Two versions of Shaun King have played for the Bucs this season. But the team think he has returned to the quarterback they want - and need - him to be.
By RICK STROUD
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 5, 2000
ATLANTA -- Under mushrooming pressure last season, kid quarterback Shaun King was so calm in tight games that not even his voice would crack.
Teammates had to ask him to speak louder in the huddle. When he stepped under center, it appeared those basset hound eyes might just close for a couple of snap counts. Nothing affected him. Not bad throws. Dropped balls. Or coming within four minutes of a Super Bowl.
It continued during a 3-0 start this season in which the Bucs averaged 31 points and King did not make a bad play, let alone a turnover.
|[Times photo: Bill Serne]
Shaun King's unflappable personality was on display before the Bucs victory against the Vikings last Sunday.
Hail to the Bucs' King of cool.
But a four-game losing streak took its toll on the Tampa Bay quarterback.
He forced throws that resulted in interceptions and blew games. He barked at teammates for missing assignments. He sulked after a poor practice.
"I think he was really getting frustrated and I think he was frustrated at himself as well as at teammates at certain times, and it showed too much," quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen said. "We've stressed with leadership you've got to be 10 times harder on yourself than you are on your teammates. Even though the heat doesn't get distributed evenly. It's coming down on you. But I think we felt it at the position. It did affect him. He wasn't the leader he needed to be and it made his own performance suffer also."
Following a particularly bad practice the Wednesday before Tampa Bay's meeting with unbeaten Minnesota, King knew he had to regain his poise -- and fast.
Another loss probably would prevent the Bucs from making the playoffs and likely could send him to the bench.
"He needed to get back to being himself and just playing football," receiver Keyshawn Johnson said. "I think what started to affect him also was the negative stuff that came out about him. And he's not used to it. I've been used to it my whole career."
King responded with the best performance of his career, tossing four touchdown passes in a 41-13 win against the Vikings.
"You know what happens. You go through a little stage with a new offense where you're not doing everything right," King said. "And you do, you start worrying about things you cannot control instead of just worrying about yourself and I think we got back to that.
"My confidence never went anywhere. It's frustration. Frustration comes when you know you can and you aren't. That's where the frustration came."
Until this season, King had not had to deal with much adversity in his career.
He turned around football programs at Gibbs High School and Tulane, which finished 12-0 his senior year. And he went 5-2 as a starter for the Bucs as a rookie.
"Last year was a blessing and a curse," Christensen said. "It was a blessing because of the experience and things wound up going well. It was neat, it was a heck of a run for a rookie kid.
"But it also was a curse that you think everything is going to work itself out in the fourth quarter. Then all of a sudden, we hit the Jets game and we lose those fourth-quarter games.
"It's fragile. You can be hot and all of a sudden go cold as ice. I think that was sobering for him and will end up helping him in the long run."
Because King was so spectacular against the Vikings, it's still tough to measure how he will respond to a negative play against Atlanta.
"The test will be when we're behind, when you've been hit in the pocket a few times, when a receiver has dropped a ball, when you threw an interception," Christensen said. "That's what we talked about, let's handle adversity better than we did in the first half where I thought we were average or below average."
By now, you've all heard the story of how Johnson drove to King's house and stayed there more than three hours the Wednesday before the Vikings game. Johnson wound up with 121 yards receiving and King had a career day.
"The thing I told him was don't worry about it," Johnson said. "There was more made of me telling him to trust me than what was said in the actual conversation itself. It was about everything. It was about understanding the game of football, not football on the field, but the total package.
"Off the field endorsements, Super Bowl appearances, the owners making more money putting in their pockets and counting on us to do this."
Probably no player is counting as much on King as Johnson, the $56-million superstar receiver who performed as if he were worth every penny in catching six passes, includinga touchdown.
So which King will the Bucs see in the second half of the season, which begins today in the Georgia Dome?
"I know if he does what he did the other night, it will continue," Johnson said. "I can guarantee you that."
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