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Booger tackles scrutiny

Anthony McFarland knows fans will be watching him closely.

[Times photo: Toni L. Sandys]
Defensive tackle Anthony McFarland gets encouragement from a coach during his first start since replacing Brad Culpepper.

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 26, 2000


TAMPA -- Unless you're an All-Pro like Warren Sapp, few people spend time watching you bang heads in the pits.

That's the life of a defensive tackle. Yeah, sure, you make a few stops, come up with the occasional sack and pound the heck out of opposing linemen. But most folks watch the guys with the ball. Right?

Not Friday night.

Second-year defensive tackle Anthony "Booger" McFarland, making his first start since the Bucs released popular veteran Brad Culpepper and elevated him to starter, may have played the most scrutinized game of his career.

And he seemed to do fine.

"I think it went real well," Sapp said of his first start with McFarland. "He knows exactly what he has to do: play his position and do the thing he's supposed to do and be in the spot he's supposed to be in.

"There's nothing going to change with this ballclub. We went through a few days of missing Brad, but it's time for us to move on. If it's a championship we want, it's a championship we have to go and get; and me and him are inside and we know what we have to do."

When the Bucs waived Culpepper on Monday, they not only stunned their fans by saying goodbye to one of the more popular players on the team, but they propelled McFarland into the uncomfortable position as the man who replaced him. The 300-pounder from Winnsboro, La., said he never felt uncomfortable.

"I tried to go through my routine this whole week, because you have to get into a routine, week in and week out," said McFarland, who admitted things were a little different Friday. "All eyes have been on me since I was at LSU for my last year, then being a (first round) pick, to now.

"I don't worry about being scrutinized by the public or the media, because I know they are going to be critical. That's their job. The only people I'm concerned about are the people that matter, and those are the coaches. They decided to put me in there for a reason, and I just have to continue to do what I've been doing."

The 15th pick overall last year out of Louisiana State, McFarland was immediately under the microscope. The Bucs already had Sapp and Culpepper as starters and, although McFarland came on strong toward the end of the season, the starting duo had forged a strong bond on and off the field.

"He realizes that I'm not Pepp. I'm Anthony and I'm going to go out and play my game," said McFarland, who finished with one tackle against the Chiefs while playing most of the first half. "The more and more we play out there, the better feel we get for each other."

Defensive end Steve White, who replaced Regan Upshaw at the start of last season, said McFarland handled the situation as well as the team could have asked.

"There were people ready to kill all the coaches because Pepp was out of here, but Booger didn't let it faze him at all," White said. "I've seen guys with the same situation come out there with their eyes all bug out and can't hear a thing. He did a pretty good job.

"The best thing for chemistry is winning. Had we gone out here today and got skunked, I would venture to say you all would still be talking to Booger right now trying to figure out if this was the biggest mistake in team history. But we go out and play well and win the game and all those same people are Booger fans. Soon, there'll be "Go Booger Go' signs outside the locker room."

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