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TV crew sees a different Bucs

To this weekend's broadcasting team, Bucs coach Jon Gruden has been worth the price already.

By JOHN COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 19, 2003


There's the cold weather. The decrepit stadium that has proved to be a house of horrors. An offense and defense that haven't shown up. Special-teams nightmares. Embarrassing playoff failures.

Why should the Bucs even bother showing up today?

How about this: The past doesn't mean squat, say Fox analysts Cris Collinsworth, Troy Aikman and Jimmy Johnson.

Though only Johnson is making a prediction -- he likes the Eagles -- the trio says it's time for fans to forget what happened to the Bucs the past three visits.

For one thing, said Aikman, this season's Bucs don't have controversy swirling around them as they did in 2002, when the Times reported Bill Parcells was coming and Tony Dungy going if they lost.

"The uncertainty with who was in control of the football team, it definitely puts a dark cloud over the club," Aikman said. "Tampa did not show up for that game last year. That in and of itself gives (Bucs fans) hope."

Collinsworth agreed. "Last year's team doesn't even apply," he said. "I just think this offense is much better today. They have been getting better, and this is really their final exam. This game is up against a great defense that has given you fits, so this final exam will determine if they are there. They're pretty close, but I can't say they are there until they play the Eagles. They need to show the world that we are the team to beat."

GO EAGLES: Johnson knows all about the Philly fan reputation, having been pelted with snowballs and batteries in visits as the Dallas coach. He joked Wednesday it was part of the reason he signed off the Fox postgame show by saying, "I love Philadelphia."

"I did say at the end of show I looooove Philadelphia and I hope everyone in Philadelphia hears this. And I'm picking Philadelphia to win."

WORTH THE PRICE: The Bucs gave up two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8-million to get Jon Gruden as coach, and that is looking like a bargain.

"It'd be worth three first-round picks, three second-round picks and $20-million if they win the Super Bowl," Collinsworth said. "You can't put a price on that."

Super Bowl? Aikman and Johnson don't think the Bucs have to win Sunday to prove they got a good deal.

"I think it's a great deal anyway, regardless of what happens," Aikman said. "I believe head coaches make a difference."

"Regardless of what happens in this game, it was the right move to make," Johnson said. "You look at how much money is involved for a particular team, with salaries and on and on, and you see what Tampa gave up for Jon Gruden and it is insignificant to see the improvement."

FOLDED HANDS: ABC, which will televise the Super Bowl, is praying for Oakland-Tampa Bay.

"From my standpoint it's the best possible matchup, and if you're talking to people from ABC, I think they'd tell you the same thing," Collinsworth said.

TUNE IN: The NFL on Fox will be two hours Sunday, beginning at 1 p.m. Johnson sits down with Philly coach Andy Reid, Terry Bradshaw interviews Brad Johnson, Howie Long does a feature on the Eagles defense and Pam Oliver does a piece on Bucs defensive leaders Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch. ... ESPN's NFL Sunday Countdown will air features on Brad Johnson's briefcase, which he carries to every game, and his tendency to constantly change parts of his uniform during the game. It also will feature Sapp, tight end of the future?

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