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Bucs lose war of words, labeled 'paper champions'

By DARRELL FRY

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 22, 2001


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TAMPA -- Less than 30 minutes after the Bucs' 17-3 loss to Pittsburgh Sunday, Steelers safety Lee Flowers wouldn't have dared pour salt on their open wounds.

Instead, he dumped a bucket of verbal acid.

Flowers, incensed by what he perceived as a lack of respect from Tampa Bay before the game, refused to talk to reporters initially. Then he talked angrily about the Bucs, saying they are overrated and "paper champions" who live off their reputation.

"They talk so much, and they go to the Pro Bowl because they talk," he said. "They ain't nothing but paper champions. That's all they are, and that's all they're ever going to be."

Flowers said he took exception to the pregame talk that focused too heavily on Tampa Bay. He said he was offended by analysts who predicted the Bucs would win, and who gushed about the team's nine Pro Bowl players.

The Steelers, after all, entered the game leading the NFL in total defense, passing defense and rushing yards. Yet, Flowers said, all the talk was about the Bucs being among the preseason favorites to win the Super Bowl.

But Sunday, the Steelers looked more Super Bowl bound than the Bucs, sacking Brad Johnson 10 times (four by linebacker Joey Porter) and holding the Bucs to 64 rushing yards.

"I think a lot of people underestimated us because, 'Oh, John Lynch is All-Pro. Warren Sapp is All-Pro. Oh, they got Brad Johnson,"' he said.

"Tell Brad Johnson he needs to give Joey Porter some of his money. Half of his salary needs to go to Joey Porter."

Flowers said it angered him that several Bucs, namely Sapp and Keyshawn Johnson, talked trash during the game but did not back it up.

He said he also read articles about how the Bucs didn't seem overly concerned about beating the Steelers even though Pittsburgh entered the game leading the AFC Central at 3-1.

"Coach (Bill) Cowher brought us some newspaper clippings about how confident they feel today. Like we're some scrubs," Flowers said. "I think a lot of guys slept on that all night and woke up with a sense of urgency and a sense of focus. And from the first play on out, I think we dominated.

"I think we have some good football players on this team also. To come out and say we're the 'No Name' defense. That was just ... I don't know who said it, and I don't care because we're about to have a party on the plane."

Asked if he was worried his comments might haunt him if the Steelers face the Bucs again, Flowers remained defiant.

"I hope we do see these guys again. This could be newspaper clippings for a month, two months or whatever," he said. "It might make them play better."

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