Fans Fill RJS To Salute Champions
The outstretched arms, burdened by a trophy no Bucs owner had held in 27 years, never buckled. Not through the sudden gush of chilly wind that first greeted Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer as he entered Gate D at Raymond James Stadium. Not through the roar of 60,000-plus fans.
Glazer was the first to enter the packed stadium Monday at the Bucs' welcome home rally. He smiled widely and held the Vince Lombardi Trophy as far above his head as he could, a height not possible until Sunday's 48-21 Bucs win against Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII. He walked to the opposite sideline onto a stage at the 50- yard line, never wavering. At least not until it was time to pass the trophy to Coach Jon Gruden. ``We've got the greatest coach in the whole world,'' Glazer said. ``The best fans in the whole world. The best team in the whole world.''
Derrick Brooks had not yet made it to the stage, walking slowly near the end of a single- file line of Bucs, most recording the moment with video cameras. Brooks was near the first to leave the stage, however, jumping the last few steps and heading for the first row of fans, soon joined by almost every Buc. The first off the stage, Warren Sapp, also left the field first, spurning the victory lap. Most chose to bask in the awe. ``Keep the party alive, baby,'' defensive back Ronde Barber said to conclude the ceremony. ``World champions.''
Safety John Lynch was the first player to address the crowd. Then Sapp and Brooks. Defensive end Simeon Rice was next, followed by Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson and cornerback Dwight Smith. All defensive players, the unit that propelled the Bucs to the world's stage. ``It's been tough the last years,'' said Jackson, in his fourth season. ``I haven't been here long, but Sapp, Brooks and Lynch have told me what they've been through. I just came in and tried to help where I could. This Super Bowl is for the city of Tampa.''
Smith chose to look to the future. ``I want to thank everyone for coming out,'' he said. ``You'll be back next year to do the same thing.''
Monte Kiffin might not be. After Mike Alstott spoke, the first offensive player to do so, General Manager Rich McKay took the microphone. He thanked the fans and introduced Kiffin as the best defensive coordinator in football. That distinction reportedly has the San Francisco 49ers interested in interviewing Kiffin for their head coaching vacancy. ``I haven't heard anything about that,'' Kiffin said as he left the field. ``I would be willing to talk to them. You always listen.''
And that was every player's intention Monday. They entered and left with a look as if they had never been in a packed stadium. Then again, they never had done so with the Lombardi Trophy soaring above them. ``The dream is here,'' Glazer said.