This is the chance for this football team to make a statement
It was a Monday Night Football game for the ages with Tony Dungy’s return to Tampa Bay as the Indianapolis Colts’ head coach and Peyton Manning versus the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl defense. For much of the nation – and for Colts fans – it was one of the most thrilling Monday Night Football games of all time.
For fans of the Buccaneers, it was a Monday nightmare, watching their team lose a 35-21 lead with just over five minutes remaining to witness Manning lead a furious comeback to tie the game at 35-35 and send it into overtime where Mike Vanderjagt’s 29-yard field goal would win it. It was the best birthday present Dungy could hope for on October 6, 2003, and that game began a downward spiral for the Bucs, who had a Super Bowl hangover in 2003 and finished 7-9.
The comeback was keyed by a 90-yard kickoff return by Brad Pyatt, two onside kick recoveries for the Colts, and a few clutch, big passes from Manning to Marvin Harrison that made overmatched Bucs nickel cornerback Tim Wansley a villain in Tampa Bay as he was forced to replace Brian Kelly, who tore his pectoral muscle on the second play of the game.
“It was disastrous,” said Bucs head coach Raheem Morris, who was a quality control coach in 2003. “I remember Ronde Barber’s interception and we were about to win that game and I remember Peyton Manning and their special teams orchestrating a great comeback and some great drives. They had a big kickoff return, and they had a big interception on us. Then there was the Simeon Rice jumping on the back play, or whatever that was on the field goal they missed. Tim Wansley gave up some big plays – some big bombs for them. The Colts made some great plays that night – Peyton Manning for sure.”
Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks shakes his head from side to side and looks down at the ground whenever the Colts-Bucs game from 2003 – or the name Tim Wansley – is brought up.
“ESPN actually called me, I guess that game has been selected as one of the greatest [games] and I have to sit down and relive that game,” Brooks said. “They are going to put the plays up and I’m actually going to walk through our defensive plays and watch Tim Wansley – three or four times – watch number 31 give up the seven route time after time after time.
“When Harrison is in the slot … he’s getting the ball,” Brooks said. “[I told him] ‘Tim … whenever he lines up in the slot … he’s getting the ball.’”
Harrison would torch Wansely and the Bucs for 11 catches for 176 yards and two touchdowns that night. Cornerback Ronde Barber was a part of a Tampa Bay defense that uncharacteristically couldn’t hold on to a lead that night.
“I am the only one [left] that remembers that one,” Barber said. “And believe me, that was a great game for 55 minutes. We scored a touchdown late on an interception; I scored a touchdown late [laughs]. But they showed their resiliency. They had a great quarterback. It was a frustrating loss. I still cringe when I see those highlights on NFL Network as one of the best comebacks ever.”
While the Bucs-Colts game had its share of drama and big plays, the Buccaneers usually shined in Monday Night Football during the team’s heyday from 1997-2003 with a 7-5 record during that span, including a 4-2 mark at Raymond James Stadium that featured some epic games between Tampa Bay and the Packers, Vikings and Rams.
It was no surprise that the NFL decided to match up some of the league’s high-octane offenses against one of the premier defenses with players like Packers quarterback Brett Favre, Vikings receivers Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Jake Reed and Kurt Warner and the “Greatest Show On Turf” offense.
“Monday night was good for us. It was fun because we always played a good offensive team,” Brooks said. “That was the best for our defense. We circled that game.”
Brooks vividly remembers Monday Night Football returning to Tampa Bay in 1998 when the defense sacked Favre eight times, including the last play of the game to hang on to beat Green Bay, 24-22, before a raucous crowd at Raymond James Stadium.
“We got up for that game,” Brooks said. “Obviously it was our first Monday night game in a new stadium. I don’t think Tampa had had one in like 15 years. I think our town responds well.”
The Buccaneers and Raymond James Stadium hosts Monday Night Football for the first time since 2003 when the Bucs beat the New York Giants, 19-13, on November 24, 2003.
“I prefer to remember the wins on Monday Night Football more than anything,” Morris said. “I came to Tampa in 2002, so I remember the Giants game in 2003 more than anything. I remember Dwight Smith’s big hits and the atmosphere at Raymond James. It’s always a great feeling to be on Monday Night Football, and I can’t wait to create some new memories and really get it going again.”
Brooks expects the Tampa Bay area to become electric again on Monday night when the Colts come to town and the young Buccaneers get a chance to move to 3-1 and prove to the NFL that they are for real in 2011.
“Obviously, even not having Peyton Manning, I don’t think it’s going to lose any luster to that game because of the previous visit by the Colts,” Brooks said. “Monday night always has that extra specialness playing on Monday Night Football. If a player isn’t telling you that he’s telling a lie. It is special playing on Monday night because you get everything about that week. Once Sunday is over, all of the focus turns to that game when the world is watching. This is the chance for this team to make a statement to everybody that last year wasn’t a fluke and that they are a good football team.”
While Brooks made plenty of huge plays on Monday Night Football in leading his team to dramatic home victories against the Packers, Vikings and Rams – twice – one Monday night game really stood out in his mind – the Bucs’ 17-7 loss to Pittsburgh in 2002.
“The Steelers, we played them in our Super Bowl year on Monday night. That was our last loss for that year,” Brooks said. “I remember Jon Gruden walking in the locker [and saying], ‘All right guys. That was our last loss of the year. Get dressed.’ That was it. ‘Get dressed. Get in here in Monday and watch the tape and move on. We have a division to win and a Super Bowl to get to.’ It was just that simple, and we did.”
Barber, who will play in a Buccaneers record 16 Monday Night Football games when the Tampa Bay-Indianapolis game kicks off, has seen how the spotlight of Monday Night Football has helped transform his career and made him a household name. The 15-year veteran is excited for a new wave of Buccaneers players to have the chance to establish themselves on a national stage like no other.
“This is our chance, this 2011 team, to prove who we are and I think we are all excited about it,” Barber said. “When we were good back in the 90’s and the early part of this decade we were pretty well known. We had a lot of ‘name’ guys. Guys who were popular across the league. We have yet to have that kind of exposure to get the guys in this locker room that kind of attention. So this is huge for us.”