T Jerry Wunsch couldn't take his eyes off the action on either Monday or Tuesday night
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy expects full effort from all of his players during practice, but it wouldn't be shocking to see a few droopy eyelids during Wednesday afternoon's workout. After all, dramatic events on each of the previous nights stretched well into the wee hours of the morning.
On Monday, the Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay's next opponent, helped out the rest of the NFC by defeating the Minnesota Vikings on a stunning overtime catch by WR Antonio Freeman. Tuesday night, another nationally-watched event went into overtime when the Presidential election ran too close to have a declared winner by Wednesday morning.
Dungy couldn't blame any of his players for staying up late to take in those exciting events, but he doesn't believe they will affect the team too much on Wednesday. "Yeah, it's been a tough week so far…overtime games on both nights," joked Dungy. "We'll see what happens with the election, but I think we'll be focused on what we have to do today and the rest of the week."
Still, the two results (or semi-results, at this point) were topics of heavy discussion in the Buccaneer locker room, and one Buc player had a unique perspective on both: tackle Jerry Wunsch.
Wunsch, you might recall, was a star at the University of Wisconsin, playing in his home state after growing up in Eau Claire. He may have even grown up a Packers fan, but we'll skirt that issue so as not to impugn his character. Now, obviously, Wunsch is a resident of Florida, meaning he, like the rest of the team, is right at the epicenter of the ongoing election saga.
Wunsch was thrilled by both night's outcomes, particularly the tight election.
"I think it's going to get a whole new excitement for voting, for the privilege of voting," he said. "It's even gotten real interesting, since it's such a close race, that the other two (candidates), (Ralph) Nader and (Pat) Buchanan, who were also running, may have themselves influenced the race. So many intangibles. It's actually a pretty amazing thing that I think we'll wake up the entire country. I think you're going to see a lot more voter turnout in the next election."
Right now, people would just like to see a determination, once and for all, of who won between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Wunsch, however, thinks the added drama is good for Florida.
"Really, we're almost playing overtime right now," said Wunsch, echoing Dungy's thoughts. "It's exciting. There's a buzz around the whole, entire country. Everybody's looking at Florida saying, 'What are we going to do, when are we going to do it?' It's big for the people of Florida and all the people that got out and voted. It's a tribute to the state."
His former home state was the center of attention the night before, including his own. As Dungy likes to put it, Wunsch and his teammates were 'TV scouting' on Monday night as the Packers and Vikings, two teams that bracket the Bucs in the NFC Central race, put on a thrilling show.
"I wasn't taking my eyes off of that game at all," said Wunsch. "In fact, I was on the phone with (Buccaneer center) Jeff Christy the whole time, back-and-forth, back-and-forth. It was a very exciting game. The catch was unbelievable. The football gods were shining down on Green Bay and us a little bit, and the rest of the conference. We're happy with it. Now it's our turn to go out there and have a chance to get a little bit closer to controlling our own destiny. It's come down to a seven-game race, and the best team will win."
Green Bay's victory brought Minnesota back to the pack a bit in the division race, as the Vikings now lead Tampa Bay and Detroit by just two games. Of course, it also catapulted the Packers back into the chase, and the visiting team will now arrive in Tampa only one game behind the Bucs.
"It's kind of like the presidential election," said Dungy, bringing the conversation full circle. "You figure that no matter what happens, something good is going to come out of it. Obviously, Green Bay's one game behind us; whether you want them to get knocked out of it, Minnesota to come back…it really doesn't matter. We've got to play well, we've got to beat Green Bay and continue winning no matter what else happens."
Most likely, the Packers believe they still have some unfinished business in Florida if they wish to get back into the race. Same thing could be said of Bush and Gore.
"It's just amazing that it's this close and we'll see how long it takes to figure this one out," said Dungy of the election. "It's kind of like we say, every play's important. You've got to play 60 minutes, and those last few people, when it was a couple of minutes before eight o'clock (Tuesday night) and they figured, 'There's no sense in me going to polls' – well, you've got to win in the fourth quarter, I guess."