tampabay.com

Someone needs to rage against all-too-silent night

The NFL in December can be loud. It's too quiet in Tampa Bay.

By GARY SHELTON
Published December 3, 2006


Ah, December in the NFL. Things are loud all over.

In Oakland, Art Shell is outraged. There is a secret spy in the organization, it seems, and you can hear Shell's teeth gnashing a mile away.

In Tampa Bay, meanwhile, there is peace in the valley.

In New York, Michael Strahan has just thrown his teammate, Plaxico Burress, beneath the wheels of a passing bus, and he's a trifle upset the media noticed.

In Tampa Bay, on the other hand, players are stewing silently.

In Dallas, Terrell Owens is second-guessing the front office. In Cleveland, the critics of a quarterback include receiver Brandon Edwards. In Atlanta, Michael Vick is gesturing that he is No. 1.

In Tampa Bay, the word is there will soon be a silent vigil for the season, followed by the joining of hands and a chorus of Kumbaya.

Ah, those Bucs. They are the very model of men living lives of quiet desperation.

Isn't it time somebody screamed? Wouldn't you like to see Derrick Brooks hurl a trash can across the locker room? Wouldn't you like to see Ronde Barber shout that he is mad as hell and isn't going to take it any more? For crying out loud, shouldn't someone cry out loud?

It is a game of passion, after all. It is a sport that grips an athlete by the heart. When things are good, the game lifts that heart, and when things are bad, it twists and pulls. When a team such as the Bucs is embarrassed further by the week, when it seems outclassed and outcoached, you wait for someone with credibility to shout "enough."

And so far, the Bucs have nothing to say. On the field, or off of it. Around here, spleens are occasionally dented but rarely vented.

Let's get this straight. No one is encouraging anyone to be a bonehead. No one wants to hear Randy Moss talking about losing interest in the game or Chad Johnson calling for more receptions or Drew Bledsoe grumbling about losing his job. No one wants to hear someone whine about his contract.

On the other hand, too much harmony is not necessarily a good thing. After a while, it sounds meek.

There are times for raised voices. There are places for outrage. Judging by 3-8 and the worst Bucs' team since Richard Williamson's, I'd say we are there.

The trouble is, who is going to be the voice of the anger?

Not Brooks. His way has always been to speak with a reasoned voice and to leave the outrage to others. It is not his personality to stand and decry a franchise where every player seems to be less than what he was a year ago.

Not Barber. Barber is an eloquent speaker, and this season is beating him up regularly. But by nature, Barber is a diplomat who lets out his frustrations only in small measures. In New York, his brother Tiki has criticized the play-calling of coach Tom Coughlin, but evidently, it does not run the family.

Not Mike Alstott. He has enough credibility, but again, public outrage is not in his personality. Alstott has been underused for years and hasn't grumbled; he isn't likely to start now.

Who then? And maybe that's part of the problem. In a game where players are coached to stay silent - usually by coaches who are 3-8 - it takes a different sort to ruffle feathers. But when the Bucs were a good team, they had a lot of different personalities in their room.

Can you imagine Warren Sapp's comments if he was still here? Sapp once took on an offensive coordinator in a playoff season because he didn't think the offensive players could get away with it.

Can you imagine if Simeon Rice was still active? Rice criticized Gruden back in 2004, so at least he knows the words to the song.

Can you imagine what Keyshawn Johnson might say? And how often he might say it?

Would any of it turn defeat into victory? No, probably not. But when the season doesn't have a pulse, sometimes fans need to see someone with a raised blood pressure. Maybe owners, too.

Do the Bucs think Gruden's excuses are as much hogwash as the rest of us? Do they see a way this team turns it around next year, or in the next three years? Are they as concerned as everyone else that the young players don't seem to get any better? And the ultimate question: Do they believe Gruden is the right coach for this team?

At this point, we're all waiting for answers.

And if someone wants to raise his voice to provide them, that's okay, too.

Gary Shelton can be reached at 727 893-8805 or at gshelton@sptimes com.