Reggie White is praised by saddened Bucs

Coach Jon Gruden and several players were friends and fans of the defensive end.

Published December 27, 2004

TAMPA - Jon Gruden was stoic and composed as he answered questions from the media Sunday after a 10th Tampa Bay loss. But when the topic turned to the death of NFL great Reggie White, the Bucs coach showed emotion.

"That ruined my day," said Gruden, who got to know the defensive end in 1993-94 as Green Bay's receivers coach. "Reggie was a very close friend of mine. It was a tragic loss for mankind. Certainly for a lot of us who knew him, it was stunning. You can measure defeat easily. It's a sick feeling. But death is final, and I'm not really good at that."

Then, as he added, "I certainly wish Sarah White and her family the best," his eyes grew teary and his voice cracked.

For Gruden and many Bucs, White's death at 43 hung gloomily in the air at Raymond James Stadium, where Tampa Bay dropped to 5-10 with a 37-20 loss to Carolina.

Many had memories of the two-time NFL defensive player of the year, who played a total of 15 years with Philadelphia, Green Bay and Carolina. But players and coaches remembered him just as much as a man.

Gruden invited White to training camp last summer to address the team.

"I had a private conversation with him," Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice said. "Reggie White was exemplary for any man who is going to grow up and raise a family. When a guy like that comes along, he leaves good footsteps to follow."

Former Bucs quarterback Doug Williams, now Tampa Bay's personnel executive, experienced White's ferocious play first-hand when Williams quarterbacked Washington in the mid 1980s.

"It's shocking," Williams said. "I was at the office this morning and Coach Gruden told me. I couldn't believe it, because (former Bucs tight end) Jimmie Giles and I were just talking about Reggie at dinner last night. Jimmie played with Reggie at Philly. We were talking about how good that front four they had up there in Philly was when they had him, Jerome Brown, Clyde Simmons and Mike Pitts."

Williams shook his head.

"He was an unbelievable player, but I remember him more as a person," he added. "You enjoyed playing against Reggie White, because you knew he was going to give you everything. But at the same time, I remember his mannerism on the field. He'd make a play on the field and didn't talk a lot of trash. He'd want to make sure you were all right when he hit you. He was just Reggie White. I had a lot of respect for him."

Tampa Bay offensive line coach Bill Muir, who was on the coaching staff in Philadelphia in 1992, struck a similar tone.

"This is a man who's bigger than life," he said. "These are unique individuals who you don't come across very often. And when you do, I guess it's incorrect, but you take it for granted that they'll be there forever. Sometimes people die before their time and you say, well, there was a reason for it. But this was not a man of abuse. It's just a tragedy. The football community has lost a giant and I think humanity has lost a significant person."

Bucs lineman Derrick Deese, who played for the 49ers when White was a Packer, spoke quietly about White.

"Everybody looks at him as a great football player and the things he did were extraordinary. But he was a class act. He's probably one of the strongest humans to play football - in more than one way."

"Reggie was such a great man," said receiver Tim Brown, who, like White, has a deep religious devotion. "He is one of my mentors. He didn't teach me how to play the game, but he taught me how to be a man in this league."