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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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Shaun King making name for himself on, off the field
He is one busy man: at Gibbs, on television, and soon with a Vegas Arena football team.
By DAVE SCHEIBER
Published February 7, 2007
TAMPA - The blitz is on and former Bucs quarterback Shaun King, who once upon a time reigned as a rookie hero in his old hometown, is scrambling.
First, there's his alma mater, Gibbs, the St. Petersburg high school that tapped his expertise this month to help choose the new football coach. And that followed King's smashing effort as the Gladiators' fill-in offensive coordinator last season, volunteering after an 0-5 start and helping guide the team to four wins in five games.
Then there's the constant work of his Shaun King Foundation for underprivileged boys and girls.
Now he's getting ready to head to Las Vegas, where the King in NFL exile is scheduled to make his debut in March as quarterback of the city's Arena League franchise - fittingly dubbed the Gladiators.
But old No. 10, flashing a familiar smile that matches the glimmer of his double diamond earnings, has another tall order on his plate as he enjoys a Sunday brunch at a waterfront eatery by the Courtney Campbell Parkway.
Little by little in the past year, he has been building a name for himself on television. King did Bucs postgame analysis locally for Bright House's Catch 47, and in recent months he has been appearing nationally on ESPN2's morning show Cold Pizza, earning praise in both pursuits for his confident, pull-no-punches style.
"You know, it's something I've always wanted to do," he said. "Part of the excitement of playing professional football is the conversation, the opinion swapping with the team in the locker room. I've always been pretty good at getting across my point and doing it in a way that's easy to understand. And TV just seemed like such a natural fit."
Don't get him wrong. King still wants to prove he can play in the NFL. But on the tube, he has all the right moves. And suddenly, he's the kid again.
The former Tulane University standout started out this past season doing analysis on Bucs Extra Point on Catch 47.
"It's something I thoroughly enjoyed, but it was a tough situation because the Bucs weren't having a lot of success," King said. "That becomes really draining on you week after week, not wanting to beat a dead horse."
But the opportunity arose for King, 29, to contribute on Cold Pizza hosted in New York City by Jay Crawford, a former WFTS-Ch. 28 sportscaster in Tampa Bay.
"I had a chance to do a segment there and I was excited about it and prepared really hard," he said. "It was probably only a minute-and-a-half segment, but I was going to make the most of it. They liked it and decided they wanted to bring me in the studio."
So King wound up appearing weekly throughout the season - more than 15 - grading NFL quarterbacks. And he impressed Mike McQuade, vice president of studio production responsible for Cold Pizza, with his "candor, insight and honesty."
"Shaun shows tremendous potential," said McQuade, who oversees an array of shows at ESPN. "The ability to have a brutally honest opinion from an athlete is what separates the analysts from the former players. No better example of Shaun's ability to form a focused opinion was this past Sunday, when he gave Rex Grossman an 'F' for his Super Bowl performance.
"Shaun has already overcome the biggest obstacle in being an analyst: the ability to have and express an opinion. Add to that the ability to be critical when necessary, and you have the foundation to become an analyst. ... We're very pleased with his progress and would be very interested in having him appear again next fall."
The pressure of facing studio lights is nothing compared to the pressure of a pass rush.
"It comes easy for me; I've been giving my opinions on the whys, whens and wheres of sports for so long, it's no problem," King said. "For me it comes down to preparation. If you're prepared for something, you're not really that nervous about it."
To get set for his appearances, King says he studies game tape, pores over stats, calls friends whose opinions he values. "I just like to hear what their opinions are," he said. "It doesn't change what I think, but it can help me understand my opinion better and verbalize it in a more precise, simple way."
King's ultimate goal is to become a full-time employee of ESPN and cover an array of sports. But there's some unfinished business he wants to take care of on the football field.
A hard road
For the most part, King has had a rough ride since his rookie season of 1999-2000 with Tampa Bay, when he took over for the injured Trent Dilfer in Game 11 and helped lead the Bucs to the NFC title game.
If not for a controversial call in the final seconds - a King pass to Bert Emanuel was ruled incomplete - the Tony Dungy-coached Bucs might have been able to overcome an 11-6 deficit in St. Louis and reach the Super Bowl. Does he replay that final drive in his head?
