TAMPA — Where was everybody?
It is never too early to start overreaction Monday.
Time to set up the week.
So why was everyone sleeping?
I showed up at One Buccaneer Place well after midnight and there wasn't a soul in sight. Not one Bucs fan waving a flag or holding up a sign while waiting for the team buses.
True, those buses didn't roll up to One Buc until 2:38 in the morning, after the Bucs' long flight back from San Francisco after the big win over the 49ers. And here come the Raiders. Lay on with the Super Bowl flashbacks!
Well, I was there at 2:38.
Thought this was a big win. Thought at least a few nutty Bucs fans would have thought the same in the name of 3-3 and a season turned around.
Can I get some fever here?
Remember the days when Bucs fans waited on the team after big wins? Okay, 2:38 a.m. is extreme. But remember after the NFC title games and Super Bowl, when the Bucs plane flew over Raymond James Stadium so fans gathered down there could shout and wave?
It was a very long time ago.
Standing in that parking lot, feeling a little silly, I began to wonder what the big deal was myself.
I mean, the Bucs are just 3-3. And their two-game win streak is built on wins over the 1-5 Panthers and the 1-6 49ers.
But they're just a half game out of first place in the NFC South, just behind Atlanta.
And 3-3 seems like something after a 1-3 start.
This team has shown some fight. It won on the road on a Monday night. It won on the West Coast from 14 points down.
Jameis Winston has found his game. Mike Evans, who caught three touchdowns all of last season, already has six. The defense is creating takeaways. And Jacquizz Rodgers, season saver, needs to stand and take a bow.
It's an underdog's world at the moment.
Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that we were wondering about Bucs coach Dirk Koetter's game management and Jameis management?
The Oakland Raiders come to town this week, and it brings up the old questions, ones we've asked and answered before. A lot.
Did Jon Gruden win a Super Bowl with Tony Dungy's players? Yes. Did Dungy win the Super Bowl with Dungy's players? No. Was the big trade with Oakland to get Gruden worth it? At the time, yes. There are statues in the lobby at One Buc and that Super Bowl trophy.
You had to be here.
On the other hand, if you told me in 2002 that the Bucs wouldn't win another playoff game for 13 seasons (and counting) and would have only two playoff seasons since 2002, I wouldn't have taken that trade. I'd rather be good across a lot of years than great for one.
There were a lot of lousy drafts and bad rebuilding plans Gruden had with general manager Bruce Allen. The Bucs didn't maintain, and Gruden's fingerprint are on that.
But the Bucs and their fans will always have 2002.
They will have Chucky leading the lads past the Raiders.
Ah, the Raiders.
The last time the Bucs played the Raiders here was 2008, a 31-24 Oakland win.
It was the day the bottom fell out of this franchise.
It was Gruden's final game as Bucs coach. It was Derrick Brooks' final game, too — Brooks, a proud lion limping down the field, chasing the play on a long Oakland TD run.
It was the end of something.
The Bucs haven't been to the playoffs since Gruden was fired.
They're 39-79 since then.
I'm just saying.
The Bucs have been looking for a new beginning ever since.
We're a long way from the Super Bowl season.
First things first. Here's a reasonably good chance to make this a new kind of season.
Three consecutive home games, against improved Oakland, Thursday night game against high-scoring Atlanta then awful Chicago.
The Bucs will never have a better shot at being reasonably relevant this season.
This season could actually become interesting with a win Sunday.
Win and maybe people start showing up again. Maybe even in the stands. Okay, maybe not like the old days. Maybe not like at 2:38 in the morning.
I still have no idea where everybody was.