Indeed, Well Worth The Wait
The Tampa Tribune, published 27 January 2003

It was a long time coming. Many would say too long. That's what made the Bucs' 48-21 Super Bowl XXXVII victory against the Oakland Raiders so special - the wait. You know what they say about those who wait. Good things come to them. The Bucs waited.

A year ago, while a football nation laughed at their search for a new coach, the Bucs shouldered the criticism and waited. ``We were waiting for the right man, and the right man came,'' Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer said of his choice, Jon Gruden.

Earlier this year, while Gruden's offense struggled as if it were Clyde Christensen's or Mike Shula's, the Bucs waited. Patience they said. ``It took a while, but the line and the running game finally caught up with our quarterback [Brad Johnson],'' Gruden said.

The running game. For months fans clamored for Mike Alstott. The Bucs stuck with Michael Pittman and waited. On Sunday, he ran 29 times for 124 yards, rewarding the Bucs for their patience.

``I'm so happy because of all the things he's gone through,'' Alstott said of Pittman. ``Credit also has to go to our offensive line. They've been taking a lot of heat all year for not producing 100-yard rushers and not putting together a balanced attack. [Sunday], they really came to play.''

Patience. It was the hallmark of the Bucs defense as well. Wait for an opportunity to present itself and pounce. That has been the motto all season. It was the motto Sunday. Dexter Jackson knew it was the right approach. ``With Rich Gannon, I knew opportunities would be there for us,'' he said, referring to the Raiders quarterback. ``All we had to do was wait for them.''

Interceptions came in droves. There were two in the first half. Jackson had both, intercepting Gannon each time and sparking a rout. There were three more in the second half. Dwight Smith and Derrick Brooks pounced on them, bringing to five the times they intercepted Gannon. It was a Super Bowl record. So was this: three of the picks were returned for touchdowns, two by Smith, one by Brooks.

Patience. It has been a virtue for the Bucs all season. For some of their players, it has been a requirement. John Lynch came to the Bucs in 1993. He thought right away that he could win a Super Bowl. ``Looking back, I realize how naive I was,'' Lynch said. ``I was laughing about it with a buddy the other day.''

Lynch was smiling and laughing Sunday. His patience had paid off. So had Gruden's. He didn't necessarily consider Johnson the ideal quarterback for his offense. So he waited. Johnson had earned a long look. He'd earned the right to lose the job that was his a year ago.

Gruden kept waiting. For Johnson to fail. For Rob Johnson or Shaun King to outplay him. He's still waiting. ``You just can't say enough about the guy,'' Gruden said. ``The job he did here this year, remarkable.''

Johnson always knew he was capable. He just needed time to prove it. It was that way Sunday, too. The Bucs offense started slowly. Johnson was intercepted on the first series. They fell behind. Patience. It paid off again. By the end of the first half the Bucs were rolling. On both sides of the ball.

``I got hit quite a bit early in the game,'' Johnson said. ``We had a [dropped pass]; I had to throw the ball away. We weren't in rhythm, but you could tell it was going to come. Early on, we just didn't hit the easy plays. Then, when we got the touchdown [a 5-yard pass to Keenan McCardell] it was kind of a knockout blow. After that, it turned into an incredible day.''

It was a long time in coming.