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    Dilfer, The Bucs Years

    [Times photo: Maurice Rivenbark 1996]
    Quarter back Trent Dilfer's career in Tampa Bay had so many ups and downs Busch Gardens could have named a ride after it.

    Compiled by ROGER MILLS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 21, 2001


    • STATS: 38-of-82 passing, 433 yards, 1 TD, 6 INTs.
    • THE HIGH POINT: After being the sixth overall pick in the NFL draft out of Fresno State, Dilfer's rookie year provided just enough opportunities to tease the Bucs coaching staff into thinking he was ready to compete with Craig Erickson for the starting position the next season.
    His best moment came against the Vikings on Oct. 30, in relief of Erickson. Dilfer was 7-of-13 for 75 yards and threw his first career touchdown, a 3-yarder to Courtney Hawkins, in a 36-13 loss. A few weeks later, he got his first start at Tampa Stadium and was 13-of-25 for 159 yards in a 20-6 loss to the Bears.

    Dilfer is all smiles during his first day of practice.

    [Times files 1994]


    • THE LOW POINT: It was supposed to be the dawn of his era but Dilfer likely would prefer to forget the return to California his rookie year. Against the 49ers on Oct. 23, Dilfer made his first start. He was 7-of-23 for 45 yards and three interceptions. He left the game with the Bucs trailing 34-0.
    • SOMEONE SAID IT: "Trent's going to be a fine player," Bucs center Tony Mayberry said after the 49ers game. "Nobody can give you what he learned today. You've got to be there. You've got to go to a tough place and play a tough team in a tough situation. Next time that comes around, you've been there. You know how to react. It's part of the game. That's why they brought him here. At some point, you've got to step up and play. He'll do fine."
    • IN A NUTSHELL: As rookie seasons go, Dilfer's was eventful to say the least. First he signed an 8-year, $16-million contract. Then, he showed a few moments of brilliance, displayed clearly that he had lots to learn and endured a series of injuries and setbacks, including a swollen ankle, a pulled back muscle and a tough bout with the flu.
    • TRENT'S PERSPECTIVE: "Maybe people have become numb to it because it's happened for so long," he said of the team's passing woes. "But I'm not numb to it. It hurts like hell. It's disappointing going in there knowing things aren't going right."

    photo 1995

    • STATS: 224-of-415, 2,774 yards, 4 TDs, 18 INTs.
    • THE HIGH POINT: While he had some productive games throughout the season, Dilfer's best moment came in Game 14 at home against the Packers in a nationally televised game. In a 13-10 overtime victory, Dilfer was 23-of-42 for 240 yards. While he didn't throw any touchdowns, Dilfer made a series of critical passes to help the Bucs stay in the game. With the score tied at 10 at the end of regulation, Dilfer piloted the Bucs' 48-yard drive, which included a 23-yard pass to Horace Copeland, in the first overtime series. A 47-yard field goal by Michael Husted sealed it.
    • THE LOW POINT: Seemingly incapable of handling a myriad of blitzes thrown his way by the Houston defense, Dilfer crumbled and produced one of his worst days as a pro on Oct. 29. In the 19-7 loss in Houston, Dilfer was 10-of-23 for 82 yards and three interceptions. In a mental lapse that would become one of the trademarks of his tenure with the Bucs, Dilfer picked the wrong time to throw a pick. Trailing 9-7 late in the third, the Bucs were on the move to take the lead when Dilfer was picked by cornerback Cris Dishman. Marion Butts scored from 4 yards to put it out of reach.

    photo Dilfer is head over heels after being sacked on national TV. But he prevailed in overtime 13-10.

    [Times photo: Jim Damaske 1995]

    • SOMEONE SAID IT: "Until we come up with a more consistent answer for people blitzing, they're going to keep blitzing," Bucs tight end Jackie Harris said after the Houston game. "If there was ever a low point of the season, this was it."
    • IN A NUTSHELL: You could call it his durable year. Dilfer was the first Bucs quarterback to start every game since Doug Williams in 1981. Although he broke Williams' 1982 record by throwing 138 passes without an interception, Dilfer's 18 picks and occasional fumbles left a bad taste.
    • TRENT'S PERSPECTIVE: "I have a big responsibility and I get paid a lot of money to do it and do it well," Dilfer said after a critical fumble set up a game winning Jason Hanson field goal in a 27-24 loss to Detroit on Nov. 12. "At that time, I didn't do it well and I need to stand up and say the whole game's on me. I deserved the butt-chewing for it."

