Head Coach Jon Gruden has learned a useful phrase from his counterpart with the Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' first-round pick in the 2004 draft, wide receiver Michael Clayton, has yet to come to terms on a contract with the team. Of course, that's not at all unusual at this point; neither have any of his Buccaneer draft classmates.
Unlike the others, however, Clayton spent all day Friday in the company of two rather prominent members of Buccaneer management: General Manager Bruce Allen and Head Coach Jon Gruden.
Before you read too much into this, realize that Clayton, Allen and Gruden were all part of a traveling Buc caravan, along with Personnel Executive Doug Williams, that attended the St. Petersburg and Clearwater Chamber of Commerce breakfast in the morning and the Tampa Chamber of Commerce luncheon in the afternoon.
Still, the topic of Clayton's contract did come up.
The first time it entered the conversation was at the breakfast event, during the popular question-and-answer period. Members of the crowd wrote questions on slips of paper and sent them forward to the head table; among the slips was one on which the receiver himself had written, "How much will Michael Clayton make this year?"
Clayton's question was one of those chosen, and he rose from his seat and applauded as the audience laughed. Allen laughed and took it in stride, assuring the assembled crowd that Clayton would make quite a bit of money this year…and hopefully for many years to come.
Moments like these made Friday's two Chamber of Commerce meals memorable and fun. The events, sponsored by Pewter Partner TECO Energy, were designed to kick off the 2004 season and give the attending fans and businesspeople insight into the challenges that lie ahead for the team.
The St. Petersburg and Clearwater gathering, held at the Historic St. Petersburg Coliseum from 8:00-9:00 a.m., brought the visiting Bucs together with the mayors of both towns and approximately 1,000 eager fans. The Tampa luncheon catered to over 1,000 visitors and took place at the Marriott Waterside. At both events, long autograph lines leading to the head table were one of the main attractions. Gruden, treated to standing ovations at both locations, was also a key part of the entertainment.
At the breakfast, Gruden addressed the crowd about his disappointment in the 2003 season and his hopes for the 2004 campaign.
"We're coming off a difficult season," said Gruden. "But I promise you, this will be a very exciting fall. We've added some players, we've added people to our front office. I'm very excited to have Doug Williams back with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I'm very excited to have Michael Clayton."
That gave the crowd an excuse to applaud loudly for Clayton and Williams. Gruden then relinquished the microphone to Allen, who spoke about the team's ongoing efforts to attract players who will help the Buccaneers win.
"We brought in some players that we feel you're going to enjoy not only on the field, but off the field," said Allen. "We feel we're creating an environment that will help us not only win now, but also in the future."
During the question-and-answer session that followed, each Buc guest had a fair share of inquiries, and all four spoke of what it would take to return to the Buccaneers to the Super Bowl.
The afternoon session in Tampa was similar to the morning event across the bay, but it was further energized by the attendance of General Manager Jay Feaster and Head Coach John Tortorella of the NHL Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Tortorella's signature phrase from the semifinal series with the Philadelphia Flyers became the basis for much of the afternoon's humor.
Gruden, first to the podium, congratulated the Lightning pair on their Stanley Cup victory and then thanked Tortorella for his now infamous quote, of which Gruden plans to make use.
"I'd just like to say that now when receivers like Clayton or (Joe) Jurevicius complain about not getting the ball enough, I know what to tell them," said Gruden. "'Shut your yap!'"
After Gruden amusing co-opted Tortorella's line, Allen, Williams and Clayton all took their turns at the podium. That was followed by another spirited question-and-answer session. Gruden discussed dynamic leaders, Williams spoke about the power of hearing Deacon Jones and what it means to be back in Tampa, Allen talked about continuing to build a winner and Clayton addressed Gruden's resemblance to a certain movie doll and the apparently thorny question of which is better looking.
Clayton's last comment drew a question from his coach in response. Gruden wanted to know if the diamond earrings of the as-yet-to-be-signed receiver were real. Clayton's answer was pure Tortorella, and probably represents the only time he'll ever get away with it: "Shut your yap!"
Gruden almost fell out of his chair laughing and a surprised Williams delivered a rather lofty compliment. "You know," said Williams, "you're not bad for a rookie."