Reality checks fantasy in Curry debut
Sunday was the day Eric Curry had been dreading for nearly two years, ever since that night in September 1991, when he last had that lost feeling after a football game.
That memory also originated in Florida - up the road at Gainesville's Florida Field - and it also was the result of a defeat so thorough (a 35-0 Florida win over Alabama) as to leave no doubt. Since then, Curry's game days all had had happy endings - 23 in a row. Ah, but that was Alabama. And this is Tampa Bay. And never the twain shall meet.
"It's different, a different feeling," Curry said, groping for words following Tampa Bay's 27-3 opening-day loss to Kansas City. "It's something I hope I don't get used to. This is a different situation for me, to come in on the losing side. It was disappointing. But it won't be a tough week, because we're going to go out and get better. That's all we can do is get better."
That much the Bucs' No. 1 draft pick had right. In his first NFL start, Curry learned what most prized Bucs rookies eventually learn: It's a long way from January to September. From winning Saturdays to losing Sundays. In Curry's case, from Roll Tide to hands tied. In short, Curry was much like the Bucs in Sunday's game against the Chiefs. No factor.
Despite starting at right end and playing on nearly two-thirds of Kansas City's 58 snaps, Curry had just one tackle and no assists. The Chiefs didn't run over the Thomasville, Ga., native on their way to 400 net yards, but he didn't give them any reason to avoid him.
All in all, Bucs fans heard more about Bill Curry Ford on the Tampa Stadium public address system than they did about Eric Curry on the field.
"When the roof started falling in on us, the young guys didn't pull it together," said Bucs defensive coordinator Floyd Peters, lumping Curry's nondescript debut with the performances of rookie left end Chidi Ahanotu (no tackles) and second-year defensive tackles Mark Wheeler (three tackles) and Santana Dotson (one tackle, a 6-yard sack). That's when ballplayers start guessing, and ballplayers start chasing those imaginary gremlins that are running around on the ground," Peters said. "(The Chiefs) were doing exactly what they showed on film. The facts are, there's no excuse for it. They just played poorly from the lack of experience."
Asked last week how his dream debut would go, Curry fantasized about a sack of quarterback legend Joe Montana, likening it to hitting a grand slam in his first major league at-bat. But Sunday, Curry got caught looking at a lot of Montana's strikes. "I got close to him one or two times, but sometimes it was frustrating," Curry said. "All day I was trying to get to him, but most times it wasn't there. He's a great player. He's smart, and he's calm about what he does. He doesn't choke in pressure situations. He just knows how to control the game."
Throughout the game, Curry rarely managed to sidestep Chiefs left tackle John Alt. Afterward, Alt didn't sidestep an assessment of Curry's coming-out.
Asked whether Curry had gotten the better of him on any play, Alt said: "Uh, no. But he's got a great future. He's got real good quickness and he's a strong player. He's going to have to play lower. With his height (6 feet 5), if he could play lower, that will help him."
Curry, however, is hoping that Sunday is as low as he will go.
"I was up for this game, relaxed and ready to play," he said. "But being out there, it was like everything was high-tempo, high-intensity. It was different from preseason. Everybody took it more seriously. But I know things will improve. I'll get better as the season goes on. That's all I really have to worry about."
Don Banks, The St.Petersburg Times 1993