TAMPA — It's ridiculous that it took this long to give Jon Gruden a night all his own, given the nights he gave Bucs fans. But it will happen this evening at Raymond James Stadium, a salute to the thermonuclear source of that Super Bowl season, that bright, unbending light.
Here's to Jonny Rocket.
What a night it will be.
It reminds me of that morning.
It was Friday of the first week of the 2002 season. It was dark. The man in the security booth phoned the man in the cave. "Jon, this is Charlie. That guy is here." Charlie rapped on a door.
"What is that?" the voice said.
It was two days before the season opener against New Orleans. The Bucs would lose that home game in overtime. They would win the Super Bowl. Gruden had risen at the appointed hour — and minute — and was buzz-sawing through the predawn. He sat in his office, the one he ordered built without windows, and drew play cards for practice.
Across two grease boards on the wall in front of his desk was the hour-by-hour schedule for opening week. To his right was a board covered with doodled plays and a few phone numbers, including one with the word "HOME" next to it, so Gruden remembered when he tried to ring back to his house.
He drew play after play. Go routes, post routes, blast plays, blocking assignments. He drew plays that would eventually help make the Bucs world champions.
None of that was clear that morning. None of what came after that was clear, either. The letdown the following season, the jungle madness, the power plays, the battles that forced out Keyshawn Johnson and general manager Rich McKay, the megalomania, Bruce Allen, the Captain Queeg moments, the old quarterbacks, the final night, his firing … his TV career, his superstardom. That morning, Gruden was just a football mind in overdrive, the volume turned way up. He was exactly what the Bucs needed.
He drew circles stenciled on them for the offensive line. Problem.
"That's too bad, because I am a hell of a circle-drawer," Gruden said. "I practiced drawing circles when I was younger. I wanted to be good on the board. Know what I mean? I wanted to be a good circle-drawer. You got to get it right, bro."
It was a little past 6 in the morning, two days before the opener.
"Maybe it's insecurity, how much I work," Gruden said. "I just hate to waste a year. I just hate to waste time. I can't stand that. I hate to see guys — okay, maybe I'm guilty of overdoing it — but these guys with their 'I'll get it next year.' Next year. Next week. Next down. Bull. We're going to lose this game if you don't do it right. We're going to get this done. Today. Now."
He shook a dying marker.
"I spend a lot of time in this dark room. No distractions. I think we're all like that. Maybe me more. I've always been a loner, bro. It's a bad thing in some ways. Because loners are lonely. Doesn't it seem a little lonely in here?"
He drew another play.
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"My dad told me something one time. I was in Philadelphia, moaning about something. Dad says: 'Why don't you quit complaining? Why don't you go to a cemetery and look at all the rocks. Some people have been under those rocks a hundred years. One day, you'll be under one.' That's a hell of a thing. It tells you: We've got to get somewhere, some way, max out — get all you can get out of your days."
The following January, he held the Lombardi Trophy.
I always go back to that morning. Jon Gruden finished drawing his play guards. He opened the door. It wasn't dark anymore.
"Man, it's light out," he said.
That's how we should remember the newest member of the Bucs Ring of Honor.
He got it right, bro.