- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 25, 2003

SAN DIEGO — The father started the job, and now the son is trying to finish it. It's almost biblical, this tale of John and Rich McKay. And it all began when John built a giant ark known as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then drafted two of everything.

It rained, virtually nonstop, for the next 20 years. From 1976, when they were founded, to 1996, when Tony Dungy happened along, the Bucs were stuck in the NFL equivalent of the perfect storm. A 26-game losing streak out of the gate, back-to-back 2-14 seasons in the '80s, nearly permanent residency in the NFC Central cellar the Bucs pretty much defined defeat in those days.

Oh, there were a few playoff games here and there. But even the Bucs' good moments seemed to turn bad, such as when they held the Rams to three field goals in the '79 NFC title game and still lost 9-0. Then there was the time running back James Wilder was going for a record in the last game of the '85 season and the Bucs let the Jets score so he could have another chance to break it. (Naturally, he didn't.)

That travesty was John McKay's last game on the Tampa Bay sideline and further cemented the team's status as a national punch line. But now John is gone, and Rich, the general manager, has the Bucs in their first Super Bowl. He's just 60 minutes from completing the task his dad undertook lo those many losses ago.

"People walk down the street now, and they're proud to be Bucs fans," he said the other morning. "That wasn't the case before, and my father took it personally because he lived there. Tampa is a smaller town, and the Buccaneers are the center of that town. When the Bucs were looked at in a bad way, the town was looked at in a bad way, and he never liked that.

"He would be very pleased where the franchise is [today]. To be able to complete the circle would be awfully nice."

Yes, wouldn't it? After all, these picking up where your dad left off stories don't always have a "happily ever after." Look at Mike Brown in Cincinnati. He's been trying to complete the circle for years now, trying to win the championship that eluded his legendary father Paul (0-2 in Super Bowls with the Bengals). Alas, the club has become as clueless as the old Bucs were.

John McKay wasn't too keen on the idea of Rich joining the Bucs in '92 at least not initially. Giving up a budding law practice for a football job that offered little security didn't sound like a great career move to him. "What happens if you're out on the street in two or three years?" he asked.

To which Rich replied: "We've lived in this town, we're associated with this franchise and we're sick and tired of losing. Can't we try to contribute and try to get this thing turned around?"

That night the Old Coach reflected on his own life choices like the time, after four national championships at Southern Cal, he took a flyer on Tampa Bay's expansion team. The next day, he called his son and told him to go for it, that he was "100 percent in favor" of what he was doing.

After three years of running the business end of things, Rich became general manager. The first two draft picks he made were Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, both of whom have gone on to be NFL Defensive Player of the Year and probably are headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Later he traded for Keyshawn Johnson and signed Brad Johnson and Simeon Rice as free agents. The team progressed steadily. In his third year as GM, the Bucs made the playoffs. In his fifth year, they made the NFC title game. And in this, his eighth year, they're playing for all the Roman numerals.

In typical Tampa Bay fashion, though, the Bucs' ship has capsized a time or two. Getting rid of Dungy after last season was an unpleasant business, inasmuch as he was the most successful coach in franchise history. And the search to replace him became a soap opera, with Bill Parcells backing out at the last minute and ownership rejecting McKay's other choice, Marvin Lewis.

Rich almost left the organization at that point. "The coaching situation was struggling to resolve itself," he said, and he feared the Bucs' new coach would be given control over personnel. "I didn't want to have a reduced role. I wanted to have that input [into the makeup of the team]."

The Falcons, meanwhile, had expressed an interest in hiring him. What it came down to, ultimately, was that "Tampa was my home. I've been there a long time. I had seen something started, and I wanted very much to see it finished."

So he swung a deal with the Raiders for Jon Gruden giving up more draft picks than he did for Keyshawn Johnson (plus $8million) and has come out smelling like a Super Bowl. All the Bucs have to do is beat Gruden's old team tomorrow and the circle will finally be complete.

"It has been a journey that was not overnight," McKay said. "It was a slow boat to China, and the boat had holes."

But Rich McKay patched them, got his father's vessel back on course and, wonder of wonders, has steered it into San Diego Harbor.

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