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Iraq

Gruden, Lynch to e-mail GIs

They will join other pros in reaching out at least once a week for the next several weeks to troops in the Iraqi war.

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 2, 2003


TAMPA -- With hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops embroiled in the war in Iraq, Bucs safety John Lynch and coach Jon Gruden are eager to reach out to those on the front lines.

As part of a program called Jocks to GIs Direct, run by ESPN.com, Lynch and Gruden each will become online pen pals with at least one service person based in the war zone.

Lynch and Gruden are scheduled to e-mail the individuals once a week for at least the next eight weeks. Anyone can follow the exchanges through links on ESPN.com.

"This was certainly something that I got excited about," Lynch said Tuesday. "I've already been keeping in contact with some of the people I met here in Tampa and talked to them over there in Qatar. One thing I have realized, especially being here in Tampa where CentCom is based, is that we have a better view of how much these guys appreciate what we do as professional athletes. It's kind of a diversion for them when they are going through things like this.

"In the same way, these are guys that I have the ultimate respect for. They are making the ultimate sacrifice, to be away from their families and to fight for our freedom."

Gruden said the idea of developing an online pen pal was brought to his attention two weeks ago at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix and it was something he couldn't resist.

"Any support I can give, whether it's as little as an e-mail once a day, I'm more than excited about it," Gruden said. "I really don't know how long it will last. A lot depends on how long the program goes on for and for how long our troops are there. But I'm in. (Today's) my first day."

Lynch and Gruden join some of the nation's top professional athletes who already have started online correspondence with those stationed in the Middle East.

Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal, golfer Tiger Woods, Giants defensive end Michael Strahan and coach Jim Fassell, NASCAR driver Jeff Burton and WNBA star Chamique Holdsclaw are among those who already have made contact.

Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens, Diamondbacks pitcher Curt Schilling, Giants running back Tiki Barber and Warriors basketball player Adonal Foyle are among those expected to come on board.

"When you first start playing professional football and see how people react to you, you don't understand it," Lynch said. "It's come full circle for me. I'm in awe of these guys in what they do."

In Tampa this week with his family, Lynch said recent news reports of the struggles troops are having with living and sleeping conditions makes the two-a-days of training camp seem easy.

"We get water whenever we want, we get as much food as we want, we sometimes eat in excess," Lynch said. "Just a couple days ago they were saying that they were running low on supplies and were going to start rationing the supplies. The thing that really impresses me is that no one over there really complains. They just do it."

A number of athletes have family members and friends in the war. Among those, ESPN.com reported, are the stepson of Bucs left tackle Lomas Brown, the brother of former Packers receiver Antonio Freeman, the brother of Eagles center Hank Fraley and the brother of Detroit Shock basketball guard Swin Cash.

A cousin of Rangers catcher Todd Greene's wife, Army Chief Warrant Officer Ron Young, was taken prisoner by Iraqis after his helicopter was shot down.

Gruden said those realities offer tremendous perspective.

"We're playing a game we love, but they're playing for real," Gruden said. "What they're doing is not a game. It's life or death. It takes quite a person to be able to go through the training and go over there. And it takes quite a person to be able to respond under the pressure. I think it's important for all of us to know that."

JETT LANDING: In a quest to bolster competition on offense, the Bucs entertained former Raiders receiver James Jett on Tuesday. Jett, who played for Gruden in Oakland, met with team officials and coaches and took a physical.

"It was a good visit," Gruden said. "I haven't seen him in a year, and we had a chance to talk to him. We're looking at all kind of players, and we'll hopefully see how things shape up in the next few days."

Known for his ability to stretch the defense with deep routes, Jett could add another dimension to the Bucs passing game.

"We would not have sent him down there for a visit if we didn't think we could get something done," said Eric Metz, Jett's agent. "James' past experience with Jon certainly makes for an easier learning curve. ... We're trying to get a feel for the situation and hopefully we'll see what happens soon."

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