Marino + Montana = Dilfer
By GARY SHELTON
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 17, 2001
It was me.
I did it. I am the one to blame. I am guilty, your honor.
You, on the other hand, never doubted Trent Dilfer. Not you, not once. You were among the thousands who crowded staunchly in his corner. All the way, every day. Why, you told me so. Time and again.
From the sound of it, only I doubted him.
This pretty much sums up my mail: You knew it all along, and I'm the moron who personally drove to Dilfer's house, loaded him into the car, drove him to the airport and shoved him aboard a plane. You would have stopped me, but at the time, you were busy taking up a collection to pay for the $4.5-million bonus it would have taken for the Bucs to keep him.
The letters keep coming. Stacks of them, written by gleeful authors, many of whom favor the red crayon, who were behind Dilfer all the time. Which, of course, explains all those standing ovations. Yep, you sure are smart, and these days, you sure are plentiful. Everyone gets mail from Ed McMahon; only in mine does Ed say, "I'll bet you're happy you ran him out of town now."
It was me.
I am the one who wrestled the checkbook out of Malcolm's hands so he didn't pay the bonus. I'm the one who introduced the agent guy to Brian Billick. I'm also the one who let the dogs out, but that's another plea.
You, on the other hand, knew this was coming. Despite every overthrow, despite every underthrow, you could see that a Super Bowl was promised to Dilfer and all a team had to do was hang on for the five years of the "before" picture. Even when he got into it with coaches in Detroit, even when they had to peel him off John Randle in Minnesota, even when he unraveled against the Giants, you were patient.
Other people doubted him. Not you. Other people were yelling boo. What you were yelling was: "Tony, I don't like the offense you uuuuuuussssseeeeee."
Yep, you have an alibi. You have a witness. You built him a stadium. (And how many times have we refered to Raymond James as "The House That Trent Built"?) You fired Sam Wyche for him. You cut the tip off Alvin Harper's finger because Harper dropped too many passes. You showed him love. You gave him props. That wasn't you calling for Scott Milanovich. That wasn't you calling for Casey Weldon.
Personally, I can't wait until Dilfer hears how popular he was here all along. It's going to knock him over. Had Dilfer known how many of you loved him all along, he might have run for mayor instead of Maryland. I know. You would have voted for him.
It's funny. Most places, they cheer for their quarterback. Around here, they cheer for their ex-quarterbacks. Listen to them and no one ever said a discouraging word about Dilfer or Chris Chandler or Vinny Testaverde or Steve Young or Doug Williams. There is a certain segment of fan that finds a certain perverse enjoyment in watching someone's face when he learns his ex-spouse has won the lottery. Those fans can't wait until Shaun King leads, say, Arizona to the Super Bowl.
For now, they have Dilfer. For years you heard the arguments (from people who since have moved elsewhere, obviously) that Dilfer was the reason the Bucs weren't in the playoffs. Today you hear the same thing.
Silly me. I always considered myself a bit of a moderate when it came to Dilfer, which means I thought I was fairly fair. I never bought into the Lone Gunman Theory, which was that Dilfer was the singular problem on offense. I thought he was competitive, tough, durable. And yes, I thought he was as good a person as everyone else did.
But as the years went on, Dilfer admitted he stopped buying into the system. He thought he was a level better than he was. He never threw the long ball very well. He never threw a screen pass very well.
And in the end, I doubted.
It was me. I'm the guy to blame. (Actually, it was Steve Duemig, but I'll say that only in a plea bargain.)
And so the mail piles in. It talks of how Dilfer has been vindicated. It talks of how he has been unleashed. It says, pretty much, "Nyah, nyah, nyah."
The thing is, Dilfer hasn't turned into Dan Fouts the way people seem to believe. He is playing pretty much the way the Bucs tried to play him. They, too, wanted him to ride the tails of a dominant defense into the Super Bowl. They, too, wanted him to buy into the system.
All that said, it is good to see so many people feel good for Dilfer. Because the truth is, he is a good guy, and he did absorb a lot of pain, physical and emotional, for this franchise.
Still, I doubted. It was me. I did it. I acted alone.
The nerve of me.
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