Even Shaun King had to laugh. When Nate Webster stuck out an arm at the goal line to make an acrobatic interception, then ran upfield past the Bucs' quarterback, chased by his teammates whoops and hollers, King got caught in the rookie's enthusiasm.
Webster and the rest of the second-string defense had just put together a spirited 'goal-line stand' during one passing drill midway through Thursday's practice, seemingly knocking down or picking off every pass. As occasionally occurs during Thursday workouts for the Buccaneers, that scout-team defense took it upon themselves to inject a little extra life in practice, and the never-silent Webster set the whole crew off with his pick.
Truth be told, it was a fairly even practice as a whole, even if the defense did rule this small segment. The good news was the intensity shown during that drill, which stayed with the team until they walked off the field at 4:00 p.m.
"I think everybody was having fun today," said Head Coach Tony Dungy. "It got kind of competitive, especially in our passing drills, but I think everybody realized what's at stake and we just had a good, solid practice."
The Bucs also had an encouraging day from an injury standpoint, with FB Charles Kirby returning to work and T Pete Pierson experiencing no problems. Both are suffering from muscle pulls, Kirby to a hamstring and Pierson to a calf, but their effort in practice on Thursday is a good indication that they'll be ready to go in Green Bay on Sunday. Frank Middleton, who left Wednesday's session midway through due to an ankle sprain, did not practice but is not considered a serious concern, either.
In effect, the Bucs have everyone available except LB Alshermond Singleton, who is recovering from a left knee sprain.
"I think that's the way it's going to be by game time," said Dungy. "Pete seems to be doing fine. Frank Middleton sat out today, but he feels like he'll be ready to go by Sunday. Other than that, we're going to be in good shape."
Dungy even expects Pierson to be back in his starting spot at left tackle. "I think he will if he's fully ready to go, and it looks like he will be," said the Bucs' coach.
While clinching a playoff berth on Monday, the Buccaneers stretched their win streak to a season-high four games by beating St. Louis.
They also won for the fifth straight time that they have donned their red jerseys and pewter pants in combination, after taking a rare loss in that regalia against Detroit on October 19. Since Tampa Bay unveiled its new colors and logos in 1997, the team has found red-and-pewter to be by far its most potent combination.
The Bucs have worn their red jerseys over pewter pants 16 times (including the postseason) since the 1997 opener, and have lost on only three of those occasions. Here's a look at the team's record in each uniform combination (records include playoffs but not the preseason):
|White Pants, White Jerseys
|White Pants, Red Jerseys
|Pewter Pants, White Jerseys
|Pewter Pants, Red Jerseys
|* * *
It should be noted, of course, that all but two of those 16 pewter-and-red games have been played at home, and none have occurred earlier than October 19 in any given season. Since 1997, the Bucs have a 24-8 record at home and a 26-13 mark from October 19 on. We'll leave the argument over cause and effect to you, but the Buccaneers have certainly saved some of their best performances for their intimidating red-and-pewter ensembles.
And this weekend?
Well, the home team gets first call on whether to wear its white or colored jersey and the visiting team is required to wear the opposite. The Bucs have made four trips to Lambeau Field since 1997, and the Packers have put the Bucs in white jerseys each team. Considering the expected cold weather, the team is likely to team the white jerseys with pewter pants.
THE BEST OF THE BEST
Speaking of intimidation, S John Lynch received an impressive honor on Thursday.
One week after learning he had been selected as the NFC's Pro Bowl starter at strong safety, Lynch was judged to be the NFL's best defensive back of any kind by the NFL Alumni Association.
On Thursday, the 2000 NFL Alumni Player of the Year honorees were announced, continuing a 19-year tradition. Only 10 current players were chosen, one each at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, defensive line, pass rusher, linebacker, defensive back and special teams. The association also chose a coach of the year.
Lynch was the alumni's choice for the NFL's Defensive Back of the Year. Others honored were Rich Gannon, Robert Smith, Cris Carter, Tony Gonzalez, Bruce Matthews, La'Roi Glover, Hugh Douglas, Junior Seau and Desmond Howard.
These players were honored by a unique voting process in which former players cast ballots for their modern counterparts. Former pros vote only for the positions they once played themselves. Players who once played both ways are allowed two votes - one each for the offensive and defensive position they played. This balloting process has been a hallmark of the awards, which have come to be known as "the best of the past honoring the best of the present."
"The fact that having the guys you compete against all the time, that's special, because you're actually out there on the field with them," said Lynch. "But these guys, they put in their time, and they've got an appreciation for the way the game is supposed to be played. It's nice to be recognized. I always enjoy the opportunity to talk to these guys, because they can give you a lot of perspective. It's important to recognize the history of what you do and you can learn a lot from just talking to them.
"There's a lot of people that are deserving, some people in our own secondary, I would think. But it's a great honor."
The 2000 awardees will be honored at the 19th annual Player of the Year Awards Dinner, to be held Saturday evening, Jan. 27, 2001, at the Hyatt Grand Cypress in Orlando, Fla. The $1,000-per-seat fundraiser is being presented by Forbes magazine. During the awards ceremony, each awardee will receive his Player of the Year award from a Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinee.