The Buccaneers, as we now know, will open the 2003 season on Monday night, Sept. 8, in Philadelphia. It’s a rematch of the 2002 NFC Championship Game, when the Bucs defeated the Eagles, 27-10.
As we also know, the Bucs are not pleased.
NFL protocol has been allowing the defending Super Bowl champ to open at home. In fact, the last six defending Super Bowl champions hosted the first Monday night game after their NFL title season. As for the ’03 Bucs, not only do they have to hit the road, they have to hit it against a rugged, grudge-match rival debuting its new stadium for its cheesesteak-head, mutant fans.
“I don’t see why we need to break that trend,” wondered Bucs’ head coach Jon Gruden. “We sure would’ve liked to have played (the first Monday night game) at home. But we’ll show up and play, and we’ll make no excuses.”
What you might not know, however, is that a lot of folks in Philadelphia — excluding Eagles’ owner Jeff Lurie — aren’t particularly pleased either. Check out the disgruntled take of Philadelphia Daily News columnist Rich Hoffman.
“A home opener against Tampa Bay? In the first regular season game at Lincoln Financial Field? Are you kidding me?” rhetorically asked Hoffman.
“The Bucs are coming in for the opener, courtesy of schedule-making-by-de-Sade,” bemoaned Hoffman. “Think about what your summer is going to be like now. Every time you look back at what might have been, you will see Tampa Bay and feel that ache in your heart. Every time you look ahead to what’s coming next, you will see Tampa Bay and feel that ache in your heart. There will be no escaping it.”
Even an Eagles victory would be scant consolation, noted Hoffman.
“Winning will not shine a light on anything but what was blown in January,” Hoffman explained. “Winning will show the Bucs as a team the Eagles can beat in cold weather or warm weather, under the sun or the stars, a team they can beat anywhere and everywhere — unless it’s for the conference championship.
“Winning, in fact, will breed melancholy.”
Otherwise, bring it on.
And that’s what ABC, the MNF network that obviously called this shot, will do. And ABC, at least, is very pleased.