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Championship apparently can't buy love for Bucs

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By GARY SHELTON, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 16, 2003


Great news from One Buc Place this morning.

Nobody hit anybody.

Ah, what a relief. Nobody called anyone names, and no one edited anyone's contract, and no one took the strawberries out of the company refrigerator. No one threatened to leave, no one stole anyone's parking pass and no one took the Sports Illustrated off anyone's desk before the first person could read it.

Okay, there were rumors that, in an early draft meeting, a disagreement over long snappers broke out, and Tim Ruskell may have thrown a stopwatch at Ruston Webster's head and, after ducking out of the way, Webster might have said "Nice aim, rag arm." So far, those are just nasty rumors.

The important thing is that it was peaceful, without any help from Tim Robbins or Toni Smith. Everyone got along.

On the other hand, you might want to check back this afternoon.

In a questionable offseason, one question remains with the Bucs. Are we absolutely sure this is the way to repeat?

Strange, isn't it? A franchise struggles most of its history, and it finally finds itself the champion of the sport. And it finds that it cannot stand success.

Shouldn't there be more basking going on? More reveling? More glowing? Wouldn't you have thought the Bucs would spend the entire season grinning?

It hasn't quite worked out that way, has it? It has been one snarl after another, as if half the team had become Keyshawn and the other half Warren. At times, you wanted to send the entire franchise to its room.

So this is why it's so hard to win back-to-back Super Bowls.

Let's see. The owner has wanderlust, and the coach has loose lips, and the general manager is underappreciated, and the quarterback is unloved, and the defensive tackle is annoyed, and on and on and on. Guys who don't even work here, such as Emmitt Smith, are talking about the infighting.

Start with Malcolm Glazer, the owner, who evidently wants to play dodgeball.

This is strange, because it was only during the Super Bowl that a lot of people finally warmed to the idea of Glazer owning the Bucs. If news of a possible sale had been announced two years ago, five years ago, fans would have offered to help finance the new owner's mortgage.

A title changes all of that. Suddenly, it's popular to list all the money Glazer has spent to help bring the championship here. There are a lot of fans who'd like to buy Glazer a chicken wing these days. Come on, Mal. Let's hang.

Ah, but at his core Glazer is a businessman, and the only thing better than being rich is being obscenely rich. If you can do it in a town like Los Angeles, it's even better. Who knows? Maybe what Malcolm really wants is a cameo in the next Austin Powers movie.

So Glazer is going to read for the part of the Artful Dodger. Those on the West Coast say he's the front-runner. But this is going to take longer to complete then even, say, Roman Oben, who took about three weeks to sign each letter of his new contract this offseason.

Is it going to affect whether the Bucs repeat? Not a bit.

Ah, but while we're at it, how about the friction between Rich McKay and Jon Gruden?

A couple of weeks ago, opening night for the Devil Rays, they shared first-pitch duties. Wouldn't it have been a hoot if they had concocted a mock fight there on the mound, with McKay pointing his finger and screaming and Gruden getting McKay in a headlock? Or if they had thrown the baseballs at each other?

The thing is, this isn't new. By nature, Gruden is a feather-ruffler. He wants every player who has ever appeared in a Pro Bowl on his roster. This time, while out late at the owner's meetings, he evidently let it be known, rather loudly, that he had free agent envy.

It was silly, and Gruden knows better. But does it mean the two of them are planning a duel at dawn? No. Gruden needs McKay to keep him in check. More to the point, both have hefty contracts. Neither is going anywhere.

Is it going to affect whether the Bucs repeat? Not likely.

As for Emmitt's comments saying it was one reason he didn't come to Tampa Bay, please. Emmitt won titles while Jimmy and Jerry were wrestling over the microphone. Smith didn't come here because the money wasn't as good and because the starting spot wasn't assured.

Is it going to affect whether the Bucs repeat? No, even though Smith could have been a sweet addition.

What's next? Brad? Johnson will be fine. No, the Bucs shouldn't have tinkered with his contract. But Johnson's agent shouldn't have yelled so loudly in a transparent attempt to get a new contract, either.

Is it going to affect whether the Bucs repeat? No. If Johnson is loyal to Gruden, and he will be, that will be enough.

Then there is Warren Sapp.

Forget the rumors of Sapp being traded for the No. 1 pick. It isn't going to happen. The Bengals would have to immediately sign Sapp to an extension, and it would cost a fortune, and the Bengals don't pay fortunes. As for the Bucs, they're trying to win right now. A draft pick isn't going to make that happen. Sapp is.

On the other hand, if you want to see nervousness, remind the front office people his contract is up after next year. That could mean trouble for the Bucs, because everyone knows when Warren is upset, or trouble for everyone else, because players in the final year of a contract often have monster years.

Is it likely to affect whether the Bucs repeat? It could.

And so it goes. If squabbling were any worse, you'd wonder which one of the Bucs actually dated Yoko Ono.

This is the lesson other teams have learned. It's one thing to overcome defeat. Sometimes, it's harder to deal with victory.

Only now are the reasons why becoming obvious to those of us in Tampa Bay.

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