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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A Very Merry Christmas

Sunday’s big win over New Orleans means a more stress-free holiday for Buccaneer players, if not quite relaxing for the coaching staff


Christmas isn't a day off for Buccaneer coaches, but at least Tony Dungy can work with a smile on his face

Pleasing the boss at the traditional holiday gift exchange can be tough, but at least one office staff got it right this year

On Sunday, the last day of work before a two-day Christmas break, 45 Tampa Bay Buccaneers went in on the gift Head Coach Tony Dungy really wanted: a passionate, sharp and, most of all, complete game. The Bucs' 48-21 lashing of the New Orleans Saints bought the team not only a strong position in the playoff fight but also peace of mind for the holidays.

Though famously even-keeled, Dungy admitted that the ups and downs of a loopy season can affect one's emotions as the holidays arrive. The stresses of fighting mall traffic and meeting dozens of time commitments are doubled or trebled by office worries about playoff berths and job security.

Dungy agreed that the sudden emergence of the team these Bucs were always supposed to be makes this week's Christmas break a more relaxed time for his charges.

"I think it does," he said. "I think our players are naturally going to have a better couple of days than if we had lost the ball game. We would have been in much more dire straits. You try not to let it affect you personally off the field but it does."

Actually, the Bucs bought a little more family time with their victory, as well. Since November, Dungy has taken to giving the team Monday off after victories, so the 24th turned into some prime last-minute shopping time for Tampa Bay players.

Tuesday, as luck would have it, is the day off for most players in the NFL anyway, so those celebrating Christmas won't have to divide their time with the office. Unfortunately, that doesn't quite hold true for the Bucs' coaching staff, which has too little time before Saturday's showdown with the Baltimore Ravens to take an entire day off, even this one.

"No, we'll be working hard, we'll try to get ready for the game," said Dungy. "But we'll work feeling better (after the victory). We'll work just as hard but feeling better."

This is nothing new for NFL coaches, of course, who cram about 18 months worth of work into a four-month season every fall. Still, some small concessions are made for holidays such as these.

"We'll probably try to come in a little later, most of our coaches have kids," said the compassionate boss. "What we've done in the past for Christmas is come in about noon and let them have that time to open presents.

Or maybe go shopping early in the morning!"

One hopes that won't be necessary for any of the Bucs' 15 assistant coaches. They certainly won't be doing any last-minute searching for the boss' gift. He already received the top item on his wish list.


Speaking of the Ravens, their visit on Saturday continues an unusual trend that this Buccaneers team seems to have run into since it rose into the upper ranks of the NFL a few years ago.

For the third straight season, Tampa Bay will play host to the defending Super Bowl champions in a home game at Raymond James Stadium. Hopefully, the second part of that trend will remain in effect: the Bucs have defeated that defending champ two years running.

In 1999, after the Denver Broncos had won Super Bowl XXXIII, they visited Tampa in the third week of the season and left with a 13-10 defeat in a hard-fought, defensive struggle. The next fall, after beating the Bucs in the NFC Championship Game and going on to win Super Bowl XXXIV, the St. Louis Rams visited Tampa in the penultimate weekend of 2001. In a wild, Monday-night shootout, the Bucs prevailed, 38-35.

Now come the Ravens, who actually won Super Bowl XXXV in Raymond James Stadium 11 months ago. The return trip to their field of ultimate glory comes again on the second-to-last regular season weekend and is a critical contest for both teams as they fight for playoff berths in their respective conferences.

"They are the defending champs and it's going to be a big game," said Dungy. "It's going to be an electric atmosphere, again both teams need to win. They're probably playing a little bit like us, not as consistent as they would like but they certainly have a strong defense and are throwing the ball pretty well. I haven't watched a lot of tape on them but we know they will be formidable and it's a game that we need, so it should be fun."

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