Super Bowl Champs Aren't Supposed To Let Things Like This Happen
Joe Henderson, The Tampa Tribune, published 7 October 2003

If the Bucs go on to win the Super Bowl again, perhaps they'll laugh about the game where Monday Night Football turned into Tuesday Morning Indigestion. But nothing much about what went on in a totally strange game against the Colts seems very humorous now. To call the 38-35 overtime loss to Indianapolis shocking would be to call the last big San Francisco earthquake a little unsettling. This was the Mount Vesuvius of meltdowns.

It was a meltdown of such momentum that even the officials got caught up in it with a controversial personal foul call against Simeon Rice in overtime after Mike Vanderjagt missed a 40-yard field goal attempt. Rice was called for illegal jumping, and the Bucs howled in protest. Given the gift, Vanderjagt converted and the Bucs were losers. The Bucs have only themselves to blame for being in that position.

Super Bowl champions can't lose when all they have to do is hold a 21-point lead against Tony Dungy's offense - you know, the coach that got fired here because he couldn't score enough points. If Dungy ran that kind of offense while he was here, he'd still be here. Of course, if he had Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison while he was here, he'd still be here.

Anyway, Super Bowl champions don't get two personal foul penalties in the final five minutes to let the visiting team back in the game. Kenyatta Walker and Warren Sapp did. Walker's penalty ruined a drive. Sapp's roughing call against Manning gave the Colts 15 critical yards on their final drive of regulation. Dumb and dumber, considering the circumstance.

Super Bowl champions don't lose onside kicks when that's the only hope the other team has. The Bucs did once, and darned near did twice. Super Bowl champions bury teams, even good ones, when they get the chance. Say what you will about this game, the Bucs had their chances.

Super Bowl champions impose their will when they have to. They make a statement. With the Bucs, that's always been the Cover 2 defense. Forget that. Forget Cover 2 - everyone would have settled for Cover 1. Provided the one was Colts receiver Marvin Harrison. Anyone seen him lately? He sure seemed lonely much of Monday night, romping so open at times you'd have almost thought he forgot to use deodorant or something. Ten catches in regulation for 168 yards and two touchdowns. And, oh yes, a 52-yard pass from Manning on the first play after Sapp's penalty that gave the Colts first down at the Bucs 6, down by a touchdown.

Has there ever been such a meltdown by such a good football team? Can't recall one. Super Bowl champions don't usually do such things. Ah, but this Super Bowl champion - well, from last year - has lost both games at home this season and has fallen two games in arrears of Carolina. Carolina!

This Super Bowl champion is now at a crisis point, and we're just four games into the season. This Super Bowl champion got exposed and humiliated in a way that didn't seem possible, even when you were watching it. The Bucs are going to Washington on Sunday, where Steve Spurrier awaits with a desperate team of his own, playing at home and needing a win. The Bucs can say it's early, and it is, but with each passing minute Monday it seemed to be getting later and later.

For the first 55 minutes of this one, we were all prepared to write and say good things about this team. It was as impressive a show against an unbeaten team as you could ask. They were quick, opportunistic, and they frustrated the Colts at every turn. Keenan McCardell had three touchdowns, one of which was a borderline spectacular catch on the side of the end zone. But it was his play near the end of the first quarter that seemed at first to sum up the evening. On first down at Indy's 33, Johnson tried to hit tight end Ken Dilger. Terrible pass. It was intercepted by strong safety Mike Doss, who was running merrily down the field until Bucs center John Wade knocked the ball loose. Along came guess who! McCardell picked up the ball and ran 57 yards for a touchdown.

You can call it luck, and you wouldn't be wrong. It seemed just part of the show at the time, but as the game wound on it began to take bigger proportions. Like, take that play away and this game didn't even go into overtime. That's how much of the Bucs' soul that Indy left town with. The NFL is like this. One day you're the Super Bowl champions, the next you're a target. But it's supposed to be the other guys shooting at you. Super Bowl champs aren't supposed to shoot themselves, at least not like this.

The Bucs will say it's just one game, and it's tempting to cut them some slack and say they're right. But as the season winds on, the suspicion is that this one will get bigger and bigger. If they lose home field advantage by a game, they'll remember this night. If they have to go somewhere cold in the playoffs, they'll remember this. That is, if they make the playoffs at all. For 55 minutes Monday night, that thought would have been worth a laugh for its sheer absurdity, but who's laughing now? Nobody.