A different Griese returns to Denver

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla., -- He stood at a podium in One Buccaneer Place the other day, laughing, joking and smiling.

If the folks in Denver could see Brian Griese now -- and they will on Sunday --, they wouldn't recognize him. The surly, aloof kid with a knack for taking some of the biggest stumbles in Rocky Mountain history, has matured into a relaxed and very graceful man.

The days of having to be the next John Elway or Bob Griese are over. All Brian Griese has to be these days is Brian Griese and, aside from a few uncharacteristic interceptions the last two weeks, that's more than good enough.

In a place where the likes of Trent Dilfer, Vinny Testaverde, Steve DeBerg and Shaun King are the measuring sticks, just being Brian Griese is fine. He's 3-0 since taking over for Jeff Garcia as the starter and threw for a career-best 407 yard two weeks ago against Chicago. The Bucs are 3-1 and tied with Carolina for first place in the NFC South.

Even when Griese, 33, talks about the interceptions, there's a calm about him.

"I understand that you can't turn the football over in this business and be successful for an extended period of time,'' Griese said. "I just have to eliminate those things from my game and I will. I mean, I've always taken a lot of pride in being a more efficient quarterback. And that's what I plan on getting back to, because that's what this team needs.''

Even more significant than how Griese is saying it is what he's saying. He's pointing the finger squarely at himself.

It hasn't always been this way.

Back in 1999, the Broncos turned to Griese, a second-year quarterback, after Elway retired following consecutive Super Bowl victories. Even a kid who had spent his life as the son of an NFL quarterback wasn't prepared for following the biggest legend Colorado has seen and the microscope that came with the territory.

"It was tough, no doubt,'' Griese said. "It's harder to take over a team that has just won two Super Bowls in a row. The expectation was we won two Super Bowls in a row and we'd go back and win a third one. We lost our first four games and that was tough. It was indoctrination by fire.''

The fire became an inferno. If Griese had been somewhere else, he might have been fine. On the field, he wasn't horrible and he even was selected to the Pro Bowl in the 2000 season. But the Broncos weren't winning big and Griese took the blame. He didn't take it well.

In his dealings with the media, Griese came across as uptight and often pointed at teammates when things weren't going well. That, and the biggest contract in franchise history, didn't make him a popular figure in the locker room or with fans and that helped make Griese a laughingstock when he tripped over his dog in his living room or fell in a teammate's driveway at a party.

"Any time you follow a guy like a John Elway or a Brett Favre, what Aaron (Rodgers) is dealing with now, it is tough,'' said Jay Cutler, the latest quarterback in Denver. "The expectations are so high and it is lose-lose. If you go out and lose a game, you are going to get it in the papers. If you go out and win, but you didn't do it like John did or like Brett did, you still are going to get it. Unless you go right in there and win a Super Bowl and make them forget about the last guy, it is going to be difficult.''

Griese never won a Super Bowl and, by the end of the 2002 season, his time in Denver was over. He spent the next year in Miami, where his father, Bob, had been an all-time great for the Dolphins. That didn't work out either.

Griese has spent the last four seasons bouncing between starter and backup in Tampa Bay and Chicago. The expectations aren't nearly as high and maybe Griese has grown up along the way. He got married in 2004, has a daughter and, finally, seems to be at peace as he returns to a place where he struggled.

"I think you do learn and mature and take the game for what it is,'' Griese said. "I learned a lot from it, though. I am who I am today because of my experiences in Denver.''

Although they obviously went through some rocky times together, Griese has the respect of Denver coach Mike Shanahan.

"He is just such a good person,'' Shanahan said. "What he has accomplished on the football field, what he has accomplished off the football field with his charities. Just when you're around him, you step away from football and get a chance to see how he handles himself. He is obviously married with a child. He is just fun to be around. It's fun to see his growth on and off the field and he's a fun guy.''

Maybe, after all these years, Griese finally will have some fun in Denver.