Colts Give Dungy The Best Present Of All
Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune, published 7 October 2003

Happy birthday, Tony! Welcome back Tony! Now get the heck out of here! Bucs fans said a hearty hello and then a grateful goodbye to an old friend on Monday night. Late in the fourth quarter, while a lot of them were in their cars outside Raymond James Stadium, or maybe even tucked in their beds, sated with another win by the world champions, the world had collapsed. Jumping Simeon Rices!

Bucs lose. By 38-35, the world champions were taught a lesson by an old teacher, who smiled ever so slightly when it was done. The Bucs gave Tony Dungy and his Indianapolis Colts one of the great nights of their lives when the Colts weren't giving it to themselves. Not even Dungy could pray enough to have this prayer answered. But it was. The Bucs deserved as much. It was like the Carolina game. The personal fouls. The mistakes. The horror. Illegal jumping? Two miracle losses. A 2-2 record. Just like that.

They led this game 21-0. They led this game 28-7. They led this game 35-14 with less than five minutes left. They had this game won. The undefeated Indianapolis Colts had been defeated. And then it was tied at 35 and it was going to overtime.

What preceded Mike Vanderjagt's winning field goal in overtime happened so quickly it was hard to comprehend. You just looked at the scoreboard. Then you looked at it again. Somewhere in there, a Dungy offense, a laughingstock in Tampa, was throwing deep. Amazing what happens when Peyton Manning is throwing to Marvin Harrison instead of Shaun King throwing to Reidel Anthony. Somewhere in there, the NFL's top-ranked defense was shredded. The pass defense was obliterated. The Bucs defense had allowed one touchdown in its first three games, that on a short, cheap drive at Atlanta.

The Colts punched home five touchdowns. The Colts scored three times in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter. Forgotten were Keenan McCardell's three touchdowns. The second one, a fumble return off a fumble by Colts safety Mike Doss, who was returning an interception at the time, seemed to say all at once this would not be Dungy's night. It would belong to the Bucs. Ronde Barber's interception return for touchdown said so, too. Some big Brad Johnson throws said so. Michael Pittman's first 100-yard rushing game in the regular season as a Buc said so. Those big leads said so.

Yes, it had been nice to see Tony. There were smiles before it all began. From the stands, there was applause for Dungy when there weren't boos for Manning. Jon Gruden and Dungy took turns putting an arm around each other's back. Dungy sought out Joel Glazer for a handshake. Why, things got so nostalgic Monday that the Glazers reportedly called Bill Parcells and made an offer for old time's sake. For most of the night, the Bucs simply made more plays. They played like world champions who didn't want to fall two games behind Carolina after just four games. They played like the game was more important to them than it was to the Colts. They played as if they hardly noticed Dungy.

But he was there. He smiled as best he could after McCardell's miracle fumble return. Hey, it was a nice run, the 4-0 start and all. But these were the champions and it was time for Dungy's team to learn its lesson. But they did all the teaching when it mattered. They made all the plays. While Kenyatta Walker and Warren Sapp were committing hideous mistakes with personal fouls, the Colts kept it together. Sapp was called for roughing the passer. How about roughing one with a sack?

Even when Indy got called for a phantom roughing-the-kicker penalty in overtime to keep a Bucs drive alive, the Colts remained steady. When they finally got the ball, they delivered. The Bucs helped them on their way one last time. Even as Colts kicker Vanderjagt missed a 40- yard field goal to win it, there was a yellow flag on the field. Super sacker Simeon Rice was called for a personal foul: illegal jumping. Vanderjagt made good on a subsequent 29-yarder. Ballgame. Ever hear of illegal jumping? Did you even know that was a penalty? Did Rice?

Did you ever in your life ever see anything like this? You probably didn't. You probably were in bed. Best place for a Bucs fans to be Monday night. Eyes shut. Then again, you missed Tony Dungy at midfield when it was over. His former players hugged him and they hugged back. They smiled. He smiled more.