Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Ready If Needed

With the status of Sunday’s game in doubt, the Buccaneers begin preparing as if it will be business as usual

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Like many people, QB Brad Johnson had reason to worry on Tuesday but had reasons to get back to work the next day

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in the team's locker room on Wednesday, 53 men going back to work.

They were also 53 Americans, stunned and grieving over the terrorist attacks on Tuesday that cost the country untold lives. Like every other man, woman and child in the United States, they were deeply affected by the tragedy.

"I look at my little boy, four and a half months old," said quarterback Brad Johnson. "What kind of world is he going to be brought up into? I've had a good life up to this point, everything's gone my way, but what's going to happen over the next 60 or 70 years? I don't know. That's who I worry about, and all the other kids in America growing up."

Johnson has several friends in the league's main offices in New York City, not far from where the World Trade Center twin towers stood before yesterday's attacks, and he was relieved to learn that none of his friends were hurt. Still, he and other Buc players were touched in innumerable ways by yesterday's events.

"The important thing for people to know (is that) athletes and people in the public eye – we're people," said safety John Lynch. "We're just like anyone else right now. We're just in a state of shock and we're grieving for all our fellow people of this country. Our prayers and thoughts go out to them."

And, like most of their countrymen, the Bucs went back to work without question on Wednesday, determined not to let America's attackers completely disrupt their lives. Whether the team is also at work on Sunday – whether the National Football League decides to play its full slate of games or not – has not yet been determined, but Tampa Bay is moving forward as if it will be facing the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend.

"I'm going to prepare myself as if Philly's coming to town," said defensive tackle Warren Sapp. "If I don't, and they come to town, then we're in trouble. So I'm preparing myself for a ballgame this weekend.

"If they say it isn't going, it isn't going. It's just that simple. But if it is, it's got to go down, and it's got to down our way. For it to go down our way, we have to be prepared, and that's what this team's going to do."

Several of Sapp's teammates echoed those sentiments, including linebacker Shelton Quarles, who returned to his home Tuesday morning from a community service engagement with the American Heart Association just in time to see live footage of the second plane that struck the World Trade Center in New York City.

"It's pretty tough," said Quarles. "We just have to be professionals about it, and whatever they say we should do, we have to do it. Whether or not we want to play is not up for debate at this point. We've got to go out and try to get the job done if they say that we should play.

"You just have to put it out of your mind as you can and go about your daily business."

Tuesday was an off day for the players, anyway, though Buccaneer coaches were at team headquarters late into the evening preparing a game plan for Philadelphia. The first gathering of the whole team occurred at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, when the Bucs always hold their open meeting for preparation for Sunday's game.

Though it apparently has been reported that players have held discussions regarding their own opinions on the status of Sunday's game in other league cities, Buccaneer players did not discuss it before or after the meeting. Player representative Mark Royals indicates that he will make it known to coaches and the league if he is approached by teammates with concerns about playing, but that no such thing had occurred as of noon.

Meanwhile, the team is following the lead of their head coach in preparing for the Eagles.

"Our job is to be ready to play when they tell us to play," said Tony Dungy. "They've got people looking at that, reviewing safety factors and taking everything into consideration. When they tell us to play, we'll be ready to play, whether that's Sunday, three weeks from now, next month or next year."

Quarles was of the same mind shortly before the Bucs were to head out for Wednesday's practice.

"For me, it's not up for debate," he said. "If they say we should play, then we'll play. I'm pretty sure they'll look at everything and take it from all aspects, whether or not it will be safe for us to play. I'm sure they have our best interests in mind, and (the interests of) the people in the community that will be in the stadium. I'm pretty sure that they don't want anything to happen to them as well as us."

While the Bucs will await a decision on Sunday's game that is mostly out of their hands, the prevailing mood in the team locker room on Wednesday seemed to be that, if safety issues are satisfied, the games should go on. If nothing else, NFL football this weekend could prove that the attacks on America have not changed the country's way of life.

"I know that's one thought that probably will go into that decision," said Lynch. "It seems as if our president is setting a tone that he wants us to go about business, probably with the thought that whoever did this terrible tragedy, that's what they wanted to do, to see us halt business in our country as it goes. Football on Sunday is a big part of what this country's all about."

Sunday's games could also provide at least a temporary respite from the country's focus on Tuesday's tragedy.

"Obviously, we mourn about it and it's tough for us, too" said center Todd Washington. "If we don't play, then we don't play, but if we do, we're going to have to. We'll have to find a way to go through this and hopefully give the nation something to keep their minds off the terror."

The most immediate task for the Buccaneers is to get their minds on Wednesday's practice. Until a decision is made, the team must assume that Philadelphia is coming to Raymond James Stadium this Sunday and must, if possible, clear other distractions from their heads, at least for a few hours.

"You're going to be faced with distractions every day," said linebacker Derrick Brooks. "It's just that this is such a tragedy for the United States and the human race…it's tough. But we've got to be professionals about it, and while we're on the field for these two hours today, the concentration is on Philadelphia. When practice is over, then you try to catch up with what's going on. Hopefully, many more people will be found alive."

The National Football League has indicated that it will not make a decision on the status of the games until at least Thursday. Despite reports on Wednesday that NFL Players Association Executive Director Gene Upshaw had made a strong recommendation to cancel all games this weekend, citing player safety concerns, some Buccaneers are expecting the opposite.

"I think we'll be playing, honestly," said rookie tackle Kenyatta Walker. "That's why I'm going into today as if we were playing on Sunday. It's really not my decision, but today, Wednesday, I've got a game on Sunday."

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