TAMPA — It's the most indelible image in Bucs history. Head coach Jon Gruden, raising the Lombardi Trophy in his right hand while embracing owner Malcolm Glazer after winning Super Bowl XXXVII. The confetti had fallen and Gruden had thoroughly thrashed his former Oakland Raiders team 48-21 on a cool evening in San Diego.
Less than a year earlier, Glazer had paid an enormous bounty to the Raiders to trade for Gruden — two first round picks, two second round picks and $8 million. Now here they stood, the kings of the NFL, an improbable season ending when the impossible happened.
Ever wonder which coach was more responsible for winning the Super Bowl for the Bucs, Gruden or Tony Dungy? Well, the Glazers just answered that question Tuesday, 15 years after winning the first championship in Tampa Bay.
They did so by announcing that the late Glazer and Gruden will be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor this year.
Glazer, who had been in declining health for a number of years after suffering two strokes, died in 2014 at age 85. He will be honored posthumously during a nationally televised Thursday night game Oct. 5 against the Patriots.
Gruden, 53, who served as the team's head coach from 2002-08 (going 57-55), will be inducted during halftime of the Bucs' Monday Night Football game that he will broadcast for ESPN on Dec. 18 against the Falcons. A formal news conference is scheduled at One Buc Place Aug. 2 at 1 p.m.
Gruden's Bucs teams won the NFC South and reached the playoffs two more times but never won another postseason game. Gruden never returned to coaching after being fired by the Bucs after the '08 season. But he has become a celebrity and the star of Monday Night Football as well as ESPN's highest-paid employee with a reported annual salary of $6.5 million.
"He was everything a coach or a player could ask for in an owner and I am very grateful that we got to experience that Super Bowl victory together," Gruden said of Malcolm Glazer on Tuesday.
For years, Bucs fans have participated in the debate and the argument against Gruden getting into the Ring of Honor went like this: Gruden won the Super Bowl with Dungy's team. But the fact is that there were 27 players on the Super Bowl champion Bucs that weren't a member of the team that lost to the Eagles in the playoffs to end the 2001 season.
It's true Dungy took the Bucs from a laughingstock in '96 with more than a decade of double-digit losing seasons to a playoff team in four of the six years he coached in Tampa Bay. He left a core of players, especially on defense, including Pro Football Hall of Fame players Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, along with John Lynch, Simeon Rice and Ronde Barber.
But Gruden added players such as receivers Joe Jurevicius and Keenan McCardell and running back Michael Pittman to go with quarterback Brad Johnson and fullback Mike Alstott. More than that, he was the creative play-caller and fiery sideline presence the Bucs needed to challenge them, hold everyone accountable and get over the hump.
Some may still believe Dungy is more deserving to be inducted to the Ring of Honor first. Dungy isn't among them.
"I am thrilled for Mr. Glazer and for Jon,'' Dungy told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday. "I think it's very fitting they go in the Ring of Honor together. Fifteen years after the championship is special. Malcolm was so special to me as you know. I would not be where I am today without him making the decision to hire me. He was such a mentor to me and my older boys. I couldn't be happier. I'm glad they are going to do the ceremony on Thursday night so I can be there.''
Without Glazer, Dungy would not have enjoyed a career that ended in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after winning his one Super Bowl title with the Colts.
"I think it's fitting for Jon to go in with (Glazer),'' Dungy said. "The only Super Bowl championship in franchise history should be honored.''
Contact Rick Stroud at email@example.com. Follow >@NFLStroud.>