Former Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden will be returning to Raymond James Stadium for an NFL game for the first time since he was dismissed after the 2009 season. This time, Gruden will be there as an analyst for “Monday Night Football."
In this Front Row item by Bill Hofheimer, Gruden discusses his return and several other topics. He even reflected on a 2003 Monday night game in which the Bucs led 35-15 with four minutes left, but somehow ended up losing in overtime.
“We got off to a really good start and had a commanding lead,’’ Gruden said. “Then I got shot by 'The Sheriff.' One of our corners -- Brian Kelly -- tore his pec muscle and we put a backup corner in there and [Colts quarterback] Peyton Manning found him a couple of times. They returned a kickoff after one of our touchdowns down to the eight- or nine-yard line. Next thing I knew it was seven points for the Colts. That game was one of Peyton’s finest hours. When you lose a substantial lead like that with the kind of defense we had, that was tough. The house was packed that night, and I think they all went home mad at me.
But Gruden also talked a lot about happier times. When asked what was his best win in Raymond James Stadium, he pointed to a win over a division rival.
“In 2005, we beat the Atlanta Falcons 27-24 in overtime,’’ Gruden said. “It was Cadillac Williams’ rookie year. We came from behind to get the win and it helped us win the division. We blocked a kick late in the game — Dwayne White blocked a field goal. Chris Simms was our quarterback. That was a great day at Raymond James.’’
Of course, Gruden’s best memory of the stadium involved a game that was played in San Diego in his first season with the Bucs.
“My favorite memory was right after we returned home from the Super Bowl in San Diego,’’ Gruden said. “We went to the stadium and met our fans. It was packed. That was phenomenal. The place was just going crazy. There was a traffic jam all up and down Dale Mabry Highway. We got to the stadium with the Lombardi Trophy and there were people everywhere. To share that moment with the fans was awesome.’’