St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

What they're saying

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 19, 2003

Eagles return man Brian Mitchell was the one to take issue with (Warren) Sapp's venomous statements about Veterans Stadium this week, not the Eagles' tight-lipped defenders. Sapp said the stadium is "a (expletive) of a place, my mother can't even come." The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' equally loquacious defensive end Simeon Rice said the Bucs are "going to blow the place up."

"They're going to do their talking, but we're not going to be intimidated or back down from it," Mitchell said. "If anybody here wants to send it down to them, that's on me."

Mitchell taunted Sapp further on his Tuesday night radio show by referring to him as Warren Sackless because of his struggles against the Eagles' offensive line during the Bucs' four-game losing streak to Philly.


-- Bob Glauber, Newsday

* * *

A dump. He called it a dump.

Jeffrey Lurie, the owner of the Eagles, called Veterans Stadium, the arena in which his very own team plays all of its home games, a dump.

He is right, of course. But he misses the essential point, which is the Philadelphia point, which is: Yes, it is a dump, but it is "our dump."

And for all its inhospitable and cheerless cold, for all its crumbling concrete and flaking paint, for all its leaks and stark lack of architectural soul, for all its dank, foreboding gothic grimness, it has, throughout its 32-year-old life, served a most useful, if vaguely ignoble, purpose.

It has redefined what is meant by home-field advantage.

Because opponents would sooner play in the Black Hole of Calcutta.

-- Bill Lyon, Philadelphia Inquirer

* * *

The Bucs have shut down the last two mobile quarterbacks they've faced, the Falcons' Michael Vick and the 49ers' Jeff Garcia, which might not look good for Donovan McNabb. But he can operate with equal efficiency from the pocket, and his broken ankle has taught him the value of staying at home.

Tampa Bay got to Garcia on Sunday, but it was interesting that the Bucs had to resort to blitz pressure, which they don't usually do. Except for one fumble-producing sack by defensive end Simeon Rice, the front four was very ordinary against San Francisco, and Warren Sapp was practically invisible.

If Tampa Bay goes to the blitz against Philadelphia, look for the Eagles to run the ball. Philly will open the game with short, controlled passing, taking an occasional shot downfield in an attempt to surprise the Bucs' defense. I don't think the Eagles will try to run much until late in the game, when some of the life has been drained from Tampa Bay's defensive line.

Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson put the Niners to rest with three straight scoring drives, but he was working against a crippled and confused secondary, and even then he completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes. Tampa Bay won't be able to run against Philly. The Bucs' best hope is that Johnson can get to his hot reads quickly against a ferocious blitz package. Third wideout Joe Jurevicius will be key.

Do I see anything dramatic happening to change the recent history of this matchup? Not really, but I think the final score will be closer this time. Eagles 17, Bucs 13.

-- Paul Zimmerman, Sports Illustrated

* * *

They have been here before, and these Tampa Bay Buccaneers are facing the chilling specter of deja vu all over again.

One game shy of the Super Bowl berth they have long believed is their collective birthright, the Bucs now stare at a championship path that again winds through a city that has been the equivalent of Hades for them.

Jon Gruden has the Bucs in the NFC championship in his first season as head coach. Philadelphia might be about brotherly love for most people but, for Tampa Bay veterans, it is a trip to the nether regions. It is also an unavoidable stop on the 2002 Super Bowl itinerary after the 31-6 dismantling Sunday of the San Francisco 49ers, a place where the Bucs must exorcise their demons to fulfill searing aspirations.

At least for now, maybe until they break out the videotape of some of their past atrocities at the vermin pit otherwise known as Veterans Stadium, the Bucs seem poised for glory and ready to purge the gory from their memory banks. At least that was the message being universally delivered through a Bucs locker room where the common theme for the upcoming battle with the Eagles was one of unfinished business.

"This is where your name is cemented as a legend," said Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice, "and where you earn your bones. I guess, given what has gone on here in the past, it was inevitable we would go up there again. That's okay as far as we're concerned. You can't just play the football game, you have to be the game, and we'll be the game when the time comes."

When the time comes, of course, is one thing. But where it comes, the Buccaneers have demonstrated in their past several trips to Philadelphia, is quite another.

In each of the past two campaigns, the Bucs' season ended with a playoff defeat at Veterans Stadium, and they were also beaten there Oct. 20. The cumulative margin in those three defeats was 72-22. Worse, the Bucs did not score an offensive touchdown in any of the three games.

Their only touchdown in those three contests came on an 11-yard fumble return by weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2002, in the Oct. 20 game. In the last three games at Philadelphia, the Bucs have averaged 7.3 points, 13.7 first downs and 221.1 yards. The most rushing yardage in those three games was a paltry 81 earlier this year.

Fact is, Tampa Bay had zero offensive touchdowns in its last three playoff outings before Sunday. They lost the 1999 NFC title game at St. Louis by an 11-6 count. In 2000, the Bucs lost at Philadelphia, 21-3, in a wild-card contest. And in the finale for coach Tony Dungy last year, the Bucs were thumped by a 31-9 score at Philadelphia, despite vows from some veterans that they would save their beloved leader's job.

Yeah, right, guys.

But the Bucs graybeards insisted Sunday they are living in the moment. They promised that past pratfalls against the Eagles will not be repeated. And while they stopped short of providing any bulletin board material, like by guaranteeing a win, Tampa Bay players actually sounded convincing in emphasizing that history is in the rearview mirror.

They would tolerate no suggestions that their only hope for an upset was to play a Dungy-type game, heavy on defense, with fewer than 20 points total for the two teams. The Bucs insisted they aren't looking ahead to a Sunday meeting with the Eagles as much as they are looking forward to another chance for redemption.

-- Len Pasquarelli,

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.