By GARY SHELTON
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 30, 2001
He missed his opportunity, you know.
Trent Dilfer was walking off the field, and the cameras were on him, and you could see the smile through the confetti in the air. It was one of those magical final moments in sport, where the end of a game felt very much like the end of a movie, and Dilfer seemed to realize it. He walked slowly, as if to abandon this field meant that the credits might roll and it all would be over.
It was then, in that moment, when Dilfer should have looked into the cameras, grinned and said this.
"Hello, everyone. I'm coming back to Tampa Bay."
And wouldn't that have shaken the pillars?
It is Dilfer day around here. All of the people who were behind Dilfer all along can bask in their superiority. Even those who criticized him, who unjustly shared the perception he should be able to, occasionally, complete a pass from here to there, feel good for a good guy. If there is nothing about Dilfer hoisting the Super Bowl trophy that doesn't make you grin, then you don't know the guy and you don't know the story.
But let's be honest.
Do you want him back? Really?
That's the big question, isn't it? If the Bucs were so horribly, so awfully wrong in allowing Dilfer to board a plane, then shouldn't they be bracing for the auction to come? If you were among those who say they were so faithfully in his corner, shouldn't you be begging for him to return?
After all, Dilfer will soon be a free agent. There are those who believe not even a Super Bowl championship will be enough for the Ravens to keep Dilfer behind the wheel.
Should the Bucs be interested? Remember, Dilfer's old quarterbacks coach, Clyde Christensen, is now the Bucs' offensive coordinator, and Christensen and Dilfer got along famously when Dilfer was here. Not only that, but there is talk the Bucs might hire Jeff Tedford, the Oregon assistant. Tedford was the quarterbacks coach at Fresno State when Dilfer was a star. Not only that, but the price would be lower; this time the Bucs wouldn't have to pay $4.5-million for Dilfer's signature.
Okay. Now how well do you think Dilfer played Sunday night?
That's what I thought.
Look, buy into the journey as much as you wish. It was great to see Dilfer win. But don't fool yourself into thinking he has suddenly become Dan Marino. Dilfer played very much the same as when he was here, competitive and resilient, wild and scatter-armed. Dilfer was, in a word, mediocre.
Against Kerry Collins, that was plenty. Collins would have donated an organ to be mediocre rather than the five or six notches less that he settled into. Collins single-handedly gave Dilfer supporters their biggest argument in years. "Oh, yeah. Well at least Trent isn't Kerry," they will say. And he isn't. Dilfer may well be the worst quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl, but that's miles ahead of being Collins, the worst ever to lose one.
If you are the Ravens, however, what does that mean? For some time now the drumbeat has been that coach Brian Billick is enamored with Brad Johnson, his old student with the Minnesota Vikings). Would the Ravens really dump a Super Bowl-winning quarterback? Perhaps they make him a low-ball offer and tell him he probably won't be the starter. Sometimes you don't have to shove a guy out the door; you just have to hold it open.
So should the Bucs call Dilfer?
Sure. He might have Brad's phone number.
Here's the thing. The Bucs need a quarterback. Yeah, yeah. I like Shaun King as much as the next guy. But ask yourself this: What singular thing does King do that wows you. As former quarterback Ron Jaworski says, "He throws good, but not great. He runs good, but not great. And he isn't accurate."
So why not bring in another quarterback and let him compete for the job? If King loses, heck, he's only in his third season. He can afford to watch for a while.
Doug Flutie? That rumor was going around last weekend. Quick. Step on it before it grows. Flutie has been a rotten teammate in Buffalo, and he has sulked every time Rob Johnson has taken a snap. What makes you think he would be different here? (Johnson, on the other hand, sounds interesting.) Chris Chandler? No. He's hurt so much, they have nicknamed him Crystal Chandelier.
There will be quarterbacks who pop loose. There always are. If the Bucs are wise, they'll find this year's reclamation projects who still can compete. But don't get caught up in a good story.
Now more than ever that quarterback needs to be better than Dilfer. And if you admit that, then doesn't that say something about the way you really feel about Dilfer's abilities, even now?
Be honest. There was a lot of ugly quarterbacking going on Sunday night. Dilfer was 12-of-25 for 153 yards, and they darned near made him MVP. Yep, he showed us, all right. Collins, on the other hand, was 15-of-39 for 112 yards. Maybe it's in the atmosphere. Maybe the same forces that, say, mess up mobile phone reception cause quarterbacks to play awful. There were times you wondered if the teams should let their fullbacks do the passing.
It makes you think. When I was young, and dreams were bigger than reality, I used to fantasize about being a Super Bowl quarterback.
After watching this game, I declare that dream officially alive again.
As of now, my agent is open for business.