Hope for future is spreading thin

By null, Times Sports Columnist
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 27, 2003

TAMPA - There's a good chance it won't even matter. That its impact will be negligible, its influence minimal.

The Glazers could buy the Dodgers, develop the land in Chavez Ravine, irritate the heck out of a whole new set of unsuspecting city officials and no one in Tampa Bay would be the wiser.

There's a possibility their fates will never intertwine. That they will remain on their different coasts, in their different leagues, with checks written from completely different bank accounts.

The Glazers could buy the Dodgers, put some other family members in charge of that operation and no one in Tampa Bay will give a rip.

That's the expectation. And that's the hope.

But what if that's wrong?

Until now, the Glazers' interest in the Dodgers seemed abstract. More of an inquiry than a quest. Now NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue says the Glazers have told him of their plans and, furthermore, he's given his blessing.

So, today, it seems more plausible. And, tomorrow, the worries could be more real.

If you're not yet concerned, ask yourself this:

How can dual ownership possibly benefit the Bucs?

The Glazers already were utterly committed to their football team. They already were providing all the revenue a front office could want.

This means, at best, it would be business as usual in Tampa Bay.

And, at worst, it could mean an ownership group whose aspirations, whose devotion, whose resources would suddenly be divided in half.

No one, of course, would ever say this. The Glazers, should they buy the Dodgers and emerge from behind closed blinds, will say the Bucs still are a priority. They will say one team would have no effect on the other.

And maybe it will seem that way. Maybe the Bucs will make every effort to re-sign Anthony McFarland and Warren Sapp. Maybe the Glazers will continue to push the salary cap to its limit.

But will they step past what's expected and walk beyond what's common?

Because this is where the Glazers have excelled. As owners, they were never content with good. They wanted better. As fans, they were never pleased with the playoffs. They wanted the Super Bowl.

Look at their history. It is colored with reaches, gambles and outrageous spending. Not to mention the greatest era of success Tampa Bay has known.

The Bucs made it to the conference title game in 1999 and immediately went after Keyshawn Johnson. The Bucs won 10 games in 2000 and promptly signed Brad Johnson and Simeon Rice. The Bucs made the postseason for the third straight season in 2001 and the Glazers spent $8-million to acquire Jon Gruden and dropped another $16-million to sign him to a new deal.

How willing will they be to continue that type of Vegas-style spending when they have to worry about a suspect first baseman and a wilting rotation?

How capable will they be when the price tag for the Dodgers, their stadium and the surrounding land could fetch $600-million or more?

None of this even touches on the possibility the Glazers are looking to get out of Tampa Bay. That they sell the Bucs and turn their attention to acquiring an NFL franchise in Los Angeles.

Some would scoff and ask who cares. One owner, you might argue, is just as greedy and uncaring as the next.

Yes, it's true, the Glazers have never cared to be embraced locally. As neighbors they are insulated. As business partners they are cold-blooded.

If you are Tony Dungy, you might say the family is ruthless in pursuit of its goals. If you are Pam Iorio, you might say the Glazers are shameless in their corporate strategies.

But if you are a Tampa Bay fan, you would certainly say they are the best big-league owners in the inglorious history of this market.

Take away the Glazers and who is to say the Bucs do not return to the Culverhouse era of penny-pinching and party-pooping?

You know, today is the three-month anniversary of that stirring welcome home party at Raymond James Stadium following Super Bowl XXXVII.

In the brief interlude, the Bucs have gotten into another squabble with local government officials with talk of lawsuits from both sides.

Their right tackle was arrested for a disturbance outside a nightclub and a defensive back was handcuffed for waving a gun in his car. The coach complained about the front office and the quarterback got ticked off about a contract mixup.

If this is what it's like to bask in glory, it's no wonder we avoided it for so long.

That the latest anxiety arrived on draft day is typically grating. This is supposed to be a day of hope in the NFL. A day when the worst teams hope to get better and the best teams hope to stay on top.

A day when we could be talking about the remarkable perseverance of second-round pick Dewayne White or the happy fortune of quarterback Chris Simms falling to the third round.

Instead, we wonder about the future.

And whether it holds the riches of the past.