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A one-for-all, all-for-one free-for-all

Published Sep. 2, 2005

You say the receiver is selfish. He says he just wants to make a bigger contribution to the team.

You say the defensive end only cares about his sack totals and won't play the run. He says he wants to be considered one of the greats of the game.

You say the cornerback gambles too much. He says he's a fearless playmaker who won't back down from a challenge.

You say the coach has a bigger ego than his players. He says he believes in his system and is trying to spread the ball around.

You are both right. And you are both wrong.

Football is the ultimate team sport, yet no team can win games without great individual effort by great players.

This is the paradox facing the Buccaneers this season. They want to defend their world championship and everyone wants to be the reason it happens.

"You can have your own goals," safety John Lynch said. "Great players do. Great players have aspirations they want to reach, whether it be Pro Bowls, whether it be certain numbers or statistics. Those have to be there. But I think when you have that understanding that the ultimate prize in this game is to get that Super Bowl ring, I think once we got a taste of it, I mean, gosh darn, it feels so good, but that's a tough thing to balance. The successful teams have that.

"We just had a speech from coach (Jon) Gruden last week about checking your egos at the door. And when you've got a good karma on a team, when you've got a good mix, what we had last year and what we are shooting for this year, that kind of stuff works itself out and everybody puts the team goals first and foremost."

The issue came to light when the agent for Keyshawn Johnson, who has caught just one pass in each of the past two games, complained that Gruden wasn't using his Pro Bowl receiver.

Gruden said he feels responsible for making sure all his top stars have an opportunity to achieve their personal goals.

"I'm sensitive about that," Gruden said. "I see it as a great responsibility to help a guy like (Johnson) have the greatest year of his career. I have the same feeling for (Keenan) McCardell, I'd like to see Mike Pittman have a breakout year, I'd like to see Brad Johnson burst upon the scene. We're trying, No. 1, to help these players win. Because the thrill of winning the Super Bowl was the exclamation point of all our careers. And No. 2, we do want to help everybody go to the Pro Bowl and enjoy great individual success. Team success, individual success is a big part of it."

FUN READING: What do other Bucs players think of almost weekly stories involving stars Keyshawn Johnson and Warren Sapp?

"We're just like you guys, man, we see it and say, "Oh, wow. That's cool,' " cornerback Ronde Barber said. "Everybody has a unique personality. I deal with (the media) different than Keyshawn deals with it. You guys are a platform. If somebody wants to get something out, they know how to get it out. It is what it is. It's not a big deal to us, it's not a distraction. To tell you the truth, we get more fun out of it than anything. "Keyshawn is in the paper today. Oh, sweet. What's Sapp doing today?' There's rolling jokes in every meeting room."