CB Donnie Abraham and the Buccaneers practiced in enemy territory on Saturday
Besides some facilities-crew testing of the sound system, the place was quiet on Saturday. Certainly, it was nothing like last Sunday, or what it's expected to be this Sunday. The Trans World Dome has gained a reputation this season for its in-game decibel levels, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the place to themselves on Saturday.
In a normal road-game week, the Buccaneers will conduct their final walk-through on Saturday morning before heading to the opposing city in the early afternoon. But this is no normal week. Tampa Bay has reached the NFC Championship Game for just the second time in team history, and the magnitude of that contest has prompted the league to institute a '48-hour' rule for the opposing team's arrival. That means the Buccaneers' Saturday walk-through occurred on the same field on which they will do battle on Sunday.
Other than the bursts of music, the loudest noises in the Trans World Dome on Saturday were bursts of laughter, as a team at ease went through a slowed-down version of the basics for Sunday's game. Head Coach Tony Dungy was pleased with his team's attitude, but not surprised. "We've got a loose, relaxed crew," said Dungy. "That's the way they've been all year. We know what's at stake and we know what's ahead of us, but I think we'll be ready. … Our guys are very confident. We're ready to play and I think the game will be determined tomorrow at 3:15."
That's when the Bucs will come back to the Rams' home field, although 60-odd thousand people will be joining them this time. Since the place will be covered with St. Louis fans on Sunday, the walk-through was a good opportunity to see the league's newest covered stadium. While the Bucs prefer their own immediately-recognizable venue at Raymond James Stadium, Dungy was impressed by the Trans World Dome.
"It looks beautiful," he said. "I'm sure it's going to be nice to play in, it looks like a fast surface and I think it's going to be a great setting for the game."
G Frank Middleton complimented the facility as well, though he felt it had a bit of a buttoned-down feel. "I wonder how it can get so loud, with everybody coming in a suit and tie," joked Middleton. "It seems like a real business place. We'll have our 20 fans up there whooping and hollering, so we're going to show them how to holler a little bit."
The gregarious Middleton engaged in some banter with a contingent of Tampa Bay media, but was not overly concerned about the crowd noise to come.
"We don't care about it, really," said Middleton. "It's another football game, and we did it already in Seattle, in Detroit and Minnesota. It's a done deal. We handled it and we're going to do it again."
With a day in St. Louis now under the belts, the Buccaneers have had a chance to get a feel for the excitement level in the host city. St. Louis, which previously was home to the now-Arizona Cardinals for several decades, had never played host to an NFL playoff game before last Sunday. The Rams, who moved to the heartland from Los Angeles in 1995, have made a similar, if quicker, rise from the NFL cellar to the penthouse as the Buccaneers. With the Rams considered heavy favorites on Sunday, the town is both excited and confident.
"That's the way you want it," said Dungy. "You come into this game and you want to be confident. The town is very excited, just like we were in '97, and you can't blame them. We're here to do a job, and fortunately we don't have to play against a city, we don't have to play against the bus drivers, we only have to play against the Rams."
Middleton has enjoyed the atmosphere as well. "I got fired up when we pulled in and the gas trucks had the Rams flag flying," he said. "You go to a restaurant and they're talking about the Rams. It's exciting to come into their house and try to take all of this from them. Hopefully, they'll stay comfortable with themselves and we'll come steal a win."
Dungy, a coach who prizes the value of a set routine, clearly would have preferred to stick to the Bucs' normal travel schedule. However, he indicated on Saturday morning that his players were handling the situation well and would be rested and ready. If Middleton is a good example, Dungy is right.
"Ever since I woke up this morning, I'm ready," said Middleton. "I'm rested up, I took the flight already – it's time to play."