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Bucs give their salute to real heroes

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 20, 2001

TAMPA -- Frequently, football fans and players use terms like "battle" and "war" to describe what happens on the field.

But the Bucs wanted to send a message to members of the Armed Forces in Afghanistan that they are fighting the real battles and are engaged in a real war.

A large group of players, led by defensive end Simeon Rice, safety John Lynch, running back Mike Alstott, left tackle Kenyatta Walker and veteran kicker Mark Royals, recorded a video Christmas greeting card that will be sent to the troops abroad either today or Friday.

The three-minute video features a series of messages from 12 players and coach Tony Dungy.

"Big ups to all of you over there for holding it down," Rice said on the tape.

Added Royals: "I really don't fully comprehend what it takes to defend a country. I don't think I can find the words. ... We really appreciate you guys and what you do protecting the freedom we live under."

The film, which also features takes from quarterback Joe Hamilton, guard Russ Hochstein, center Jeff Christy, kicker Martin Gramatica and offensive tackles DeMarcus Curry and Jerry Wunsch, begins with a revolving Bucs logo, topped with a Santa Claus hat against a backdrop of light falling snow.

"We have a job over here that's fun, that everyone can get into, but it's not a life-and-death situation," said linebacker Jamie Duncan, who also filmed a message. "But it's nothing compared to what they have to deal with over there. They have a bad day out there, they may never see their family again. You always have to put every thing in perspective."

Added Wunsch on the tape: "Take care of business ... but come home safe."

TOUCHDOWN DROUGHT: The Bucs have thrown the ball 495 times, which is more than any other team in the league. They have completed 308 passes and won seven games. Yet the offense seems to have developed an allergy to the end zone.

The Bucs failed to score Sunday in Chicago and have one touchdown pass in the past five games.

"It's been incredible," quarterback Brad Johnson said. "You would never expect that. I think we have done a great job of really not throwing a lot of interceptions but you would expect that we have more touchdowns.

"For a lot of different reasons we haven't had it happen. We haven't had a lot of big passing plays, a lot of breaking tackles and runs after the catch. We have had to work for everything we've gotten this year."

NOT CAUGHT UP IN THE HYPE: Rookie fullback Jameel Cook has been a hot topic in recent weeks because of his blocking ability, but he isn't letting the publicity go to his head.

"Personally, I don't look at it as anything controversial," Cook said. "I'm happy that I'm getting the opportunities to play. Being a rookie fullback, having an opportunity to play as much as I have, that's a great thing."

The rookie from Illinois has played an important role opening holes for fullback Mike Alstott. But with running back Warrick Dunn mired in his worst season as a pro, the Bucs have hinted they might let Cook block for Dunn. That has not happened this season.

"As far as who I'm blocking for, I don't care," Cook said. "They are both Pro Bowlers. They are both great backs."

Cook said he has blocked for Dunn in practice and his approach to blocking wouldn't differ.

"For some guys, they might say they have to block one way for one guy, another way (for the other guy)," Cook said. "No, no, that's not how it goes. I feel like this, if I'm going to block, I'm going to have a great block for everybody. What I want to do is knock somebody out. So, anybody can run through those holes. You can run through those holes."

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The book's not finished. A few more chapters still need to be written. There might be a surprise ending." -- offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen on what might be in store for defenses in the upcoming weeks.

INJURY UPDATE: Defensive tackle Warren Sapp (shoulder strain), cornerback Ronde Barber (left hamstring), receiver Frank Murphy (left ankle sprain), safety Eric Vance (right knee sprain) and receiver Jacquez Green (right hip flexor) sat out practice. Murphy and Vance are questionable for Sunday's game but Dungy said he expects the others to return to practice by Friday.

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