Testaverde falls far short of passing grade
Tom Zucco, The St.Petersburg Times, published 1988

They paid $8.2-million for Vinny Testaverde and they billed him as some sort of slinging second coming. Then they went out and raised ticket prices, started a new ad campaign and generally got everybody interested (as much as anyone can be) in their fractured franchise by the bay.

So you'd figure the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with Vinny at the helm, would be moving somewhere close to respectability - that they'd win a few, lose a few and maybe get better in the process. Well, that's not happening. Not at all.

There's little sense in reliving Sunday's 41-14 nightmare except to say that something is terribly wrong when the substitutes from a slightly above-average Philadelphia team play even with the Buccaneer starters. For his part, Testaverde threw 24 incomplete passes and five interceptions, two which led directly to Philadelphia touchdowns. He described it as an awful day.

Here's a more precise evaluation from Eagles safety Terry Hoage, who had two of those interceptions: It didn't look like he was throwing the ball well. I don't know if it was a problem with reading the defenses or what. He didn't read his receivers' adjustments. On a few plays, you could really tell he was going to throw to a certain guy. He locks in and lets you know exactly where he's throwing.

Performances like that make people grumble and groan and start to wonder how it might have been some other way. Say, if Steve Young would have played. Or Steve DeBerg. Or Steve Martin. Or Stella Stevens.

Sunday, Testaverde opened the second half with a 42-yard touchdown pass to Bruce Hill. But it was against the Philly subs - and it happened well after the game had been reduced to preseason proportions. Later, Testaverde threw a 59-yard touchdown pass to Mark Carrier. Another thing of beauty. But it too was against the subs, and it came at a point in the game when the Eagles probably were thinking more about Sunday night's offering on PBS than whipping up more on those poor souls from Tampa Bay.

When the Bucs' worst season-opening loss ever was mercifully over, Testaverde talked briefly with several Eagles, including former Miami teammate Jerome Brown. Vinny said later he wanted to run into the locker room with the rest of the Bucs - to blend in with the team so that nobody would notice him. He didn't get the chance, and the fans, justifiably, let him have it. Once inside, Vinny stood at his locker in an isolated corner of the room. One of the trainers had placed a blackboard and a medicine chest in front. Fort Testaverde.

He said he was hardly touched by the Philadelphia pass rush. But the bloody fingernail marks criss-crossing his back told a slightly different story. No history was made today, he said. I felt embarrassed, especially when I heard everybody booing and I knew why. It's a terrible feeling. An empty feeling. I don't think anybody should take responsibility for my performance. We had some problems today, but the No. 1 problem was Tampa Bay's quarterback. I wasn't consistent. What kind of a leader can a quarterback be if he's not consistent?

I don't know what the fans expect, he added, but I'll bet you I expect more from myself than anyone else. I've got to do something to get everyone on my side. Maybe I need to have an attitude like Jim McMahon or the Boz. People want a winner, and I know I'm a winner. I don't give up easily.

They used to say Doug Williams was the only man in America who could overthrow the Ayatollah. And they made similar jokes about John Elway and Terry Bradshaw before they became stars. That doesn't mean that someday soon Testaverde is going to blossom into an All-Pro and lead the Bucs out of the sinkhole they've been in for what seems like forever. It may happen. And it may not.

But here's the problem: Tampa Bay is a franchise that can't wait much longer for success. The Bucs have lost 64 of their past 80 games, dating back to the 1983 season. Testaverde certainly has the raw talent, and probably the mental toughness, to ride out this storm. The key question is whether his talents will emerge before the 1988 season is a bust. If not, the real losers are the people who bought the tickets and believed in the dream.