Talk about Sunday punch.
They turned the proud Chicago Bears, so historically mighty through the decades of Halas/Grange/Luckman/ Butkus/Singletary/Payton, into "Monstrosities of the Midway."
Bucs heroism, by 41-0.
St. Dungy's Day Massacre,
First it was Tampa Bay defense, putting painful smacks on quarterback Cade McNown, punishing tailback Curtis Enis and smothering Glyn Milburn, one of the NFL's more magnetic kick returners.
A vibrating, contagious tone.
Your turn, Bucs offense.
"It snowballed, then became an avalanche," said Warren Sapp, the mouthy and motoring Bucs defensive tackle. "Our cornerbacks were even tackling." Laughing as he said it.
"Then, with all the offensive weapons we now have, Jacquez (Green) was catching touchdowns from Shaun (King), Keyshawn (Johnson) doing his stuff and Mike (Alstott) running amok.
"Really special, especially a shutout."
It was good, and different, to see the Bucs score 41. Only twice in 25 seasons, in 390 games for the Tampa Bay franchise, have more points been generated, 48 against Atlanta in 1987 and 42 versus Da Bears in 1989.
Special, oh, yeah.
"Getting a shutout in this league, with all of today's weapons, is something," Sapp said.
If you're counting Bucs bagels since the team's birth in 1976, it'll take just one hand. Sunday's humiliation of Chicago makes four all-time shutouts, including one each in 1979, 1985 and 1998.
Michael Jordan, an NBA icon both offensively and defensively, never has been part of a shutout. Even against Upper Volta in the Olympics. But he was there Sunday to touch friendly knuckles with Sapp and Johnson.
Oh, the celebrity of being an NFL power bunch. Sept. 3, it was movie wizard Spike Lee in Tampa Bay's quarters after a win at New England. Jordan, resident of Chicago, now takes the front-runner route to schmooze with Bucs.
"I'm looking for Tiger Woods," Sapp said. "It's good to see famous faces. Such accomplished people are impressed by what we're doing. Got to keep it up. We're 2-0 with a long, long way to go."
Jordan, now an NBA owner in Washington, was invited by Sapp. "I'm a big fan of his," said the hoops colossus. Malcolm Glazer, owner of the Bucs, invited M.J. to watch from his Raymond James Stadium penthouse. What an intriguing photograph, Sapp and Jordan with Glazer. Malcolm in the middle.
"I appreciate great defense," Jordan said. "You see that from the Bucs. It's fun to watch. You can't help but get excited, I'm planning to come to another game in Tampa."
So strong, so quick and so consistent is Tampa Bay's defense that it's easy to take these 11 headhunters and their understudies for granted. By now, you expect them to excel every Sunday, being the catalyst if Tampa Bay succeeds. As acceptable as Sunday's offensive work became against the Bears, it was still defense that yanked the explosive plunger.
Derrick Brooks is a 1-to-5 bet to lead in Bucs tackles every week. He did it again with 11. As exceptional as are Sapp, safety John Lynch, cornerback Donnie Abraham and the others, Brooks is the best. Better than anybody on the roster. As good, maybe, as almost anyone in the NFL.
Tackling was terrific. Powerful and creative. Confident. "It's just awesome," said linebacker Shelton Quarles, a Vanderbilt man who gets little acclaim. "Everybody wants to make a big play. Nobody in the NFL outhits or outhustles us.
"If one of us misses a tackle, we at least slow down the ball carrier, knowing we've got buddies coming up from behind to make the play. Our belief in each other is huge. No change with Jamie (Duncan) replacing Hardy (Nickerson) at linebacker or (Anthony) McFarland coming in for Brad (Culpepper)."
There was a poignant, caring moment as the 41-0 mutilation ended. Sapp rushed to midfield to meet Culpepper, his old Bucs associate in the defensive pit, released last month and signed by Chicago.
"What we said," Warren commented, "was personal. Brad will be fine. He's tough. But it's not easy, having to leave Tampa and then to return and get beat 41-nothing. But he's a real man."
Chicago attempted 56 offensive plays, averaging just 2.9 yards. McNown was sacked five times. Harassed endlessly. Manhandled for three hours. So desperate were the Bears that, trailing by 41, they tried a field goal. Like everything else for Chicago, that also went sour.
If you're the Bucs, there've not been many legitimate laughers in 25 seasons. Where, in the final minute, eight-year pro Lynch, relaxing with ball cap on head, feels comfortable leaving his bench to greet wife Linda and 17-month-old Jake.
"We planned a family photograph," said the 28-year-old safety, holding the kid as the game ended. John Allred, brother of Linda Lynch, is a Bears tight end. "Unfortunately, he didn't make the trip."
Many Bears didn't show.
"My job was actually pretty easy this time," Lynch said. "I was mostly watching, seeing good plays made ahead of me, before the Bears could get back to my area.
"This is real fun. What a deal to enjoy your vocation as much as this. When we lost Pep (Culpepper), it concerned me. You worry about breaking up a good thing. But my worries have been erased.
"Still, we will keep perspective. Last season, when Oakland ripped us 45-0, we said it was "just one week.' Well, winning 41-0 is great, but it's also just one week. We won't be deceived. Lots of heavy challengers are coming, beginning in Detroit Sunday."