    photo 1996

    • STATS: 267-of-482, 2,859 yards, 12 TDs, 19 INTs.
    • THE HIGH POINT: Perhaps he wanted to give Bucs coach Tony Dungy a memorable first NFL win, but Dilfer's performance against the Vikings on Oct. 13, was a special one. With the Bucs 0-5, Dilfer finally came alive and passed for 218 yards and three touchdowns. He was 22-of-35 and didn't throw an interception.
    • THE LOW POINT: After starting 0-5 and losing 8 of 9, the Bucs seemed to correct things by winning 4 of 5 going into Minnesota on Dec. 15. But Dilfer's nemesis, the turnover, returned. In a 21-10 loss, Dilfer was 13-of-32 for 104 yards. He was sacked three times, reducing the net passing yards to 72, and was picked off twice. "I lost my poise in the fourth quarter," Dilfer said. "I didn't trust the system. I knew they were blitzing and I didn't think we would be able to execute our plays against them and I was wrong. We had people open if I had maintained my poise."
    • SOMEONE SAID IT: "I told him, "You can't worry about who is in there with you. You have to lead this team,' " Dungy told Dilfer in a meeting in November.
    • IN A NUTSHELL: Dilfer's gradual growth continued. He started the season slowly, putting together a passer rating of 35.6 over the first six games of the season, but doubled that to 77.5 the final 10 games.
    • TRENT'S PERSPECTIVE: "I became a better quarterback almost every single week this year," Dilfer said at the end of the season. "I had a couple setbacks. But, I became a better player. I became a better person. I became a better leader. I did all the things I've been asked to do. I have a lot more to learn."

    photo 1997

    • STATS: 217-of-386, 2,555 yards, 21 TDs, 11 INTs.
    • THE HIGH POINT: It was, arguably, his greatest performance. On a Sunday night, nationally televised game at Houlihan's Stadium, Dilfer dismantled the Dolphins in leading the Bucs to a 31-21 win and a 4-0 start. Matching future Hall of Famer Dan Marino pass for pass, Dilfer was 18-of-24 for 248 yards and a career-best four touchdowns. His performance earned him the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award and placed Dilfer well into the running for his only Pro Bowl appearance.
    • THE LOW POINT: You would think in a Pro Bowl year there wouldn't be moments like this, but think again. Dec. 14 may well have been one of the darkest days in Dilfer's career.
    Playing in New York against the Jets, the Bucs passing game reversed all the forward strides it had made. Dilfer was 2-of-15 for 38 yards and two INTs. Both interceptions were returned for touchdowns as the Jets took a 17-0 halftime lead.
    Apparently hampered by a sprained ankle from the week before, Dilfer was replaced by backup Steve Walsh.
    • SOMEONE SAID IT: "They've got seven guys in the Pro Bowl," Jets coach Bill Parcells said after the 31-0 win. "Sometimes, young teams like that believe a little bit about things that are written about them before they should. I'm not saying that's what happened to them. I'm just saying when you have young teams, occasionally they have a hard time keeping things in perspective."
    • IN A NUTSHELL: Dilfer broke his team record for consecutive passes without an interception at 152. Meanwhile, he significantly decreased his interception percentage to 2.8, the best of his career. Moreover, Dilfer was deadly in third-down situations. He converted 93.8 percent of his third-down passes, good for second-best in the league. His 11 third-down touchdown passes were tops in the league.
    • TRENT'S PERSPECTIVE: "If you consider everything off the field, it never was awful to be me," Dilfer said. "There were some bad times on the field but we're going to the playoffs. This is the most fruitful time of my career. All I ever asked was to be judged by my won-loss record. Don't judge me on touchdowns or interceptions or completions or yards per catch. Judge me on wins and losses."

