The news that some yahoo is sending threatening hate mail to NFL players who are involved with or married to white women was met with predictable shock Friday at One Buc Place.
But while none of the six NFL players who received the letters play in Tampa Bay, Bucs running back Aaron Stecker took the news to heart.
Stecker's wife, Kara, is white.
"That kind of thing just goes to show what kind of world we live in and what kind of people there are still in the world," the fourth-year player said. "You never expect something like that to happen, but then again, you would not have thought the Sept. 11 thing would have happened. You can't underestimate anybody."
Thursday, the FBI revealed that it is investigating hate mail sent to black NFL players, along with a number of "high profile" members of the community. The hate mail makes violent threats to black men who don't end their relationships with white women.
Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor, whose wife is white, confirmed that he had received one of the letters.
"There are individuals in the world with a lot of hate," said Stecker, who is bi-racial. "And there's not much you can do. If they write threatening letters, you contact the authorities and make sure it doesn't get any further. As long as they write letters to me and don't come to my house, then we don't have a problem."
In a memo sent to all 32 teams on Nov. 18 by the NFL's security department, the league said all the letters came from the same person and were postmarked Cleveland, Youngstown, Ohio, and Erie, Pa.
Bucs coach Jon Gruden said such threats place the importance of a game in perspective.
"Forget about being a coach, how about being a man?" Gruden said. "This is America. We have the freedom to do whatever we want. You have to show support for your players and whatever they may need to ease their minds. And you also have to have some sympathy for the people who have those kind of feelings. There's a lot of hatred out there. ... It's always there and it'll always be there. You have to try to get the legal people to solve that problem."
RETURN OF THE MAN: Even on a leg that's 95 percent, the Panthers have to be concerned about the return of Michael Vick. Last season, Vick tormented the Panthers with his arm and his feet. In two games, which the Falcons won by a combined score of 71-0, Vick was 35-of-46 for 450 yards and two touchdowns.
"I'm ready to go," Vick told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "My leg feels good. It's a big week for us with a big game (tonight). We're going to come to play."
Vick apparently has asked Falcons coach Dan Reeves to use all the plays that were at the Falcons disposal last season.
But there wouldn't be an NFC South division game without a little sub-plot. Vick's teammates complained last week that some of the Texans were intentionally gunning for their quarterback when he came in late in the game. Vick said he anticipates similar treatment the rest of the season.
"They're going to come after me," he said. "The (Panthers) are already talking, but I'm not too big on talking. I let my actions speak louder than my words. I know they're going to be gunning for me. Houston was gunning for me. Every team we play from here on out is going to be gunning for me. I'm used to it. It happened to me last year and I know how to weather the storm, so that's not a concern."
Just in case you forgot, in his dazzling debut as a starter last season, Vick passed for 2,936 yards and rushed for 777 yards. He combined for 24 touchdowns.
BOLDIN STATEMENT: Cardinals rookie receiver Anquan Boldin, a former standout at FSU, started the NFL with a bang, 10 catches for 210 yards and two TDs in his first game. But don't think Boldin has faded. Entering today's game, Boldin has 70 catches for 1,032 yards and six touchdowns.
More important, Boldin's performance is gaining him Pro Bowl recognition. It's a long shot, considering the Cardinals are 3-9, but Boldin is third in the NFC in catches and receiving yards.
He has won the NFC Offensive Rookie of the Month award twice (September and November).
LOSING GROUND: Looking for another sign the end is near for Raiders coach Bill Callahan? After describing his team as the "dumbest in America," Callahan was faced with a near-mutiny as players expressed ire over the coach's choice of words.
It led to a team meeting that veteran receiver Tim Brown said was needed to clear the air.
"You talk about unfortunate, that is unfortunate," Brown said of Callahan. "My job is to squelch fires. And I've got a wildfire now."
Callahan took over for Gruden and took his team to the Super Bowl in his first season. But the Raiders have fallen apart in the second season under Callahan.
Players have openly criticized the coach, who signed a two-year deal last year and has three one-year options that could see him through the 2006 season.
"He makes his own bed," Brown said. "What happens because of this statement, he's got to live with. This has been one of the worst years, because of all the potential we had."
RED ZONE WOES: For the most part, things have been peachy for the Panthers this season, but they still have a problem converting once inside the opponents' 20.
Of their 35 red zone appearances, Carolina has 13 touchdowns, a 37.1 percent conversion rate which is 31st in the league.
"We have limitations just like some people have limitations," Panthers coach John Fox told the Charlotte Observer. "I think we're doing everything in our power to get touchdowns and that hasn't changed from Week 1 to Week 12. ... I don't know that everybody scores every time they get down there. But we have had our struggles. That's the reality of it and we continue to work at it."
NFL, ON A ROLL: The Bears have won four of their past six games after starting the season 1-5. Their past four losses have come by seven points or fewer. ... The Cowboys remain the only team in the top five in three major defensive categories. They are first in total yards (249.0), first in passing yards (162.4) and third in rushing yards (86.6). ... A win against the Broncos today gives Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil a division title with three teams in three divisions. He won the NFC East with the Eagles in 1980 and the NFC West with the Rams in 1999. ... The Dolphins are the only defense in the NFL not to allow a 100-yard rusher. ... The Cardinals have been beaten by an average margin of 23 points during an 11-game road losing streak.
- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.