Head Coach Jon Gruden was quick with the one-liners Thursday, but he also delivered a message of optimism about the 2006 season
Joey Galloway was Chris Simms' favorite target on the playing field in 2005.
On Thursday, in a grand ballroom at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Tampa, the roles were reversed, with Simms wearing the bull's-eye and Galloway firing away. Spurred on by a list of off-the-cuff questions from an audience of hundreds of businesspeople-slash-Buc fans, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' breakneck receiver took shots at Simms' arm musculature and his alma mater.
Interspersed among the jokes, though, was this comment by Galloway about Simms: "I think the guy to my left – and I said this to him earlier – he has probably improved as much as any guy I've ever been around in a short period of time."
Galloway's blend of humor and praise reflected perfectly the mood of Thursday's Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce luncheon, as well as the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce breakfast that took place hours earlier. Sponsored by TECO Energy, both events focused on the Buccaneers' upcoming campaign, with the team's representatives sharing in and then building on the crowd's enthusiasm for the 2006 season.
The two annual events followed a tried-and-true formula: Mix a good meal and close to 1,000 eager attendees from area businesses with a well-known contingent of Buccaneer players and representatives looking to relax and have some fun after a hard week of practice.
That's exactly what Galloway and Simms did on Thursday, along with new teammate Davin Joseph and their head coach and general manager, Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen, respectively. At the lunch session, those five were joined at the head table by Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, several area business leaders and emcee Dave Reynolds of WFLA-TV. After a series of introductory comments, the five Buccaneers were the subjects for a lengthy round of Q&A with the audience, which proved to be the luncheon's highlight. All five Buc reps consistently drew laughs from the crowd, but they also made it clear that they were expecting for a very successful season.
"Generally, you've got to stay healthy," said Allen, who helped usher the team from a 5-11 year in 2004 to 11-5 and the division title last season. "But the work ethic of this team – I'm talking about the coaches and the players, and the way they fight together and stick together – those are the ingredients you need to win any year."
Added Simms: "We've got to continue to work hard and build off the things we did last year, and find a way to win some of those games that we didn't quite come out on top of last year. Other than that, we've just got to continue to play hard, follow our veteran leaders like Joey Galloway, Mike Alstott and Derrick Brooks, and continue to just plug away. We are in a tough division. We play some tough teams, so it's tough every year, but the one thing I know about our team is that we're not scared of any challenge and we won't back down from anything."
Gruden was more forceful than specific, directing some heavily emphasized comments to the players at the other end of the table.
"We have to beat the hell out of everybody," he said. You've got to win them all, play your best football. You have to win all the games. You have to win every game every week."
Overall, though, the famously intense coach was more playful than passionate, and he delivered many of the events best one-liners on topics ranging from Texas football to the Bucs' current record to Keyshawn Johnson. He was trumped in the brevity department by Galloway, who had a one-word response to the question of whether or not he was still the fastest man in the NFL.
We'll let you guess the word (think three letters).
Galloway's rip on Simms' biceps definition sprang from a conversation on Galloway's signature touchdown flex (Simms countered that Michael Pittman's similar flex made Galloway 'jealous'), and he confidently predicted success by his Ohio State Buckeyes over Simms' Texas Longhorns this fall. However, Galloway did agree with his teammates on the Bucs' attitude regarding the 2006 season.
"I think we have to continue to improve," he said. "I think since last season we have improved tremendously at some positions. We have 21 out of 22 starters back. The way [Simms] has improved; we've brought in some young linemen; Cadillac [Williams] will be in his second year; we are much better at receiver this year because I'm going to play better…I just think that we have improved tremendously. We just need to play with confidence, stick together, win the games in our division, win the [NFC] South and we'll be fine."
That prompted another round of applause from the assembled businesspeople, who clearly enjoyed such confident talk from the actual Buccaneer players. Of course, there was a lot to enjoy at the Tampa Chamber luncheon, as well as the breakfast in Pinellas County, from the opportunities for autographs and pictures to the event-ending raffles of valuable Buc items.
In fact, the sustained enthusiasm throughout the two events made an impression on the only rookie at the head table.
"Buccaneer football is big around here," said Joseph with a wide smile. "People are definitely ready for the season."