    [Times files: 1997]

    photo 1998

    • STATS: 225-of-429, 2,729 yards, 21 TDs, 15 INTs.
    • THE HIGH POINT: Matching the splendor of his national television appearance on year ago, Dilfer made a Monday Night Football game against the Packers in Tampa something to hang his hat on. With the Bucs in the hunt for the final playoff spot, Dilfer needed to match wits and scores with Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre and he did just that.
    With back-to-back touchdowns of 64 and 62 yards to Jacquez Green and Bert Emanuel, the Bucs took a 14-0 lead at the half and held on for a thrilling 24-22 victory. Dilfer was 9-of-22 for 181 yards. His 6-yard TD scamper in the fourth quarter turned out to be the winning score.
    • THE LOW POINT: Considering the Saints weren't that good a football team and the Bucs entered winning 3-of-4, the offensive performance at New Orleans on Oct. 25 was scary. The Bucs had their problems running the ball, kicking field goals and completing passes. And two Dilfer interceptions proved costly in the 9-3 loss. He was 20-of-44 for 186 yards and no touchdowns and was victimized by a series of dropped balls.
    • SOMEONE SAID IT: "It's not something where I don't believe that we can't win with Trent Dilfer," Dungy said. "But, we have to play more consistently at quarterback."
    • IN A NUTSHELL: Dilfer again produced a solid year. He matched his team record of 21 touchdowns and showed an increased inclination to throwing the ball further downfield, particularly to the end zone. He connected on nine touchdowns of 20 or more yards and seven were beyond 40. Again Dilfer proved very durable, playing at different moments of the season with a thigh bruise and a right ankle sprain.
    • TRENT'S PERSPECTIVE: "Sometimes we haven't been as good as we would like to be," Dilfer said before the season finale. "It's a product of us believing we can do something that looks really good going into the game and then not going and being able to execute whatever play is called."

    photo 1999

    • GAMES PLAYED: 10/10.
    • STATS: 146-of-244, 1,619 yards, 11 TDs, 11 INTs.
    • THE HIGH POINT: Redemption is always sweet and it was on Nov. 7 in the Superdome. Exorcising the demons of his last demoralizing appearance in New Orleans, Dilfer lit up the Saints secondary and led the Bucs to an impressive 31-16 victory. He was 15-of-20 for 215 yards and threw three touchdowns, including 62-yarder to Green for a 7-3 lead. "I had two people come up to me and say, "Gosh, you really looked relaxed,' " Dilfer said after the game. "You look like you've had the weight of the world taken off your shoulders."
    photoSeptember 12, 1999, The Meltdown:
    Bucs QB Trent Dilfer (12) evades New York Giant DT Bernard Holsey (79), but throws an awkward, leaping interception while floating over the sideline during the fourth quarter of Tampa Bay's 17-13 opening day loss. Replays seemed to show that Dilfer had stepped out of bounds before throwing his third interception of the game, but the play was not reviewed under the NFL's then-new challenge instant replay system.
    [Times photo: Lisa DeJong]
    • THE LOW POINT: Without question, the season opening 17-13 loss to the Giants at Raymond James Stadium was one of the worst games of Dilfer's career. Entering the season with expectations of a deep playoff run and even talk of a Super Bowl, Dilfer produced costly blunder after costly blunder. First, he fumbled the ball on the opening drive, the Bucs' third play from scrimmage, and Christian Peter returned it 38 yards for a score. After the Bucs regained the lead (10-7) on a 1-yard touchdown pass to Dave Moore just before the half, disaster struck again.
    Pinned on his goal line, Dilfer did the one thing he couldn't afford to do, throw a pick. Andre Weathers' 8-yard interception return for a touchdown gave the Giants a 14-10 lead and the Bucs never recovered. In fact, Dilfer was yanked for backup Eric Zeier after he threw his third interception.
    • SOMEONE SAID IT: Shaun King has given the Bucs what they were hoping for when they drafted him," Fox NFL analyst John Madden saidafter Dilfer broke his collarbone in Week 11 and, subsequently, never returned to the lineup. "You don't want anyone to get hurt. But, they drafted Shaun King to step in and be their guy for a long time."
    Even moments after breaking his collarbone, Dilfer was the epitome of class. Here he tells Shaun King he has the football from King's first career pass. Dilfer would never wear a Bucs uniform again.

    [Times photo:
    Toni L. Sandys 1999]

    • IN A NUTSHELL: King's emergence was something the Bucs relished but could not have predicted. So while the future came early, it meant Dilfer's career in Tampa Bay was history. King was named the starter and the Bucs opted not to re-sign Dilfer at the end of the year.
    • TRENT'S PERSPECTIVE: "I'm not mad at people," a prophetic Dilfer said halfway through the season. "I've tried very hard not to be bitter. Bitterness, I think, is a dangerous thing. Bitterness hurts the person who's bitter more than it hurts everybody else, and I'm not going to let that happen."

    Compiled by Roger Mills with information from other news sources used in this report.

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