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Gruden opts for prep time over trip with team

By GREG AUMAN, ANTONYA ENGLISH

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 21, 2003


SAN DIEGO -- The Bucs arrived Monday night without coach Jon Gruden, who stayed behind with his staff to get an extra day of preparation.

The staff was scheduled to take a charter flight this morning and expected to arrive in time for scheduled news conferences.

"It was strictly game planning," general manager Rich McKay said of Gruden's absence at a Monday night news conference. "The problem is in a one-week Super Bowl, when you have to travel across the country, if you travel (Monday) you've killed your big planning day. So what we came up with is that Jon would stay behind and they'd get up in the morning and we chartered a plane for about 5:30 and Jon will have been up a couple of hours and they will fly here. Jon was most concerned about the game planning because he does a lot of that himself. And as Jon said, this is the biggest game we're ever going to play. We'll never play one bigger. We may play one equal, hopefully someday, but we'll never play one bigger."

WELCOME HOME: It's been a long 10 years, but John Lynch is finally playing in a Super Bowl. And not just any Super Bowl. One in his hometown.

Lynch played football and baseball at Torrey Pines High School, and he and his wife and two children live in Tampa and Del Mar during the offseason.

Lynch was emotional about the return home to play in the biggest game of his life.

"I think this is just great," he said. "Just the fact of being in my first Super Bowl after 10 years, it's so special, but to do it in your hometown just makes it even more special. I'm so excited. It's great just coming home to familiar surroundings. Just flying in, I felt like a tour guide on the way to the hotel. It's just great."

So what about ticket requests that must be pouring in from family and "friends"?

"Fortunately I've got a great wife who handles those things and I've taken myself out of the loop," Lynch said. "I did my work as far as getting here, now she distributes them. So don't call me."

Receiver Keyshawn Johnson also is from California and attended USC. Johnson said he used to park cars at Raiders games as a youngster.

"This is even more satisfying because a lot of people didn't expect us to be here," Johnson said.

YOU MAKE THE CALL: So exactly where would the Bucs be this week if Tony Dungy had not been fired and Gruden had not been hired? Home watching the Super Bowl on TV or preparing to play?

It's a question nobody can answer, but McKay gave it a shot, sort of.

"That's a hard question," he said. "I have to give Jon an awful lot of credit. He did energize a group that probably hadn't played at this level in a couple of years. Would we be here? I don't know, that would just be speculation and I really don't know the answer to it."

TICKETS SCARCE: The Bucs' allotment of about 2,000 tickets was spoken for through a random lottery of season-ticket holders. Those who weren't among the lucky few chosen last week for the right to purchase the $400 tickets still could find seats at Qualcomm Stadium through travel packages, but those went quickly, too.

AllSports Travel, the official Super Bowl travel provider of the Bucs, sold out its initial set of 348 packages by early Monday afternoon. A four-day trip, including round-trip airfare, lodging, a ticket and souvenir bag, cost $3,199, and a same-day package was $2,199.

"It's been overwhelming," All-Sports' Chuck Saulino said. "These Bucs fans definitely want to travel and definitely want to see their team play in the Super Bowl."

JUST ANOTHER JERSEY: Always a big media attraction, Warren Sapp arrived wearing an Eagles jersey, saying it was former quarterback Ron Jaworski's.

"I got it at Instant Replay in Atlanta," Sapp said. "Jaws does our preseason games on the radio; it's no biggie. It's just a jersey."

Asked if it symbolized anything after the Bucs' win over the Eagles for the NFC championship, Sapp said no.

He then added: "To the victor goes the spoils, right?"

FIRST TIME'S A CHARM: Entering Sunday's championship games, three coaches had teams in the Super Bowl in their first season. Gruden and the Raiders' Bill Callahan pulled off the feat against the Eagles and Titans.

Two of the three continued their first-year success at the Super Bowl: Don McCafferty guided the Baltimore Colts to victory against Dallas in 1970, and George Seifert led the 49ers past the Broncos in 1989. Denver coach Red Miller was the only one to lose, against Dallas in 1977.

WHAT'S IN A NUMBER: Sunday's Super Bowl is XXXVII, and the number 37 has been prominent in the Bucs' postseason. Tampa Bay routed San Francisco 31-6 in the divisional playoffs and beat the Eagles 27-10 Sunday. That said, the over/under line from oddsmakers for the Super Bowl is 44.

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