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Easy now, Bucs fans, you are not alone

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By GARY SHELTON

© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 21, 2001


Want to hear something funny?

Yes, I'm talking to you. You, the Bucs fan with the throbbing neck veins and the blood pressure of an active volcano. You look like you could use a laugh.

Did you hear what is going on in Baltimore? Hah. This will kill you.

Ravens coach Brian Billick has gagged his team so it won't rip into its own quarterback, who isn't even Trent Dilfer anymore. Hah. One day after Shannon Sharpe chides Elvis Grbac, Billick comes in raining fire and brimstone at the accursed media for daring to ask the question. Isn't that grand? Billick suggests the players love Grbac so much that everyone carries a photo of him in his wallet. Just don't ask them. Or else.

I will pause now so you can chortle.

And how about what's going on in Green Bay?

Did you hear? On the frozen tundra, the Packers have just fined safety Chris Akins $21,000. Isn't that a snort? Turns out, the Packers were on the verge of winning a ballgame, and Akins came off the top rope against Atlanta's Chris Chandler and set up the winning touchdown. No, wait. Then, Akins got so upset that he was pulled from the game that he threw his helmet and engaged in a shouting match with coach Mike Sherman.

Go ahead. Guffaw.

At a time such as this it is important to laugh at other people's problems. That way you won't think so much about your own.

Miserable? You've got company.

It is meltdown week across the NFL. Here, we hear that it is "desperation time" and we wonder if Tony Dungy's watch is running slow. You hear the moan of the Bucs fan, and it sounds solitary, as if it were the only pain out there.

It isn't. The league is overflowing with underachieving. Compare your anguish with someone from Baltimore or New Orleans or New York or Indianapolis or Tennessee. ... You get the idea. Yes, the Bucs look awful with five losses. But 22 of 30 teams have lost at least four. Funny, eh?

In New York, Giants coach Jim Fassel, who leads the league in tough talk, is guaranteeing things again. The Giants are 5-5, coming off a loss to the Vikings. In response, Fassel guaranteed his team would win its final six games. And furthermore, grr.

In Jacksonville, things are going so bad they're being taunted ... by the opposing quarterback. Not only that, the quarterback was Kordell Stewart. When you've been taunted by Cryin' Time, you officially have been eliminated from the race.

In Indianapolis, the Colts refuse to declare running back Edgerrin James out for the season, even though he has been seen carrying his right knee around in a bowling bag.

In Phoenix, the FAA has declared the stadium to be a flight hazard. Oops. Thought that said sight hazard.

How about Dallas, where the newspapers are calling for the head of offensive coordinator Jack Reilly? This is a refreshing idea, because it means someone finally has figured out what a Jack Reilly is. Oh, he's the guy sending Ryan Leaf into the game. Let's fire him.

Around here, this is high humor. We've been there. The Bucs have replaced offensive coordinators whose heads have been demanded (Mike Shula's) and whose heads haven't been demanded (Les Steckel's), and it hasn't made a difference. You could get Carrot Top to be offensive coordinator (at least it would stop those commercials), and it wouldn't matter. But it's nice to see that someone else is trying.

How about Cincinnati? The Bengals are 4-5, which makes the outsider think the most common quote in the locker room is this: Wheeee! For the Bengals to go 4-5 is like a real team going 7-2.

Instead, there is an air of crabbiness to the Bengals that is positively rib-tickling. Consider coach Dick LeBeau, asked the perfectly logical question of why he punted instead of going for long field goals in a game he said he expected to be low scoring? LeBeau immediately broke into the role of game-show host, challenging the questioner to cite statistics on long field goals. Back to you in a minute, Wink.

How about, of all places, Denver? The Broncos lost to the Redskins, which means Mike Shanahan had to give back that Mastermind nickname, and things went ka-blooey. Quarterback Brian Griese blamed the lack of talent around him, and Shanahan chided Griese. All that was left was for Brian Billick to come bursting through the door and gag Shanahan.

In Houston, I understand, people are upset the Texans are only 0-0 and waiting for next year.

The point is, things are tough all over. Expectations have blossomed to the point where no team's fans seem truly happy. Everyone wants to gripe. Everyone wants to grumble.

Me? I say giggle. I say point at Dallas and laugh. I say talk about the Ravens and snicker. I say you turn Denver into a running gag. We're miserable. We need to laugh.

Besides, you know what people do in those towns when they're miserable don't you?

That's right. They laugh at the Bucs.

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