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Bucs fortunate JJ said no and Dungy said yes

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By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 17, 2000


When an ESPN reporter suggested to Tony Dungy that luck was the ultimate reason Tampa Bay administered 14-13 pain to the Redskins, a tough-to-perturb coach clearly became offended.

But, yes, let's talk Buc Luck.

Unquestionably, the 1-2 reasons Tampa Bay became a Saturday playoff glee club were (1) roughly 30 minutes of heroic defense and (2) maybe 60 seconds of critical offense. Still, without question, the Bucs were blessed with fortuitous bounces.

No shame, just fame.

If we wish to legitimately address Buc Luck, the real four-leaf clover bloomed four seasons ago when Jimmy Johnson refused a $3-million-a-year offer to become Tampa Bay coach. On the blessed rebound, the Bucs would invest less than half the money to get twice the man in Dungy.

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I said man.

Don Shula was ushered aside by the Dolphins, making room for the King James version. Johnson tried pretty much everything, including bringing in a succession of thugs such as Lawrence Phillips and Cecil Collins. Even a flammable flake, Dimitrius Underwood.

JJ was unable to replicate his magic of Dallas, where the Cowboys won two Super Bowls, or even his glory of a prior Dade County experience, when Jimmy bossed collegiate Hurricanes to the 1987 national championship.

With the Dolphins, the JJ record was 38-31 (.551). Nothing close to a Super Bowl. Dungy, taking over formerly laughable Bucs, has risen to 37-30 (.552). He's one formidable step from reaching XXXIV.

Difference is, Jimmy is gone. Sailing into the Florida sunset aboard his boat, the Three Rings (not four). Giving hints of burnout and unfulfillment. Tony's Bucs are still ascending. His tenure yet to reach maturity. Tampa Bay, with more offensive juices, could be a consistent contender.

Buc Luck keeps improving.

Sunday, hair still unflappable, Johnson retired. Again. Like a dozen months ago. But this time, it's for good. JJ having been blistered in a 62-7 fish fry in Jacksonville.

Jimmy expressed sadness for not delivering a Super Bowl for owner Wayne Huizenga. Excuse me if I don't share pangs for the investor who built and then tore down baseball's Florida Marlins.

Miami never won the AFC East under JJ. In their utmost challenges, his Dolphins got squashed by Denver in last January's playoffs and then a far-deeper playoff burial by the Jaguars.

Combined scores: 100-10.

Dave Wannstedt, all but JJ's alter ego, replaces the guy who has been his football boss with the Dolphins, Cowboys, Hurricanes and, before all those stops, with Cowboys of a different sort at Oklahoma State University.

He's a somewhat different personality. Not a total Johnson clone. An ego less voluminous. But it's difficult to imagine that Jimmy hasn't politicked Wannstedt, suggesting the new Dolphins coach take his stab without Dan Marino at quarterback.

I have a wild thought. Something Dungy and Bucs general manager Rich McKay aren't apt to buy. But, after watching the multidimensional St. Louis Rams outmissile Minnesota 49-37 in Sunday's NFC semifinal, it's hard to see Tampa Bay threatening long-run January dominance without significant offensive upgrades.

Buckle your chin strap.

What if, instead of sinking $8.5-million into two additional seasons of Trent Dilfer, picking up his option, the Bucs decide to cut a one-year deal with a Hall of Fame quarterback with a real chance to personally produce at least one more fruitful season?

Marino may well become available. Steve Young likewise could be obtainable from the San Francisco 49ers. If the arm of Dan and/or the Young noggin could pass a Bucs test for continued NFL usability, what if the Bucs snagged No. 13 or No. 8? To play some quarterback in the 2000 season, but also to work as a colossal tutor for Shaun King?

King Hut has done some extraordinary things, having been forced onto the battlefield by injuries to Dilfer and Eric Zeier. But does even Dungy, deep down, see the 22-year-old rookie as being amply ready to carry the full Bucs load next season?

This is anything but an anti-Shaun stroke. Might he not greatly benefit, hoping for extended excellence in the NFL, by having at least one season in the company of Young or Marino?

Just a thought. I'm intrigued. How about you, Tony and Rich? Obviously, as the NFC Championship Game nears, it's no time for official quarterback debates.

If, Sunday in St. Louis, the popular King pulls off one more, putting the Bucs in the Super Bowl, it will be entirely appropriate for Tampa Bay honchos to laugh off my Marino-Young scenario.

But, what if ...

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