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Indianapolis Colts last visit to Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003 featured inexplicable comeback

TAMPA — Since retiring from coaching, Tony Dungy has been a commentator for NBC and cast as the leader of a football ministry, passing judgment on the game's weightier issues and most controversial players. • But eight years after one of the greatest comeback victories for the former Bucs and Colts coach, Dungy is ready to step into the confessional. • "I was about ready to take Peyton (Manning) out of the game," Dungy said of his return to Raymond James Stadium that Monday night in 2003. "Then we got the kickoff return and got right back in it. There were just things that happened you couldn't explain."

It was Oct. 6, Dungy's 48th birthday and his first appearance at the stadium to face the franchise that fired him two years earlier.

Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown with 5:09 remaining in the game to give Tampa Bay a 35-14 lead.

What transpired from there, however, still rates as the biggest comeback in NFL history. By the time it was over, Indianapolis won 38-35 in overtime.

Only one Buc will remain from that game when the Colts make their first visit to Tampa since then on Monday.

"I'm the only one who remembers that," Barber, 36, said. "That was a great game for 55 minutes. But they showed their resiliency.

"They had a great quarterback, and it was a frustrating loss. I still cringe when I see those highlights on NFL Network as one of the best comebacks ever."

How crazy was that game?

Bucs receiver Keenan McCar­dell scored three touchdowns, including running 57 yards after recovering a fumble. Rookie cornerback Tim Wansley, forced into action after starter Brian Kelly tore a pectoral muscle, gave up two long passes to Marvin Harrison late in regulation.

Defensive end Simeon Rice was whistled for the rarely called penalty of leaping during a missed field goal in overtime, allowing Mike Vanderjagt a rekick that became the winner.

• • •

The Bucs fired Dungy after the 2001 season. He then saw the Bucs win Super Bowl XXXVII under Jon Gruden the next season.

Hired in 2002 by Indianapolis, Dungy remained a favorite in Tampa Bay. Prior to the 2003 game, fans cheered and leaned over railings to shake his hand as he roamed from one end of the field to the other.

"I remember wondering what the reaction was going to be coming back," Dungy said. "It was one of those things. You just didn't know how it was going to go. You wanted to win and do your best.

"The whole week leading up to (the game we tried) to treat this like a normal game. But you want to come back and do well. When you get down 21-0, you feel like it's not going to be our day. But I told our team you've just got to keep playing. This is a tough team to be behind against. And things started to turn around in the second half. Looking back, it really couldn't have happened in a better way."

• • •

The tide changed — along with Dungy's thoughts of pulling Manning — on the kickoff after Barber's touchdown. Brad Pyatt returned it 90 yards to the Tampa Bay 12, setting up the first of three fourth-quarter Colts touchdowns.

"We got off to a really good start and had a commanding lead," Gruden said on "Then I got shot by the sheriff. We put a backup corner in there, and Peyton Manning found him a couple of times. They returned a kickoff after one of our touchdowns to the (12). Next thing I knew, it was seven … for the Colts."

The Colts recovered an onside kick, and Manning found Harrison behind Wansley for a 28-yard touchdown with 2:38 to play. The Bucs turned the ball over on downs with help from a personal foul on tackle Kenyatta Walker.

One play after Warren Sapp was penalized for roughing the passer, Manning fired 52 yards to Harrison to set up another touchdown to tie the score.

In overtime, Vanderjagt missed a field goal, but Rice was called for leaping, called when a player starts from more than 1 yard off the line of scrimmage, leaps to block a kick and lands on another player.

"A call I've never seen before or after," said Bucs coach Raheem Morris, then a quality-control assistant for them. "I went nuts. I threw paper around the box. I'm cleaning up my stuff, and they make them kick it again."

Vanderjagt's second attempt, a 29-yarder, clanged off the left upright and through.

"It was one of those games that teaches you a great lesson," said Colts coach Jim Caldwell, then the team's quarterbacks coach. "We had quick-strike ability, first of all. We had a lot of guys who certainly would fight you until the bitter end. They were able to make some plays down the stretch and get ourselves a victory.

"But that was, obviously, one of the great comebacks that most of us have been involved with."

Gruden, who will be part of the ESPN crew that calls Monday's game, doesn't have fond memories of the comeback.

"That game was one of Peyton's finest hours," said Gruden, whose team went on to finish 7-9 and miss the playoffs one season after winning the Super Bowl.

"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."

Indianapolis Colts last visit to Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003 featured inexplicable comeback 10/01/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 1, 2011 8:11pm]
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