President George W. Bush is escorted onto the Bucs' practice field by Head Coach Jon Gruden
Head Coach Jon Gruden is the undisputed commander-in-chief of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the practice field, but on Thursday he experienced a sudden drop in rank. That's because the actual commander-in-chief, President George W. Bush, dropped by for an impromptu visit with the team at its new facility.
The visit from President Bush, who was in town campaigning for Republican Congressional candidate Gus Bilirakis at a reception at Raymond James Stadium, came at the end of Thursday's practice and began with the a meeting between the leader of the free world and the Buccaneers' team captains. Shortly after, President Bush, flanked by a full security detail, made his way over to the middle of the closest practice field, where he met Avie Glazer and addressed the entire team for about 20 minutes. Before he departed, President Bush took time to toss the football back and forth with quarterback Chris Simms while sharing stories with the surrounding Buccaneers players.
"It's great to get some advice and some support from the president of the United States," Gruden said. "It's a little different when the coach is telling you to do this and do that. You've got the president coming and giving you some advice – that' something you've got to listen to. Hopefully it worked. If it doesn't work out this week, you can call the president and see what happened."
Gruden was obviously joking, but he was serious about the honor of receiving a presidential visit as well as the message that President Bush relayed to the team.
"That was a great, great deal right there for our players, and I know it was for me, personally," Gruden said. "I've got so much respect for him and what he does and has to do and what he represents. His address to our team was great, and we're very thankful for that.
"He knows a lot of people in this country who are 0-2, not on the scoreboard, but he knows a lot of guys who work hard that things haven't really worked out for, and his message to us was very prudent, very good and we're real thankful and appreciative of it."
Buccaneers General Manager Bruce Allen shared similar thoughts on the very special visit.
"He's everyone's leader, Allen said. "It's inspiring. It's tremendous that he took time out to come here and talk to us. He's just rooting for everybody, really. It was a great message for our team."
A known sports fans, President Bush – a former owner of the Texas Rangers baseball club – took the time to visit one-on-one with several Buccaneers players, signing autographs, telling jokes and taking pictures.
"Yeah he knew our players," Gruden said. "He knew [Ronde] Barber and [Derrick] Brooks. He knew all our guys. He's a sports fan, I'll say that. He's a guy who has a real sports background, so he's very, very interested in football and what's going on in the league."
The president's arrival was anything but subtle, as is necessary. About 45 minutes before his appearance, Secret Service agents could be seen patrolling the grounds of the Buccaneers' new facility as well as taking up strategical positions on the rooftop. The White House press corps was also present. By the time the presidential motorcade arrived as practice was concluding, the players were well aware they would be meeting a special guest.
"There were a bunch of limos, there were like six or seven limos," Gruden said. "It was chilling. That is the best way I can put it. It was a chilling operation to see the organization, the security and the precision in which they move around. It was awesome."
The visit itself was closer to inspiring for veteran and rookie alike, as was the president's message.
"Just have faith in your coach and faith in each other," said cornerback Ronde Barber, paraphrasing President Bush's central message. "Be resilient. It's never easy. He just had a solid message: You've got to stick together."
Rookie wide receiver Maurice Stovall said, "It's different to meet him because not every person in America gets to meet the president, no matter what your opinion is on him. But I was lucky just to meet him, period – and to be that close, also. Not a lot of people, even those that do meet him, get to be that close to the president of the United States."
"For him to show up here with the SWAT team on the roof and the secret service guys – that's awesome." Gruden said. "That puts things in a real perspective. This is such a great country, and just to be in this country is a great accomplishment, indeed."
Thursday's Injury Updates
The injury bug has hit the Buccaneers' defensive line. Defensive tackles Chris Hovan and Anthony McFarland remain listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers, and defensive end Simeon Rice is also listed as questionable after tweaking his knee in practice.
"I can't comment very extensively on [Rice's injury] because I don't know the severity of it," said Gruden. "We'll list him as questionable and hopefully update you tomorrow.
"It happened late in practice. It looked like he was involved in a collision, but I don't want to speculate. I don't want to raise a flag right now. I don't want to say much until I get some results."
Cornerback Brian Kelly (turf toe) and linebacker Ryan Nece (knee) also remain questionable for Sunday's game.
First-round selection Davin Joseph, who was injured prior to the Buccaneers season opener, is making steady progress, Gruden said.
"Yeah, I think he is [coming around]; he's not allowed out of the facility; he has to rehab 12 hours a day," Gruden joked. "I tried to explain to the team this morning that we've got this brand new state-of-the-art training facility and 'My intent wasn't for everyone of you to use it.'
"We've got a few injuries, but so does everybody else. This is a big enough game where hopefully the men who are questionable for the game find the strength that they need to play."