Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden is busy these days, working endlessly with his coaching staff to find a way to remedy the team’s two-straight losing seasons and return to the playoffs and Super Bowl.

However, Gruden put his work aside on Thursday night to focus on the people who support his Buccaneers the most — the fans.

Gruden spent Thursday evening signing autographs for over 300 fans at the Authentic Team Merchandise “Buccaneer Heaven” store in Tampa.

“It was great to rub elbows with Bucs fans,” said Gruden. “We’ve got to get the fever back, man. It’s no way to spread the fever in your dark little hole, so you’ve got to get out of your hole and spread the fever. Being with Bucs fans really fires me up.”

The feeling was likewise, evidenced by what some Bucs fans did to actually get themselves to Tampa to meet Gruden at Buccaneer Heaven.

Bucs fan David McGlosson flew all the way down from Ohio on Thursday to meet Gruden and get his autograph. Gruden was impressed by his story, but McGlosson couldn’t stay to chat too long since he had to catch a flight back to Ohio from Tampa International Airport.

One couple drove to Tampa from North Carolina so that they could meet Gruden and wish him the best of luck for the 2005 season.

One woman didn’t have to travel far to meet Gruden on Thursday night, but she was one of the lucky Bucs fans that watched Tampa Bay defeat Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego, a story she shared with Gruden as he signed her Super Bowl XXXVII hat.

“You’ve got to sign this… I paid $8,000 to get out to the Super Bowl,” the woman said as she handed her Super Bowl hat to Gruden. “It was definitely worth the $8,000, though.”

Tickets for Thursday’s event had been distributed since early April and were free of charge. Needless to say, tickets for the free autograph signing, which was scheduled to go from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., were gone after a couple of weeks, but Gruden kindly stayed an extra half hour to accommodate several fans who had showed up at the signing without tickets in hopes of receiving his autograph.

Although he snuck away from his office at One Buccaneer Place for a few hours, Gruden couldn’t help but talk with Bucs fans about his new and improved offense.

“We’ve got Mike Alstott, who I call the Train,” said Gruden. “We’ve got Joey Galloway, Michael Clayton and Ike Hilliard, and I call them the planes. Now we’ve got the Cadillac, so now we’ve got planes, trains and automobiles.”

Thursday marked the first time Gruden made the pilgrimage to Buccaneer Heaven, but it apparently won’t be his last.

“I’ll be back,” Gruden said. “This place is something else. I can do all of my Mother’s Day shopping here, buy my wife her gifts here now. I didn’t realize the selection that was available here. Until you see it, you don’t actually believe it. This is unbelievable. I love it.”

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