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Ballroom practice keeps team on toes

By Times staff and wire reports

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2003


SAN DIEGO -- The Buccaneers spent the day before the Super Bowl working out inside a hotel ballroom instead of a ballpark.

The Bucs were bused to Qualcomm Stadium for a team picture Saturday, but coach Jon Gruden passed on an opportunity to hold a brief practice there.

Instead, the Bucs held a walkthrough in the team hotel.

"We've had walkthroughs at the hotel all week. We might as well walk through there than out here," Gruden said at the stadium. "There's a lot of people here. The field was obstructed with a lot of stuff, too.

"There's people working on the field. You only have about 25 yards. Actually, our ballroom facility was better for walkthrough purposes than here."

In addition to taking a team photo, the Bucs tried to get a feel for the stadium before tonight's game against the Raiders.

Gruden said none of the players missed curfew this week, and he didn't anticipate many last-minute changes to the game plan.

"We've been preparing a long time for a game like this," Gruden said. "Sometimes you tend to overanalyze or overgameplan some things. But in Week 22 or whatever it is, we're going to do the things that got us here."

MIXED EMOTIONS: Running back Michael Pittman is about to play in the biggest game of his five-year career, but he hasn't forgotten that there are more pressing issues in the nation.

Pittman's father, Henry Pittman, served 27 years in the U.S. Navy before retiring about eight years ago. He served in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War.

Pittman spent a lot of time this week answering questions about America's possible war with Iraq. He said he's torn over the issue.

"It's hard to say," he said when asked if he was against a war. "When my father was in the Navy, I never wanted him to go overseas and fight in a war, of course. And I feel for all the people who have family that's overseas right now because, the thing is, you never know if they're going to come home. But they've got to do what they have to do to defend our country.

"It's really a tough thing to say. I really don't want the troops to go over there and fight, but at the same time that's their job, to put their life on the line for us."

YOU NEVER KNOW: There have been Hall of Famers who have never played in the big game. Some have played numerous time, yet never won.

Many young Bucs players know that while fate may have smiled on them by allowing them to make it to the Super Bowl early in their careers, they better not take it for granted.

"I've got to make sure I enjoy this," rookie cornerback Tim Wansley said. "Guys have been playing in this league, six, seven, eight, nine years. Look at Tim Brown. He's been playing, what 14? That's a long time. And here I am, I get here my first year in the league. So I'm not going to take anything for granted. I've got here and I understand I may not ever get back here. So while I'm here, I've got to make sure I enjoy it. I'm just blessed I got on a great team."

INTERESTED OBSERVER: Devil Rays managing general partner Vince Naimoli said the fervor over the Bucs is encouraging.

"I think it's certainly an exclamation point that the Tampa Bay area is a great sports market," Naimoli said. "You look at the Bucs history, when they weren't doing so well and didn't fill Tampa Stadium, and now they're a marvelous success and there is euphoria all over.

"I'm very optimistic about things. The reason we're here is that we've always believed it's a terrific baseball market. When we get to the level we hope to get to sooner than later, it's sure to be terrific for us."

Naimoli, who wasn't able to make it to San Diego for the game, said the Rays are talking about doing something to salute the Bucs. Why not have Gruden throw out the first pitch opening day?

WELL-ARMED: Before he became a big hitter in the Bucs secondary, John Lynch was a pretty good pitcher, good enough to be a second-round draft pick by the Marlins in 1992.

"He had a real good arm, and he threw like he plays football," Devil Rays assistant general manager Bart Braun said. "I mean that seriously -- he gave great effort on the mound. He had real good stuff (a 95 mph fastball), but he was raw. He just needed time on the mound. He definitely had the ability to be a major-league pitcher."

Lynch said that after two seasons in the NFL he was "this close" to going back to baseball.

Bucs general manager Rich McKay playfully disagreed.

"With that fastball," McKay said, "he wasn't "this close.' "

SCARED PICK: If Warren Sapp had his way, says Tom Arnold, he'd beat up the Best Damn Sports Show Period host.

But that isn't stopping Arnold from taking the Bucs.

According to Arnold, he played host to a NFL Big Man competition a few years ago and was supposed to call a play that Sapp executed, but he joked around about it a little too much and ticked the defensive tackle off.

Otherwise, he has a good relationship with a few of the players, like regular guest Keyshawn Johnson, and admires Gruden, which is why he's going with the red and pewter.

"First of all, in the preseason, I predicted Tampa Bay would go all the way," Arnold said. "They're going to win 20-17, no doubt about it. This is their year. ... It better be, at least, because if this isn't it, they aren't ever having a year."

Of course, Arnold hasn't had much luck rooting for his teams in big games, watching the Iowa Hawkeyes lose the Orange Bowl and the Giants fall in the playoffs.

But don't despair -- this time, he really feels it.

"I just think they're the finest team," he said. "I think it's destiny. I was surprised they didn't do it two years before, but I think the fact that Jon Gruden came there, whether he has changed the offense an incredible lot or not, just the whole thinking is different."

FOREVER YOUNG: If Arnold rooting for the Bucs is a little unsettling for those fans of karma, how about former Buc quarterback and ABC analyst Steve Young?

He says the Bucs will win too, but with a caveat.

"Chris (Berman) and I have mentioned this year that the last four years when we talk about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for whatever reason, they lured us into being a part of their quest for a Super Bowl game," Young said. "I asked if they scored 28 points a game would they ever lose? And the consensus was no, they'll never lose. But that never happened (in a big game), and now it has.

"Can Tampa Bay score 28 against Oakland? I say to myself if they can, they win."

-- ANTONYA ENGLISH, MARC TOPKIN, JOHN C. COTEY, Times wires

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