ESPN’s Monday Night Football returns to Tampa next week for the first time since 2003. That season, the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers won two of three MNF games but suffered a 38-35 overtime loss to the Indianapolis Colts — who just happen to be their Week 4 guests Oct. 3 (8:30 p.m., ESPN).
That 2003 Colts rally over Tampa was one of the most dramatic games in MNF history.
MNF analyst Jon Gruden was Tampa’s head coach that season.
Front Row caught up with him about returning to Raymond James Stadium and calling his first “home” game in Tampa as a member of the ESPN MNF crew.
FR: What’s your best memory from Raymond James?
Gruden: My favorite memory was right after we returned home from the Super Bowl in San Diego. 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.
FR: What’s the loudest you ever heard it at Raymond James?
Gruden: The San Francisco game in the 2002 divisional playoffs was probably the loudest I ever heard that stadium. All the flags were waving. We had a pretty convincing lead at halftime and every time they dropped back to throw in the second half it was loud. It was impressive. The Bucs fans were in full force that day. We ended up winning 31-6. That crowd really helped us a lot.
FR: What do you remember from the last MNF game when the Bucs played the Colts in Tampa?
Gruden: We got off to a really good start and had a commanding lead. Then I got shot by “The Sheriff.” One of our corners — Brian Kelly — tore his pec muscle and we put a back-up 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.
FR:What was the best win you had at Raymond James?
Gruden: In 2005, we beat the Atlanta Falcons 27-24 in overtime. 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.
FR: This will be your first home MNF game with ESPN. How nice will it be to sleep in your own bed and to host the crew in the city where you live?
Gruden: I love it. I’m not a great traveler. I don’t pack well and I don’t necessarily sleep that well in foreign places. I’m excited to be here this week. I love Tampa. That’s why I live here. My parents are from here. The guys on the crew, I’m going to have some of them out with me. We’re going to have a nice dinner and watch some college football on Saturday night. We’re going to have some fun in Tampa.