now you know why our players call him `The Crane Operator,' `` said Bucs director of player personnel Tim Ruskell after Tampa Bay's 48-21 Super Bowl rout of the Raiders. ``Greg Spires moves the earth.''
On championship Sunday, Spires did better than that - he moved Lincoln Kennedy. And with a superb postseason run, he likely shed that career backup label for good. Spires, who started only four games for a 7-9 Cleveland club in 2001, set the tone with a huge opening quarter against Kennedy, Oakland's massive Pro Bowl right tackle.
He proved disruptive in each of the first three Raiders possessions as Tampa Bay's league-leading defense shackled the NFL's most imposing attack. ``We basically shut them down,'' said Spires, who also excelled against the 49ers and Eagles in the playoffs.
``It was a classic matchup of the best offense against the best defense and guess what? The best defense won. I've got to credit the guys on this team for welcoming me with open arms this year. I hope I delivered.''
Spires registered two tackles in Oakland's opening possession, limiting the Raiders to a field goal despite a drive that began on the Bucs' 36. And he was just warming up. Despite giving up 70 pounds to Kennedy, Tampa Bay's 265-pound lineman sacked Rich Gannon on third down to stifle Oakland's next drive, pushing Kennedy back five yards with a bull rush.
The Raiders took over at midfield on their next drive, but Spires promptly deflected a third-down pass to force another punt from a frustrated powerhouse. `We did it with a whole lot of hard work and a belief that we were the best football team in the world,'' said defensive lineman Ellis Wyms, who finished with three tackles and a sack. ``When you face an offensive line that big, you've got to use your quickness. We all took turns dropping Gannon tonight.''
Defensive end Simeon Rice registered two sacks and tackle Warren Sapp added another as the Bucs defense completed a dominant postseason run. In three playoff games, opposing quarterbacks threw nine interceptions and were sacked 11 times. ``It all starts up front with this team,'' said outside linebacker Al Singleton. ``Those guys make sure no one gets through the fortress.''
Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli soaked in the scene, accepting high-fives and embraces from appreciative players for a job well done. ``I've loved Greg Spires since the first time I saw him at FSU,'' Marinelli said. ``He's got such a great initial burst up the field and he's a terrific kid who has worked so hard. Our game plan going in was to do what we do ... and do it just a little better. We wanted to tee off on Gannon the whole game and I'm so proud of all of the guys up front. They rushed their tails off tonight.''
The Raiders had protected the mobile Gannon well during his MVP season, but on the biggest stage in American sports, their huge offensive line was no match for Tampa Bay's speed. ``They couldn't get on a roll because they couldn't stand the pressure,'' Rice said. ``We put the pressure we needed to put on their offense today and they weren't prepared for all this defense brings.''