"I mean, all the time," King said. "It's one thing to lose; it's another thing to have something taken from you. Everybody knows what happened. But look, the same thing happened to Jon Gruden when he was coaching the Raiders with that tuck rule call. It's not the first time the officials have blown a call and it won't be the last. The thing that's hard about it is it ultimately cost Tony his job. If we go on, we have a 50-50 chance of winning the Super Bowl. That's the sad part."
King lost out as well. Though he started in 2000, passing for 2,769 yards with 18 touchdowns passing and five rushing, the 10-6 season ended with a playoff loss in the chill of Philadelphia. The next season, the Bucs signed 32-year-old free agent Brad Johnson and King went to the bench. He earned a ring from the sideline in Tampa Bay's Super Bowl season of 2002 and played briefly in 2003, but the glow from his first two years as a Buccaneer gave way to a nomadic life in the NFL shadows.
King's hopes of latching on with the Arizona Cardinals fizzled after a poor performance in his big opportunity to impress then-coach Denny Green. In March 2006, he was squeezed out in a numbers game in Detroit.
"You can't stop living if everything doesn't go right," he said. "You try to learn from it and improve. Still, I've done a lot of praying over the last couple of years, because for a while I had to really fight being bitter. A lot of people don't understand that I've been in the NFL for seven seasons and I've had seven different offensive coordinators. As a young quarterback, that's tough on you, when you change systems every year."
King thought his fortunes were finally changing when he signed in June with the Indianapolis Colts. He savored the idea of reuniting with Dungy, playing for a contender and backing up Peyton Manning. Despite a strong camp, King was released because the Colts couldn't afford to keep a vested veteran as a backup to Manning.
"It was an economic situation," King said. "The Colts have a unique dynamic at quarterback, because Manning, God bless him, has never gotten hurt. So the way their salary cap is structured, their backup position is really a money-saving position. Everybody in that organization will tell you I played well enough to make the team, but they didn't need a backup who'll count three-quarters of a million dollars against the cap."
King's hopes of reuniting with the Bucs the past two years have ended in frustration as well. In 2005, he thought he had a good chance of returning when Brian Griese was injured and they needed an experienced backup for Chris Simms.
"Everybody came out to watch me work out and I had a great workout," he said. "I think it would have been an intelligent thing to do, because I knew the system, had played under the system. More importantly, the guys in the building that play think very highly of me. I was only going to cost about $600,000. But yet, because of issues that I think far outweigh what was best for the team, they decided to give up a draft pick and pay twice as much to go and trade for a guy," Tim Rattay.
Last season, when Simms ruptured his spleen in Week 3, King again was invited to try out and felt he performed well. But Gruden passed, sticking with rookie sixth-round pick Bruce Gradkowski as starter, backed by Rattay and a rehabbing Luke McCown.
"There was so much pride and so much ego by the decision makers in that building," King said. "It was more of a, 'I'm going to show everybody that they made a mistake by not drafting Bruce; I'm going to show everybody I'm a genius.' And that's not a knock on Bruce. ... The only reason I feel bad and that it upsets me is that I'm a Buc fan. It's the team I grew up loving and always rooting for."
Viva Las Vegas
Arena football had never really interested King. He turned down offers to play it and in Canada while he pursued his NFL dream.
But Vegas beckoned this fall.
"That was just out of the blue," he said. "I was just sitting at home. And the owner called me and asked if I'd ever thought about playing Arena football. I started laughing. I said, 'Nah.' But he said, 'Look, we want to build a team around you.' "
After several more prodding calls, King was sold. He's excited about teaming with ex-NFL receiver Peter Warrick.
"But what pushed me over was I would still be able to play in the NFL this year," he said. "That's one of the things I turned Canada down for, even though it's a lot more money than Arena ball. So now I get to go to a different part of the world, Vegas, and there are new opportunities.
"Things happen in life for a reason and you don't always understand at the time," he added. "But it's geared to making you a better person and giving you the ability to handle more."
Whether King will handle another NFL job is anyone's guess. But whatever happens, he seems to have a good grip when it comes to talking about the game on TV.