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Five Bucs pleased to reach Pro Bowl at last

Posted: Friday, January 31, 2003

KAPOLEI, Hawaii -- After the monthlong playoff grind, tension of the Super Bowl and crazy victory celebrations, Tampa Bay safety John Lynch still doesn't want to rest.

Not until next week, anyway.

Lynch yawned and squinted through the morning sun toward the Pacific Ocean on Thursday before the NFC Pro Bowl team's workouts. The Buccaneers' star was sleepy, jet-lagged and exhausted, but he thought it was all a small price for his first chance to be an NFL champion and an all-star in the same season.

''There's definitely a difference when you come over here as a Super Bowl winner,'' said Lynch, in his fourth Pro Bowl. ''It's a better feeling. The guys have a respect for you. You're more tired than you ever were before, but it's worth it. It's soooo worth it.''

Five members of the Buccaneers were at the Ihilani resort on the west side of Oahu for their first Pro Bowl workouts: Lynch, quarterback Brad Johnson, linebacker Derrick Brooks, defensive end Simeon Rice and fullback Mike Alstott.

They joined forces with 16 players from the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers who were sent home from the playoffs by Tampa Bay's defensive machine and ever-improving offense.

Like Lynch, the rest of the Buccaneers are worn out, but willing to play.

''There's a lot of stress -- not bad stress, but stress,'' Johnson said. ''The first time I slept since the game was (Wednesday) night. I hadn't slept since Sunday.''

Only defensive tackle Warren Sapp declined the chance to add another week of physical punishment to his busy schedule, citing a knee injury in dropping out of his sixth Pro Bowl appearance.

The four days since the Buccaneers' 48-21 thrashing of the Oakland Raiders in San Diego have been a whirlwind of activity -- something that's unfamiliar to most of the Bucs.

Several players appeared on talk shows and made public appearances, and everyone gathered in Tampa on Tuesday for a victory parade.

''The first time it hit home for me was the parade,'' said Johnson, who got his second Pro Bowl trip after Atlanta's Michael Vick dropped out last week. ''You could see the frustration of all those Bucs fans just get lifted. I don't think anybody can understand what that means to a team and a community until you actually win it all.

''I really felt it when I saw John Lynch and Warren Sapp hugging, because they've been through it all, through all the bad times and bad seasons. I haven't been there for that long.''

The rest of the Pro Bowlers on both teams said the Buccaneers' championship was well deserved. Most of the Buccaneers' peers sounded a common theme: While Tampa Bay's defense might have won the title, it wouldn't have succeeded without the offense.

''People talked about them like they didn't have an offense. They've got a great offense,'' Dallas Cowboys linebacker La'Roi Glover said. ''They had a great season on both sides of the ball. They deserved to win it all. They're the kings of the Pro Bowl this week.''

The Buccaneers' Pro Bowlers hadn't begun thinking ahead to next season or contemplating the possible departure of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who had planned to interview for the 49ers' vacant head coaching position before signing a three-year extension with the Buccaneers later Thursday.

''We want him to stay, but it's hard to even think about that right now,'' Rice said. ''I mean, we're in Hawaii! We've got the players and the scheme that will make us good for a long time, I think.

"We're not going to be satisfied with just one championship. We've got that taste for success now.''



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