Don't wonder, wonder who wrote the book on Bucs' win
Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune, published 17 January 2000

It is Sunday, not Saturday. A day later, in other words. And yet some of you still are wondering how they did it. Not that it matters. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to another - well, their second - NFC Championship game, their first in two decades. But still you wonder.

You wonder how a team can muster only 186 yards and be but one victory from a Super Bowl. How can your longest gain of the day be a 31-yard penalty? That said, how is there just one more team between you and a march on Atlanta? You wonder how fullback Mike Alstott scored that 2-yard touchdown he ran 22 yards for in the third quarter, a quarter in which his team had minus-1 yard rushing. You wonder how Steve White made the sack and forced the fumble that Warren Sapp fell on.

You wonder how quarterback Shaun King got rid of the decisive 1-yard-shotput pass midway through the final quarter. The rookie was horizontal, under 246-pound Washington Redskins defensive end Ndukwe Kalu, when Bucs third-string tight end John Davis caught just his third football of this season. It won the game. Of course it did.

Mostly you wonder how in the world, or what voodoo was at work, when King's third-down fumble on the winning drive, the drive that began with a 10-yard sack, ended up in the hands of Warrick Dunn, who naturally scooted for the first down, as if someone upstairs drew it up - and we don't mean Mike Shula. "It was like divine intervention," Bucs linebacker Hardy Nickerson said. "That's when I figured we were going to win," King said.

And there was Dunn, short and sweet. "It was meant to be."

FOR WEIRD MEASURE, Washington's attempt to win the game with a 52-yard field goal came apart when the snap took a few hops on its way to Brad Johnson, who went from holder back to quarterback in a split second. He still looked like a holder and was sacked. Ballgame. The Bucs head coach looked like the proverbial cat who swallowed the 14-13 division playoff victory. "The Good Lord was with us," Tony Dungy said. This team will take help from anywhere. That's how it got here. "We made a few plays," Dungy said.

Does that even begin to describe King rolling left under pressure, getting sacked by Redskins linebacker Shawn Barber, and the ball coming loose, the ball just lying there at the Washington 30? And lying there some more? And Dunn just happening along? And making a first down? "Maybe he was just supposed to be there," Bucs center Tony Mayberry said. Did you ever think of that? Well?

For more than half a game, the Bucs didn't look like they belonged here. Tony Dungy's team was going down. And it deserved to. With a week off, with the home field, it seemed bent on ending its season. The offense pewtered out. When Washington's Brian Mitchell returned the second-half kickoff 100 yards for a score, he gained exactly 31 more yards than the Bucs did in the first two quarters. It was 10-0. It was 13-0. The crowd was out of the game. There were two blimps overhead, but the air seemed out of the balloon. The Bucs had come all this way for this? The redshirts at Raymond James Stadium began to squirm as if they were seated in 65,000 dental chairs. The boos began, too, as Alstott and Dunn plowed ahead for no reason and no gain.

Just make a few plays. Then it happened. Johnson threw deep and high down the left side. Bucs strong safety John Lynch raced over from center field. He grabbed it. And with it a game. Here was a play. As usual, the Bucs defense made it. Maybe it's not so amazing Tampa Bay has reached the NFC title game with basically half a football team. Not when the half is this defense. It held the NFL's second-ranked offense to 157 yards. The NFC's leading rusher, Stephen Davis, hurting to begin with, was hurt some more: 37 yards on 17 carries. The Redskins offense never scored a touchdown. And now John Lynch had made a play. His interception brought his team to life. The Bucs hadn't crossed the Washington 42 until this point. Now they started toward it. And kept going.

TO SHAUN KING. Ineffective until now, like everybody else of offense, he threaded it to Dunn on a corner route. Dunn, with Redskins lurking, somehow made the grab for 16 yards. They made plays. Dave Moore grabbed another King ball. Seventeen yards. More plays. It took a pass interference call on Redskins safety Leomont Evans to really get things going. Evans was trying to cover Dunn deep, but couldn't, at least legally. Hey, a play is a play. Bucs ball, Washington 11-yard line.

Then Alstott made two plays. He caught a King pass and bulled to the 2. What happened next started mania where once there was a morgue. The official game play-by-play described it thusly: "M. Alstott L end for 2 and touchdown, runs right, finds no hole, tries middle, bounce outside left for TD." Yeah, that was about it. To summarise: He made a play. Steve White made a play, too. Maybe the biggest, if you want to keep score. He chased down Johnson and the ball came out and Sapp's 303 pounds covered it, and you can't get more covered than that, as Johnson would know, having earlier been sacked by Sapp.

So what is left to say after this? The Bucs had the ball at the other team's 32 and you can reel off the destiny from there. The King fumble and the Dunn run with it. And then the last of it: John Davis - sure, John Davis, why not? - getting free and Shaun King, the rookie from St. Petersburg - sure, hometown hero, why not? - letting that ball go and not even seeing where it had gone until it was done going. The Bucs moved on. Lying on the grass, King clasped his hands in prayer. No real need. Quit your wondering. It was meant to be.