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NFL's cream has risen. And the Bucs? Well ...

By HUBERT MIZELL
Published October 19, 2003

Rankings, we love 'em.

For debate's sake, nearing NFL midseason, I've put the 32 franchises into five groups. From better to worse, from richer to poorer. Based on results and perceived possibilities.

Do you accept, or restack?

True definition comes in December's stretch, then January's playoffs. But, in October, these are my bunches, with testier weather and deeper exams on the way . . .

POWER SIX-PACK (in alphabetical order, with solid shots at winning divisions, earning postseason byes and making the road a bit less treacherous): Chiefs, Colts, Cowboys, Dolphins, Panthers, Vikings.

HOVERING FOUR (legitimate threats to win it all but with heavy lifting ahead): Broncos, Bucs, Seahawks, Titans.

TEPID HALF-DOZEN (absolute maybes, long shots nonetheless): Bills, Browns, Packers, Patriots, Rams, Ravens.

WOBBLING SIX (not in good shape, could rally and survive but probably won't): Eagles, 49ers, Giants, Raiders, Redskins, Steelers.

TEN IN THE TANK (already flat on their backs, hearing a referee count "6-7-8 ... " with next to zero chance of rising): Bears, Bengals, Cardinals, Chargers, Falcons, Jaguars, Jets, Lions, Saints, Texans.

SACKS: Who would've thought there'd come a baseball October with more facial hair than locks atop player heads? ... Washington Post says, if Pedro Martinez wants to take on defenseless old men, put him in the ring with Evander Holyfield. ... Baseball commissioner Bud "Light" Selig does not have the guts to defy pompous, threatening Baltimore owner Peter Angelos and assign the near-homeless Expos where they should be, in Washington/northern Virginia. ... Bill Parcells would be perfect to endorse StarKist, being nicknamed "Tuna" and having a big can. ... Roughing the QB penalties in the NFL have become as absurd as continuing to expend Secret Service agents to protect Gerald Ford. ... If zebras call taunting, they should make sure it is taunting and not just acceptable competitive exuberance. ... College refs should use common sense, not just an inflexible rule book, in assessing whether end zone celebrations are worthy of flags or simply admirable, justified jubilation. ... The State of Virginia is partnering with NASCAR to boost the number of residents with GEDs, causing some D.C. media wise guy to suggest the movement begin with stock car nomads. ... Anybody know the story of why global soccer icon David Beckham and wife Victoria named their son Brooklyn? ... 50 Cent, the rapper, paid 8-million times his four-bits name to buy Mike Tyson's flash-over-class mansion. ... Jan Stephenson's anti-Asian statements are 10 times worse than Rush Limbaugh's odious commentary on black quarterbacks.

Whatever happened to Zola Budd?

THOUGHTS: Big cheers for the best little athlete I ever saw, jockey Bill Shoemaker, a giant wearing size 21/2 shoes, tough as any NFL linebacker, so strong for a 95-pounder, a car crash sadly paralyzing him from the neck down the last 12 of his 72 years. ... Why do I think there could be a fracturing blowup before New Year's between Steve Spurrier and petulant, conniving Redskins owner Dan Snyder? ... Phil Fulmer has a powerful record at Tennessee, but thousands of Vols boosters are after his coaching hide. ... Best college QB I've seen is Bryan Randall of Virginia Tech, who gets a supreme Nov. 1 test from Miami in Blacksburg, Va. ... After an upset of Michigan, earning a Sports Illustrated cover, somebody must've yelled "DUCK!" to Oregon's now-drowning football fowls. ... In Eugene, they need Aflac. ... I suppose, with no clear Heisman Trophy choice, it's still hopeless to suggest that historic snubbing of defensive players be terminated, and Miami's playmaker safety, Sean Taylor, at 6 feet 3 and 225 pounds, explodes to mind. ... George O'Leary is an admirable bounceback story, from fired Notre Dame coach due to bogus biography to terrific Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator meriting consideration as an NFL boss. ... Stewart Appleby, a PGA Tour talent, comes from Cohuna, Australia, which makes me wonder the nickname of the local high school's teams. ... Speaking of golf pros, Josh Broadaway is a struggling kid on the Nationwide Tour with a grip heretofore unseen on full shots, a right-hander who puts his left hand low on the shaft. ... Bret Boone wasn't much as a Fox guest analyst on baseball's playoffs, but Al Leiter was marvelous.

THE LAST WORD: I have so many pals who're lifelong Cubs fans, I feel lousy for every one of them, because they all feel so rotten that, one more time, the eternal torture is extended. The red-letter initial on that famous blue ballcap is again "The Dead C."

[Last modified October 19, 2003, 02:03:50]


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