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Too many bad Bucs goodbyes

Published November 21, 2003

For Tony Dungy, it ended on a cold, miserable day in Philadelphia. Another loss to the Eagles led to his firing by the Glazers, who said they had talked about their moments and memories with Dungy before his dismissal. The actual time of the meeting? "About a minute," Dungy later said.

We want to believe otherwise. We watch too many movies. We read too many books.

We fool ourselves. We have fallen in love with happy endings so completely, we believe there is one waiting for us all. We are certain that, someday, there will be a sunset to ride into.

This, of course, is denial. For most of us, it doesn't end pretty.

And that, among all the others, is the message to take from Keyshawn Johnson, plankwalker.

Oh, the Bucs have told us, often and repeatedly, that the cutting of Keyshawn was not meant to carry a message. (Evidently, it was just for the sheer delight of it.) That may be.

Do not make a mistake, though. This move was loaded with messages. If it weren't for the fortune of having an empty locker, who knows where we would put all of them.

Message one: This is Jon Gruden's party, and he'll give the darn ball to whomever he wants. Got it?

Message two: If you are a Bucs player and you aren't happy, it is possible to annoy your way out.

Message three: That Keyshawn is too annoying to suffer. Give Gruden someone with more calm, with more control. You know, like Terrell Owens.

Message four: At 4-6, buddy, you better watch it.

And, of course, message five: Nobody lives happily ever after.

It didn't end well for Rick Blaine in Casablanca, who was left by Ilsa at the airport. It didn't end well for Capt. John Miller, who died while saving Private Ryan. It didn't end well for four of the Magnificent Seven. Scarlett O'Hara lost Rhett, and Old Yeller got rabies and, as the song says, Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man.

Also, Johnny Unitas was a Charger, Joe Namath was a Ram and Hank Aaron was a Brewer.

Also, Keyshawn wore flip-flops.

The thing is, no franchise should realize that most of us are relegated to sad endings more than this one. It invented the sad ending.

For Bill Capece, it ended with a punch line. Back in '83, Capece was a struggling placekicker who was left home during a game. Asked about it, coach John McKay said this: "Capece is kaput."

For Paul Gruber, it ended in pain. In 1999, when the Bucs won their first division title in 18 seasons, Gruber spent his last career moments lying in a training room in Chicago, trying to figure out what was happening based on the crowd noise. Gruber had broken his leg during the game. He never played again.

For Alvin Harper, it ended one fingertip short. Harper had the tip of a finger cut off by a trainer while receiving treatment. A few months later, the rest of him was cut.

For Bert Emanuel, it ended with a catch he didn't make. That figures. Emanuel was the Harper of his day (and Keyshawn was the Emanuel of his). In the January 2000 game against St. Louis, however, Emanuel appeared to catch a 13-yard pass to the St. Louis 22 with 47 seconds to play. The officials ruled otherwise, and Emanuel never caught another pass for Tampa Bay.

For Leeman Bennett, it ended in a news break. After his second season of coaching the Bucs, Bennett went to a news conference. He thought he was getting a contract extention. Whoops. Instead, he was being fired. Surprise!

For Dexter Manley, it ended with skin. Manley was released from the Bucs in '91 after his fourth positive drug test. He said his problems began when he started to notice girls wearing t-backs selling hot dogs, which progressed to strip bars, which progressed to drinking, which progressed to drugs, which progressed to unemployment.

For Mike Shula, it ended in Hawaii. One minute he was the Bucs offensive coordinator, and a luau was planned, and the next thing Shula was on the spit.

For Anthony Munoz, it ended on a bus. Munoz, the Hall of Fame tackle, was supposed to end his career as a Buc. But he injured his shoulder trying to make a tackle on an interception in a preseason game, and his final moments as a pro were spent staring out the bus window at I-4 as the team returned from the game. (Hint: His Hall of Fame resume doesn't mention this prominently.)

For Keith McCants, it ended out of position. The Bucs thought McCants was going to be a star as a pass-rushing end. That was until they saw him rush. They eventually gave up on that and moved McCants to linebacker. A few weeks later, he was released.

For Broderick Thomas, it ended at the cash register. Thomas had a chance to stick if he would agree to play for less money. He didn't. He was cut.

For Sam Wyche, it ended with last-tag. Wyche's team in '95 had a chance to finish 8-8, the first non-losing season since '82. Instead, Wyche benched Trent Dilfer, whom he had feuded with, in the second quarter.

For Gary Anderson, it ended because of that darned media. True story, and I feel terrible about it. Anderson was cut during the '93 season. The day before, I had written about his age (32) and his shortcomings. When asked about why Anderson was cut the next day, the response was this: "Did you see Shelton's column?" That's right, it was my fault. Sorry, Gary.

The message is clear. It ends badly.

So mind your head. Watch your step. Enjoy your stay.

But don't get comfortable.

It's painful up ahead.

[Last modified November 21, 2003, 01:16:48]

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