By HUBERT MIZELL
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 1, 2000
WASHINGTON -- Tony Dungy is confident. "I think," said Tampa Bay's coach, "we're going to beat the Redskins."
This is Washington, where spin is always in, but these were words from such a quiet, non-posturing, low-ego, not-running-for-office source.
"So far this season, we've played four hours of football," Dungy said. "Three hours and 55 minutes were most acceptable, then came five bad minutes that cost us last Sunday's game against the Jets.
"I know for sure that the positive 3:55 is more representative of our team than those five negative minutes. To have a championship-type season, we must react well to both highs and lows. I think we will."
Are you feeling spun?
"Frankly, it'd been a euphoric nine or 10 months," Dungy said of Tampa Bay on-the-street attitudes, "encompassing our strong stretch run last season, a playoff win, and even a lot of upbeat feelings following our near-miss in the NFC Championship Game at St. Louis.
"After that, some proven veterans were added to our roster (Keyshawn Johnson, Jeff Christy, Randall McDaniel), so it wasn't surprising when momentum kept building. Lots of Super Bowl talk.
"That is certainly our goal, earning our way to Super Bowl XXXV in Raymond James Stadium, but expectations can be so easy to create. They must be backed up, which is more difficult. As it should be.
"We knew there would be bumps. In those final five minutes against New York, we hit one and took a fall. Losing is always tough, but the way we lost against the Jets was really hard to take. But it's fact. We must move on. So how do we react? We're about to see."
Only a few seasons ago, concern about Tampa Bay maybe taking a mini-plunge on the road, dropping to a 3-2 record, was not so extreme. But now, stakes are up. Expectations heavy. Critics locked and loaded. Dungy understands. "It's a level where we now expect to be," he said.
Bucs-Redskins exposure will be considerable, the 4:15 show getting the strongest Fox-TV eye with John Madden and Pat Summerall doing the talking. Eight days later, it intensifies on Monday Night Football against Minnesota, another crusty road exam. What might Dennis Miller say? Mention a down-spiral to 3-3 and Bucs people shudder.
Life in the NFL express lane.
Dungy said, today at FedEx Field, he hopes his Bucs will emulate a recent Indianapolis Colts accomplishment. "They blew a 21-point lead, lost a game (38-31 to Oakland) they thought was theirs," he said, "surely feeling as lousy as the Bucs did after messing up the finish against the Jets.
"Indianapolis reacted beautifully, taking on a major test Monday night against Jacksonville, winning in convincing style. That's what we hope to do against Washington, if we are a championship-type team."
As we spoke, Tony used that line more than once: "If we are a championship-type team." Every time, a question mark hung over the phrase.
"We'll find out part of that answer against Washington," Dungy said, "then learn more as the season progresses. We think we are a championship-type team. We believe we have what it takes. But it's time to prove it, this Sunday and in weeks to come.
"We had a goal to lose zero games at home, as we did in 1999, but that went down the drain against the Jets. Another of our goals is to not lose two in a row, which helps make it a big exam against the Redskins. Tests keep coming. Championship-type teams produce more positive answers than negatives."
Dungy was asked about his prime to do list against the 'Skins, beyond the obvious, like quarterback Shaun King regaining his passing accuracy and Mike Alstott holding on to the football, plus winning.
"We are stressing to our defense and special teams to not give them big plays early," said the Bucs coach. "Playing before 80,000 fans of your opponent isn't supposed to be easy, but if we can restrain the Redskins from building quick momentum by breaking big plays, then if we begin running the ball as effectively as I know we can, I expect it to generate good results.
"Counting preseason and playoffs, we've faced the Redskins four times recently. Three of them went down to the final possession. I see no reason to not expect that again. I'm confident, when the game is being decided, we will make the right plays."
Okay, let's audible ...
This being Washington, the political crank so easily turns in your head. I wondered for whom the Tampa Bay coach would vote in next month's presidential election.
Dungy pondered my spinning question for a long, long time. I thought I was sniffing a no comment. A stance of in-the-booth privacy. Tony would surprise me.
"I'm still undecided," he began, busting into a grin. "I think I might be leaning to (George W.) Bush, but (Al) Gore has dropped by a couple of times to see us practice, and I don't want to make a good fan unhappy. Just say that I'll know a lot more in a couple of weeks."
On politics and football.