By HUBERT MIZELL
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 9, 2000
We were eager for Tony Dungy's comments about next weekend's Bucs playoff opponent. He promised me a Saturday call, as soon as Tampa Bay's coach was certain who he would be facing, Washington or Detroit.
Early in the third quarter, as I was watching Redskins-Lions wild-card football on TV, my telephone rang. It was Tony. Dialing far earlier than expected. "We know," he said. "It was decided in a hurry."
By then, 'Skins ruled 27-0.
"I thought Washington would win, but not so easily," the Bucs fellow said from Captiva Island, where the Dungy family was taking a three-day breather. "You can't let the Redskins, with such an explosive offense, get in front of you.
"Such domination of Detroit, after the Lions won convincingly over Washington in the (regular) season, well, it just reinforces my belief that we've got to keep the Redskins from rolling early."
Detroit eventually lost 27-13.
Dungy, the Gulf of Mexico surf gorgeously tumbling outside his door, did some assessing. "Having the home field is huge, as two quite opposite Lions-Redskins matchups illustrates," he said. "Washington will now be coming to Tampa with a lot of confidence.
"I don't know who will be favored, but I like our chances at home. We're hoping the percentages hold up; advancing NFC wild-card teams in the '90s have gone 1-17 in the next round."
With the Redskins having such offensive gusto, I wondered aloud if a Bucs-Washington affair might demand 30 points or more from the winner. "I really hope not," said Dungy, who tends to do better when scores are lower.
"We've had a lot of success against high-powered offenses, like Minnesota and Green Bay, at Raymond James Stadium. Packers held to 10 points. If we can keep the Redskins to 17 or less, that enhances our chances."
Tony widened his view.
"Washington is explosive on offense, but not as good defensively," he said. "We're defensively structured but don't have such explosiveness on offense.
"Our obvious aim will be to take (running back) Stephen Davis out of his game as soon as possible. He sprained a knee against Detroit, but we anticipate Stephen being healthy next Saturday.
"We had our eye on Davis coming out of college. He was a bit of an underachiever at Auburn. We wound up drafting (offensive tackle) Jason Odom ahead of Stephen in the fourth round. But we knew, if somebody could tap into Davis' talent, he could be special."
Dungy's scheme is hardly complex. If his Bucs minimize the effectiveness of Davis, the load gets heavier on Washington quarterback Brad Johnson. Tony is well acquainted with the old Florida State player. They shared four seasons (1992-95) in the employ of the Minnesota Vikings.
"Brad is really solid," Dungy said. "Even more mature now. Nobody works harder. It was just a matter of Johnson getting a full chance to play after being mostly a backup with the Vikings.
"(Redskins coach) Norv Turner thinks it's the first time he had a veteran quarterback that everybody respects. Allowing them to really open it up offensively.
"Brad is a far better athlete than you might think at first glance. He played basketball in college. Good mobility. Makes smart decisions. Throws accurately. Brad understands what is needed. This year, with him, the Redskins cut their sacks in half."
During our conversation, something on TV caught Dungy's eye. "There was a fight on the field," he said. "I think (Lions defensive end) Robert Porcher and Brad (Johnson) might've been involved.
"One of Washington's offensive tackles, Tre Johnson, went for Porcher but instead wound up grabbing an official. He got ejected. It'll be interesting to see how the NFL rules on that."
Tony was into 'Skins.
One of the NFL's defensive wizards, Dungy saw it as "most unusual" when the Redskins, after this season began, hired Bill Arnsparger as consultant to Washington coordinator Mike Nolan. Arnsparger works from the press box, communicating with Nolan on the bench.
"I think Daniel Snyder is a bit unusual as an NFL owner," the Tampa Bay coach said of the mouthy, reactionary, 34-year-old micro manager who spent $800-million buying the Redskins.
"Bill and Mike worked together at LSU. Arnsparger is a respected coach who helped the Miami Dolphins to greatness and help San Diego get to a Super Bowl. It's an unusual move, yes, but since Bill showed up, Washington has been playing better defense."