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Hi, Chris, meet new expectations

Published May 4, 2003

TAMPA - It was time for Someday's Quarterback to continue his introduction to the NFL, and frankly, the kid couldn't wait.

Chris Simms stepped forward in the midmorning heat, this spindly colt of a prospect, and the strange verbiage of the play jangled in his mind like foreign coins in a tourist's pocket. He leaned forward, trying to sort through the confusion, and suddenly, there was a hand on his shoulder.

Why, before the introduction, Jon Gruden was saying, there should be introductions.

So, right there in the middle of the field, Gruden introduced the kid around. Hey, Chris. Meet Mike Alstott. Hey, Chris, meet Michael Pittman. Hey, Chris, meet Ken Dilger. It was then, as the players interrupted practice and shook hands, one by one, and as the rest of the team looked on and cracked up, you got the idea of just how much catching up Simms has to do.

No problem.

The kid has time.

This is the new, perfect situation of Chris Simms, son of a quarterback. He has a famous name, but absolutely no expectations to go with it. He's an interesting newcomer, not that his new team needs him. He has a fine arm, but no one expects to see it any time soon.

Ah, what a grand situation. For most of his life, Simms has tried to measure up to the shadow of a famous father, former Giants quarterback Phil Simms. And for most of their existence, the Bucs have drained the potential of one young quarterback or the other.

Now, here they are, perfect for each other.

Tell me. Can you stand the wait until 2007?

Sweat runs off Simms' face, and he cocks his head, and for just a moment, you can see his father in there. Then he grins, and his faces changes, and Simms looks half a dozen years shy of the 23 he has lived.

This is not a son going into the family business, he tells you. If his father had been a banker or a broker, he still would have been a quarterback.

"It helped that my father played and exposed me to it at an early age," Simms said, "but I have a true love for the game. I'm not trying to walk in my father's footsteps. I never wanted to play another position or another sport."

Oh, at times it would have been easier. There is nothing quite like the pressure that comes with being a brand name. There are advantages, the nights they studied films together, the days they worked out together. Then there are the fans who watched your dad play, people who can't wait to say that, frankly, you're not your dad. (Michael Corleone had to put up with that, too.)

For Simms, it always has been that way, since that day before Super Bowl XXI when the fan asked him for an autograph. He was 6 years old, and Phil Simms was about to play the game of his life. A year later, Chris can remember his father being booed.

Turns out, having to put up with unruly fans is hereditary. Who knew? In Austin, they still debate all the things Chris Simms was not. So what if the 'Horns were 11-2 each of the past two years? So what if he led the Big 12 in passing for three straight seasons?

"He was Chris Simms," is the way Bucs player personnel director Tim Ruskell puts it. "He was supposed to win three Heismans and never lose a game."

There are people who begrudge the fame of others, the same as they begrudge wealth. Somehow, fans seem to think that, because his father had played, it must not hurt when Simms was hit in the mouth.

"I think it would have been more fair if I had another last name," Simms said. "But it comes with the territory. I realize who I am and what I am. This is always going to be my last name."

Well, maybe not. For two days, Gruden has been calling Simms "Christopher Simpson," a lighthearted dig to suggest Simms has some measuring up before he can be compared with a father who was a champion.

That's usually the case. Peyton Manning still isn't Archie, and Brian Griese isn't Bob. In the old days, Jeff Kemp wasn't Jack, and Kent Nix probably wasn't Emery.

That's it. Those are the only five father-son combinations in NFL history.

"Maybe it's because a lot of sons don't want to go through everything you have to go through," Simms said.

For instance, there is the can't-win-the-big-one rap. Texas was 0-4 against Top 10 teams when Simms started, and he had no touchdowns and 15 turnovers in the games.

The tag stuck, and there is little doubt it affected Simms' draft status. Going in, he said, he had an indication he would go between No. 15 and No. 25 in the first round. Instead, he went No. 97 to Tampa Bay.

"I was p----- at the world," Simms said. "But I'm over it. I've got the best coach in the NFL, and I'm on the best team."

In the perfect world, Simms carries a clipboard this year. He brings breakfast on Saturdays, the way rookies do, and he brings Popeye's chicken for the quarterbacks for flights out of town. Also, he waits. Maybe next year, he challenges for the No. 2 spot, and in four years, for the No. 1.

Ah, but it's not a perfect world, Gruden warns.

"People have this misconception that he's going to be a redshirt," Gruden said. "You can't do that. We played three quarterbacks last year. If the starter is injured, the No. 3 is a heartbeat away from being the guy. There isn't a lot of spoon-feeding anymore. He's got to be ready."

For now, he's a long way away. The playbook seems to be written in Chinese. The plays seem all out of rhythm. The terminology has left his mind feeling "like rush hour in New York City."

To give him credit, he does have the handshake down pat.

Ah, but did you ever see Phil Simms shake a hand?

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