Don’t Forget Herman Smith

January 2nd, 2010

Are the 2009 Bucs the tide-turning 1996 Buccaneers in disguise?

St. Pete Times columnist Gary Shelton takes an intriguing and deep look at that possibility with fresh quotes from Brad Culpepper, John Lynch, Hardy Nickerson and Tony Dungy, among others.

It was last week, and the Bucs were about to upset the Saints.

In a way, however, it seemed like 1996 to Dungy, and the Bucs were about to upset the Chargers.

“That was the first thing I thought,” Dungy said. “A couple of days later, I was at a function in Atlanta with (Bucs linebacker) Barrett Ruud, and I told him that. I told him how I remembered walking on the field in San Diego and telling John Lynch that this might be the game that showed us how … to get mentally over the hump.

Dungy went on to reference a critical behind-the-scenes turning point in 1996.

Looking back, Dungy said the key moment in the ’96 turnaround came in a team meeting after defensive end Regan Upshaw and running back Errict Rhett showed up late for an autograph signing and an elementary school meeting on a day off.

“I went into the meeting room the next day and said, ‘We aren’t even going to talk about the Raiders or what we need to do offensively or defensively. It doesn’t matter until we get this fixed.’ It was probably the only time I raised my voice in a team meeting. And then I left. I don’t know what else happened after that.

“To me, that was what we had to understand. Somehow, we got the message across that the little details were important. If it was a public relations director telling a guy he had to be somewhere at 10 o’clock, it’s the same as if (Monte Kiffin) was telling a linebacker he had to be 21/2 yards deep on the guard.”

Joe checked in with former Bucs defensive end Steve White, author of the powerful Bull Rush column on, to see what White remembered of the lay-down-the-law team meeting Dungy referenced to Shelton.

White remembers it, but said a move Dungy made later might have made a bigger impression on the team.

“When Coach Dungy referenced that team meeting after Rhett and Upshaw were late that wasn’t the end of the story,” White told Joe tonight. “The very next week was when we were playing Detroit and a backup defensive end was late to our Saturday walk-through.  His name was Herman Smith, and he ended up having a bad game, too.  Detroit blew us out, but what made it worse was after Barry Sanders ran up and down the field on us, his backup got maybe 100 yards too and many of those yards came through [Herman Smith’s] gap.

“The Bucs cut him that Monday and that’s when they signed me from the practice squad and thus began my playing career for the Bucs. But it also showed the team that they were serious and that if you weren’t going to show up on time or follow team rules and or weren’t going to do your job, you would be cut.  To me that’s when you really saw some guys wire in and pay attention.”

Joe wonders what would have happened in Bucs history without Herman Smith showing up late, stinking up the field and getting cut?

Joe’s not sure. But Mr. Smith never played in the NFL again.

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