Super Bowl XXXVII
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 28, 2003
SAN DIEGO -- It was, in some sense, a metaphor for what they had been and what they hoped to become. A symbol, if you will, for a team that always sensed it did not measure up in the eyes of others.
Ah, but then again, maybe that's too deep. Maybe it was just another quaint slogan to shout, another cliche to grace the cover of a game plan.
The Bucs used to pound the rock.
Now they would take 'em to the woodshed.
This was the theme Jon Gruden preached, again and again, in the postseason. As if it were up to the Bucs to impart daddy's harshest wisdom.
Raymond James Stadium was the original woodshed. Where the Bucs took the 49ers out back for the licking they knew they had coming. Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia? That was the ugly woodshed. It may have been a home to the Eagles, but that did not mean Buc rules could not apply.
Finally, there was Qualcomm Stadium. Now that was some woodshed. The biggest and most beautiful of all, Gruden explained. But if the Bucs wanted it to be, it was a woodshed, nonetheless.
"You want to know what a woodshed whupping looks like in the Super Bowl?" tackle Kenyatta Walker asked. "You just saw it."
He will tell you he is not a deep thinker. Not one for philosophy or self-reflection. This is all part of Gruden's schtick.
What he does not say is that he is a football coach who knows how to push a team's buttons. A born smart aleck with a knack for needling, motivating and conversing in the language of macho-speak.
Gruden would come up with a theme for each of the season's games. Usually pithy, always appropriate and rarely revealed.
Pound the rock was an early and recurring motif. It was suggestive of a team that could wear opponents down. The motto grew in fame only because of a chunk of boulder acquired for the locker room.
Other themes were generally confined within the team's borders. Gruden might introduce it early in the week, refer to it occasionally and then bring it into focus during a Saturday night team meeting.
"There was a beauty to what he did from a theme standpoint this year," general manager Rich McKay said. "They weren't complicated; they weren't deep. They were all about unity. He preached the message that this was a workmanlike team trying to win a championship in a very basic fashion."
John Lynch is California-bred and Stanford-educated. The Southern concept of a woodshed whipping had escaped him these past 30 or so years.
"He said it somewhere along the line, and I had never heard that before," Lynch said. "I don't even know what a woodshed is, but I smiled for three days afterward. I thought it was one of the best things I'd ever heard. Taking someone out to the woodshed is to basically beat their butt."
It was corny but somehow appropriate. For all the stars on this team, the Bucs still project an image of toughness rather than beauty. They are not the old 49ers with Bill Walsh's sophisticated offense. They are not the flash and dash of the Rams with the Greatest Show on Turf.
This team wins with defense and a somewhat plodding offense. More fundamental than glam. More old school than new wave.
"This team doesn't stop working. Doesn't stop fighting," fullback Mike Alstott said. "You want a piece of us, we'll go out to the woodshed and give you some. We're going to chop some wood."
Assistant coaches began to pick up on the theme. In individual meeting rooms, they talked about chopping wood.
It wasn't a slight of the opponent as much as an affirmation of what the Bucs do. Chopping wood was playing physical.
It was being tougher. The Bucs were going to take charge of the game because they would be more aggressive.
Somehow, the Bucs tied the theme into their perceived lack of respect. They had to go to the woodshed because no one believed they were good enough. They had to work out of a woodshed because One Buc Place is such a dump.
For the better part of 26 years, the franchise had been a proverbial whipping boy. The team that was good for yucks and little else.
"It became a moniker for all the (rotten) stuff we've been through," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "Just like having to go to Philadelphia. No one believed we could win there, but we took the attitude that we'll play anybody, any time, anywhere, even if it's a woodshed.
"The coaches started talking like that, and we just ran with it. It's like the whole pound-the-rock thing. You say it enough, and everyone starts to buy into it. We believed we could take any team to the woodshed."
By Thursday, Gruden was screaming about the woodshed in workouts. On Friday, he left it up to the players in the week's final practice.
"He said, "Johnny Lynch, you break them down,"' Lynch said, describing the dismissal from practice. "I said, "You guys all know what I'm going to say.' Before I said anything, they all started yelling "Woodshed.' I said, "You know what we're doing. We're bringing it on the road again."'
The team's final walk-through on Saturday was low-key. It was as if the players knew the Super Bowl was their showcase. McKay said it was the best night's sleep he had in weeks. He felt that confident in the team's mood.
They gathered for dinner at the team hotel early Saturday evening and then watched video highlights of the NFC Championship Game victory against the Eagles. They were all in their rooms for the 11 p.m. curfew.
"There really wasn't a whole lot that needed to be said," guard Kerry Jenkins said. "(Gruden) talked about how nice a woodshed this place was. And how it was up to us to put a whipping on them and bring the trophy home."
Even before finishing off the Raiders 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII, center Jeff Christy was telling teammates he was going to print up a batch of woodshed T-shirts for everyone to wear.
He already had a design in mind. The front of the shirt would have a broken-down shack with, "Take 'em to the woodshed" printed below.
On the back of the shirt, the message would be as simple and direct as the team by which it was inspired: