TAMPA — On paper, Monday night’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Miami Dolphins didn’t look particularly appealing.
On air, it was a different story.
When lead producer Jay Rothman and his ESPN crew of 200 gathered in Tampa, they had an array of intriguing issues to pursue.
“It’s unbelievable,’’ Rothman said Monday morning after concluding a production meeting at the Renaissance Hotel near International Plaza, where Bucs players and coaches were also staying. “This might be a lesser game on the surface, but given the news out of Miami in the last 10 days and the news out of Tampa in the past two months, we’ve got plenty to talk about.
“Just look at what the Bucs have gone through. You’ve got the 0-8 record, the quarterback change, the MRSA, the coaching situation … there’s a lot there.’’
In his role as ESPN’s analyst for “Monday Night Football,’’ former Bucs coach Jon Gruden said he was more comfortable talking about the matchup rather than the alleged bullying episode in Miami involving suspended guard Richie Incognito and tackle Jonathan Martin.
In August, Gruden picked the Bucs to win the NFC South. Three months later, he said Tampa Bay’s inability to close out games under head coach Greg Schiano is baffling.
“Yes, I’m stunned at the 0-8 record,’’ said Gruden, in his fifth season in the broadcast booth with play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico. “I thought Josh Freeman would play well, I thought Carl Nicks would be the left guard and I thought Davin Joseph would be healthy. I felt good about the Buc offense. I know the players haven’t quit, but some of these players have to step up in critical moments and close out the opponent. Make a first down, run the clock out.’’
Rothman said he recognizes the look of struggling teams who have tuned out their head coach — and vice versa.
“We observed practice Saturday and we saw a lot of pep and energy,” he said. “In no way based on our meetings with players did we have any indication they have given up on their season or their coaches. I’ve had experiences when the head coach himself has tuned out … and told us so.
“Believe me, we’ve seen the worst of the worst and I don’t get that sense here in Tampa at all. Schiano seemed distraught they are where they are, but he also believes he has the players and staff to turn it around. I know one thing, that young quarterback (Mike Glennon) is a special kid.’’
In the spring, Glennon worked with Rothman and Gruden at ESPN’s quarterback camp for top college prospects. He was drafted by the Bucs out of North Carolina State in the third round and replaced Freeman as the starter in Week 4.
“I think Glennon’s got a huge upside,’’ said Gruden, who still lives in Tampa. “They need a franchise quarterback here. We’ve never had one. I thought it would be Josh, but I was wrong.’’
Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts, working Monday night’s game for Westwood One Radio, was eager to see Mike Glennon play in person.
“I’ve been watching him on film and Glennon looks kind of cool,’’ said Fouts, selected by the Chargers as a third-round draft pick out of Ore-gon in 1973. “He’s shown me lots of poise. He doesn’t get frustrated and he does a good job going through his progressions. You don’t always see that with young passers because there aren’t a lot of college offenses that feature progression-type passing games.’’
Military salute on Veterans Day
Before Monday night’s matchup, the Bucs paid tribute to the military on Veterans Day.
Almost 500 active duty troops and their guests were treated to tickets to the game, along with food and entertainment in parking lots before kickoff.
The Bucs also announced a team donation of $25,000 to support USO Tampa Bay.
General manager Mark Dominik was presented the Florida West Coast Leadership and Community Service Award by the West Point Society.
Two special guests served as honorary coin toss captains — Lt. General Robert Neller, Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central Command, and Brenda Schwarzkopf, widow of the late four-star General Norman Schwarzkopf.