TAMPA — Rays fever has spread across the bay to a place where winning a title is a familiar feeling.
Like the rest of Tampa Bay, the Bucs are basking in the glory of the Rays' American League championship, a process that began the instant the Bucs put the finishing touches on a big victory of their own Sunday night. Players and coaches craned their necks to gaze at a television tuned to the final inning of the Rays game in the Raymond James Stadium tunnel, so much so you practically wondered if the baseball result mattered more than their own.
Even before that point, a dizzying series of events made for an interesting night — not that coach Jon Gruden and his team mind.
"We don't mind" sharing the stage, Gruden said Monday. "We were cheering one minute, for Mike Alstott (who was honored Sunday). … Then, the crowd would cheer for the Rays, then they would cheer for a play. The cheering was going crazy (Sunday) night. It was a great night in Tampa. I just want to reiterate on behalf of the Buccaneers how excited we are for the Rays."
Like the Bucs in the 2002 NFC Championship Game, the road to a world championship for a bay area team again goes through Philadelphia. It's a place Gruden knows well, having once been the Eagles' offensive coordinator. Actually, he might know the place too well.
"It's a unique sports town," Gruden said. "I had a unique experience there. I learned a lot of adjectives there. We want this series bad. This is going to be a great show. I know the Phillies fans are really excited, and I know our fans are really excited. Let the games begin, man."
Gruden isn't the only one who can't wait.
"We were scoreboard watching the Rays game as well as ours," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "We know what that's like. … We expect them to go out there and win the World Series."