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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Hey, let's not be too hasty in ripping Bucs
By GARY SHELTON
Published September 14, 2006
The Bucs’ offensive line was awful. The quarterback was overwhelmed. The defense couldn’t get off the field on third down.
I wrote that. Perhaps you read it.
The pass rush wasn’t what we are used to seeing. The receivers couldn’t be found. The coach needs to work nights to fix the size of the embarrassment.
I wrote that, too. Sound familiar?
A team loses its opener at home, and the critics are going to work overtime. A team shows its shortcomings, and suddenly, the poets are trying to describe hell’s outhouse.
“There are holes in this team,’’ I typed. “Check that. There are canyons. There are gorges and chasms and vast amounts of wasteland. From here, it is a long way up.
“The offensive line did not block. The secondary did not cover. The pass rush was late in coming. There were dumb penalties, dropped passes, blown assignments.’’
If you are nodding along to the lyrics, then perhaps this detail might interest you:
It was after the 2002 season opener. Silly me.
A few months afterward, the Bucs won the Super Bowl. Maybe you heard about it. At this point, you may feel free to make fun of the media or of the Bucs or of me. Hey, the job isn’t to tell the future.
It’s to comment on that frozen moment of time. The Bucs stunk it up in their ’02 opener, and they stunk it up Sunday, so this isn’t to suggest the Bucs didn’t deserve the criticism they got then or the criticism they’re getting now.
The point is that perhaps a little restraint is needed. Maybe I’m the last guy to call for patience, but judging from my e-mails, a great many Bucs fans are running around in circles to avoid chunks of falling sky. The Bucs have dared to begin a season 0-1, the very same record they had after one game in 1976!
Granted, it was not that the Bucs lost Sunday. It was that they looked clueless in doing it.
Besides players getting out of the way, it still isn’t clear what the Bucs were trying to do on offense. There wasn’t enough power, there wasn’t enough passion, and, especially, there wasn’t enough Cadillac Williams.
Oh, the Bucs have lost before. But rarely has so much goodwill been drained from a team in an afternoon. Coming in, it was possible to see this offense was a plucky collection of talent on its way. Going out, it looked like the stuff between Ray Lewis’ toes. The Bucs suddenly looked very small when compared to their schedule.
In other words, this didn’t feel like a bad game. It felt like a bad team.
Telling the difference can be a tricky thing. Once, Boston Herald columnist Gerry Callahan wrote this about the New England Patriots:
“They were the laughingstock of the NFL. Bill Belichick made sure of that when he sold his team out. He couldn’t have looked any sillier if he had worn his underwear on his head. The Patriots played like a team whose loved ones were being held hostage in the bowels of the stadium. Belichick didn’t just lose a game; he lost his team.’’
Callahan wrote that after the Patriots lost their season opener to the Bills 31-0 in September 2003.
Yeah, the Patriots won the Super Bowl that season. The season after, too.
In December, after the Steelers lost their third straight game, Bob Smizik of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote:
“The road to the Super Bowl goes through homefields. It’s pretty safe to rule out the Steelers season continuing into February.’’
The Steelers won the Super Bowl.
Sometimes, a team can change the way it is viewed. It happens. In 1983, the University of Miami was waxed by Florida 28-3 in the season opener. Miami won the national title that season.
In 1988, FSU was embarrassed by Miami 31-0 in the opener and won 11 straight games to finish third. On the first nine holes he played as a professional at the Masters, Tiger Woods shot 40. He ended up winning the 1997 tournament by 12 strokes.
It happens. Michael Jordan was once cut from his high school basketball team. Joe Gibbs lost his first five NFL
games and Bill Walsh his first seven and Jimmy Johnson his first eight and Tom Landry his first 10. John Ashcroft, who went on to become Attorney General, once lost an election to a dead man.
The problem, of course, is that bad teams know all of these stories, too. And they don’t hesitate to haul them out when things look ugly.
For the record, critics aren’t always wrong. I was a little grumpy during the Sam Wyche days, too. It usually isn’t hard to spot awful at first sight, whether you are talking about Rich Kotite’s Jets or Marty Mornhinweg’s Lions or Chris Palmer’s Browns. Most of the time, you don’t need to see the Titanic sink twice.
Once, there was another writer talking about another Bucs’ defeat and another bad offensive line and another coach who was talking about how things were going to get better.
“He won’t win any NFL games with an offense like Sunday’s. And, with an offense like Sunday’s, his defense will probably drop dead of old age before November.’’
Former Times columnist Hubert Mizell wrote that in 1976.
Turns out, it wasn’t just one game. John McKay’s Bucs lost their next 25 games, too.
In other words, all embarrassments pretty much sound the same. When you lose the opener, everyone gives the same it’s-just-one-game speech because what else can they say? Everyone pleads for patience because how else are they going to buy time?
Hey, we are looking for clues. We all want to measure the game we have seen against the games to come.
Back in ’96, I remember standing in a stadium corridor with Tony Dungy after his team lost 27-0.
It was Dungy’s fifth loss in five tries, and the crowd was beginning to boo. The quarterback looked shaky, his offensive line was weak, and his defense couldn’t get off the field. The critics were getting grumpy.
But Dungy looked ahead, and he talked about belief. And a few weeks later, his team began to play better.
That’s the thing. The standards shouldn’t change, and the critics won’t.
If the Bucs want to change the way people think of them, they have to change the way they play.
As for now, yeah, it is awfully early, and no, you can’t always tell by first impressions. I say let’s have a little patience.
How does holding off until Sunday evening sound to everybody?