Healthy Galloway just getting started

The speedy receiver may have the best year of his career if the Bucs can keep him fresh.

Published October 7, 2005

TAMPA - Mention his nine touchdowns in as many games. Or bring up his career high in reception yardage Sunday against the Lions. Any compliment is met with the same response.

Joey Galloway raises his index fingers and plugs his ears.

"That's like calculating a batting average or talking about a no-hitter. You don't talk about that stuff," Galloway said, still blocking out the noise.

You can't blame him for being superstitious because luck hasn't always been on his sideline.

At 33, Galloway is on pace to enjoy the most productive season of his 11-year career. While declining physical skills force most receivers his age to play more with their head, Galloway still is beating defensive backs with his legs. He is tied for the team lead with 17 receptions for 316 yards (18.6 average) and three touchdowns.

Perhaps more impressive is that 14 of his catches have resulted in first downs. His 209 receiving yards on third down is tops in the NFL.

"This guy is a hell of a lot more than a deep threat. He's a hell of a player, man," coach Jon Gruden said. "He's a threat on a little screen pass. He's a threat all the time."

That's why Gruden was so annoyed Sunday when Galloway left the game briefly in the third quarter with cramps from dehydration. In fact, several hours after Galloway's seven-catch, 166-yard performance that included an 80-yard touchdown, he received a telephone call from Gruden.

"I'm sure he gave you the clean version of that phone conversation," Galloway said. "He made it clear that we've got to take care of the cramp situation, and believe me, we're doing everything we can to take care of the cramp situation."

The Bucs are doing everything they can to make certain Galloway is in the lineup for 16 games this season. A year ago, he tore his groin in the season opener at Washington and missed the next six games. So in training camp, the Bucs devised a lighter schedule. He practiced just once a day to keep him fresh for the regular season.

"It wasn't so much overworking him, but working him the right way," Gruden said. "We saw the guy put on a show last year in training camp and miss eight or nine games. We were just hoping he can have an injury-free year with the Bucs. He's just now scratching the surface of what he can be. I don't even think he knows what all he can do. I'm just here to help him, prod him at times."

Galloway doesn't mind. He was sold on playing for Gruden the minute he saw news of the proposed trade from Dallas for Keyshawn Johnson crawl across the bottom of his television screen two years ago. He was vacationing in Mexico, without phone service for several hours and no way to determine whether the report was accurate.

But Galloway welcomed a change of scenery. His final year with the Cowboys, he caught just 34 passes for 672 yards and two touchdowns despite playing in 15 games.

"When you go a season getting 30 or 40 balls? People actually thought I was hurt," Galloway said. "Some didn't even know I played 15 games that season. They're like, "Man, are you okay?' I was like, "Just don't tell anyone I was healthy.' But yeah, that's the nature of this sport. Have one of those years, they write you off. But if you can get to a system, the right place, right situation, then all of a sudden it all works out."

Gruden always wanted to work with Galloway. He was the Eagles offensive coordinator who lobbied for the Ohio State star in the 1995 draft. But Philadelphia went for Boston College defensive end Mike Mamula with the seventh overall pick. Galloway went one pick later to the Seahawks. He caught 36 touchdowns in his first four years.

"When I was coaching elsewhere years ago, I really felt that when I saw this guy that he was the best receiver I'd ever seen, coming out of Ohio State," Gruden said. "He had it all. He's built like a brick house. He runs a 4.18 at his workout. I really thought he was a superstar when he was playing at Seattle. He scared the hell out of me. He had (nearly) 40 touchdowns his first four years and was just warming up.

"Then he got hurt. Got derailed. He played in a situation in Dallas where they struggled at quarterback. ... They had Clint Stoerner and went quarterback after quarterback and offensive coordinator after offensive coordinator. He had a couple of injuries, but I always wanted to work with him."

Although Galloway has had surgeries on both knees, he shows no signs of slowing.

"The difference between him and the other 30-year-olds playing the game is that this guy can still run by you," cornerback Brian Kelly said. "Joey is playing like he's a third- or four-year guy and still knows if he gets anybody in front of him, he's going to get behind them. That's the most impressive thing I've seen."

There's another reason Galloway turns a deaf ear to his personal accomplishments. At this point in his career, Galloway is more interested in winning a championship.

"I know that if we have to go into games and run it 50 times, and win, that's fine with me," he said.

"It's been a long 11 years of two playoff games and two losses. Man, I just want to get back there and have a chance to win."