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Master matador Dilfer handles reporters

By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 24, 2001


TAMPA -- As if in Pamplona, journalistic bulls came running Tuesday, cut loose by NFL security, a thousand or two reporters flooding onto a Raymond James Stadium sideline, hustling for field position at interviews of high-in-demand Super Bowl players.

Watch out, it's mass media!

First the Giants were subjects, then Ravens. Stars from New York and Baltimore were granted the status of individual podiums. Other jocks were stashed in the stands like so many second and third bananas.

Barber, Strahan, Collins, Sehorn and starry associates pontificated from their status porches, to be succeeded by Lewis, Sharpe, Ogden, Woodson and upstyle co-conspirators.

Among the stars, Trent Dilfer.

We remember him when. When, in this same ballpark, No. 12 of the Bucs was unmercifully booed, nastiness echoing Sunday after Sunday in Ray-J pews. Bucs coach Tony Dungy eventually benched Dilfer, and a subsequent injury put Tampa Bay's future in the kiddie quarterbacking hands of Shaun King.

Fired by the Bucs a year ago Thursday, Trent figured he would receive five or six NFL offers. Instead, only the Ravens showed interest. Sobering for the Dilfer psyche. His stock was sub-bearish.

How remarkable now to see No. 8, in a Baltimore uniform trimmed in purple instead of Tampa Bay pewter, speaking from a Super Bowl perch not unlike those occupied in not-so-distant history by QB icons John Elway, Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Steve Young.

"What an experience," Dilfer said. "Great that it's happening in Tampa, too. Not because of vindication or showing 'em, but because I've got so many friends here, including many former Bucs teammates, plus a lot more community support than my critics might believe."

He's still far, far from the NFL's best quarterback. Still winning games due mostly to extraordinary play by defensive brothers, not unlike with the Bucs. But what spicy copy, Dilfer enjoying his most heavenly football moment on Tampa land that not long ago was his scorching football hell.

Oh, the attention ...

Newspaper reporters from Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego and Detroit working the Dilfer story, plus a load of note-takers from around here whom he surely recognized. Including some who had salty observations in Trent's time with the Bucs. But he threw no Tuesday barbs.

Electronic media voluminously waved microphone flags beneath Dilfer's goatee. Fox Sports Net. WFAN. HBO. Bloomberg. ESPN. Empire. A dozen radio stations. Florida television channels from Tampa Bay, Orlando, Miami and Fort Myers. Even a mike marked "The Golf Channel."

Sure there was some baiting, giving Trent openings to take stabs at the Bucs, Dungy or Tampa Bay, but the Dilfer fish wasn't biting. Although he did have one somewhat comical, if enlightening, thought regarding Bucs offense.

"For me, the defining moment in this Ravens season came in our playoff game at Tennessee," No. 8 said. "I threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, which seemed to have doomed us.

"Next time I was in the huddle, I saw 10 faces that not only clearly believed in me but also believed we were going to score in the final two minutes and pull out the game.

"That's something I never had in Tampa. I might see seven faces that believed in me, or five. Always one for sure. Mike Alstott never quit sticking with me." Trent laughed, but his point had a serious swatch.

Midway through his Tuesday appearance, Trent was facing 18 television cameras. He wasn't getting quite the attention of linebacker Ray Lewis, tight end Shannon Sharpe or wisecracking defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, but Dilfer was nonetheless a star, surely in part because the stage was on familiar grassy ground in Tampa.

Trent dealt with bad Bucs days, almost never losing his smile. Most notably the 1999 season opener when these same Giants intercepted three Dilfer passes and stole a Ray-J game from the Bucs. Clearly, that was the beginning of the Tampa Bay end for the fellow from Fresno State.

"Ironically, I had played a really solid first half," Dilfer said. "We should've had the game won but I then played the absolute worst 10 minutes of football in my life. It was awful. I was dreadful."

Around here, everybody remembers.

Monday night, shortly after Baltimore's charter plane arrived, Trent had dinner with buddies from the Bucs including John Lynch, Dave Moore and Eric Zeier.

"Even though I knew it was the best thing for me to leave Tampa," Dilfer said, "it was hard to go. I love the town. I love those guys. I will always be friends with so many of the Bucs. I cheer for them now."

He did 50 media-intense minutes with class, restraint and appreciation. It's probably good that Trent Dilfer is gone from the Bucs, but it was good too to see him back. Grinning. Soaking the chilled Florida sunshine. Hugging the moment.

As the world took notice.

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