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Bucs keep MNF crew on defense/H2>

By SHARON GINN

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 19, 2000


Dan Fouts has been a capable and pleasant analyst in his first season of Monday Night Football, but late in Monday's Rams-Bucs game he delivered what may end up being his most regrettable line of the season.

"This offense," Fouts said late in the fourth quarter, "does not exude any confidence at all."

Oops.

So it went for the Bucs, who kept stealing the spotlight every time the MNF crew thought it had it right. Winning ugly may get you a playoff berth, but it generates little buzz. Fouts, Al Michaels and Dennis Miller spent much of the game hyping Rams quarterback Kurt Warner while faintly praising the Bucs.

The three repeatedly lauded Warner and his "perfect" passes. At one point Miller compared the Bucs' Shaun King to Warner.

"(King is) smart, he's poised. He's just a little off - unlike Warner," Miller said after a King incompletion (and well before Warner threw his third interception).

At least Keyshawn Johnson finally got his moments in the Monday Night Football spotlight this season, even though he had to share it with King and Warrick Dunn.

Last time the Bucs made a Monday night appearance, Johnson got the hype but none of the highlights in a 30-23 loss at Minnesota. This time the opposite was true. After going weeks without a touchdown, he scored two in the first half against the Rams, finally earning the praise from the MNF crew - Miller in particular - that eluded him Oct. 9.

"Did you see that?" Miller said after Johnson put the Bucs up 24-14. "Keyshawn went right to the crowd and gave the ball to (Jets receiver and noted rival) Wayne Chrebet! Unbelievable! It's all good tonight."

Good for ABC, too. Meaningful Monday Night Football games usually are hard to come by late in the season, and ratings are down 9 percent this year despite some excellent early games. Monday's frantic finish was the best yet.

Other notable moments:

  • Only sideline reporter Melissa Stark provided a clue as to who might grab the early momentum: She donned a Bucs-red coat for the game. (First-year MNF reporter Stark seems bright and capable, but might want to remember an unwritten rule for sports journalists: Try to avoid wearing the colors of either team.)
  • Mercifully, someone at ABC must have placed a moratorium on hanging-chad jokes; nobody mentioned the Sunshine State's role in the presidential election. But that doesn't mean the crew couldn't be clueless: analyst Fouts flubbed when he said the Rams' Dexter McCleon (of Clemson) and the Bucs' Jacquez Green (of Florida) tangled frequently in college. Fouts was confusing the Gators with Florida State - you know, that team from world-famous Tallahassee.
  • Miller on Bucs cornerbacks Donnie Abraham and Ronde Barber: "Those two corners have stoned more people than Haight and Ashbury."
  • Despite his miscues, Fouts provided the off-the-cuff quote of the game, just after Dunn lost his helmet on a run and just before he scored from 2 yards: "I think all 180 pounds," Fouts said, "is heart."

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