Bucs tax patience of voters
He is a voter, and he did not like what he had seen. He was disappointed, darn it. He had expected more. He had come to the stadium early for this Tampa Bay-Green Bay game, and he had expected better things from these Bucs. He had believed. Now, after 34-3, he shook his head, and he wiped the sweat from his face with a towel. And he talked about a tax referendum in two days.

Yes, Trent Dilfer said, he will vote. Yes, he said, he still will vote in favor of the tax. This is the question. How did the voters feel Sunday, and how do they feel today? On the morning after an embarrassing defeat left the Bucs looking like all those teams of the past, on the day before voters decide the team's future, it is easy to wonder whether the team was bad enough to have damaged its own chances at the polls. Answer: It didn't help.

It is not so much that the Bucs lost. Had the Bucs won, it would have been the lead story on every sports show across the country. To help themselves, they did not have to be great. What they had to do was look fun, friendly, like something worth hanging onto. They failed. This was a miserable performance by a team that should know one when it sees it. The offense could have been on the field until Thursday, and it would not have scored a touchdown. The defense could not figure out how to stop anything as basic as a tight end running deep down the field.

So it is possible that voters will read today's stories and fling the newspaper across the room and wonder whether anything ever will change. It won't affect a lot of votes, but as close as this vote is projected to be, could it affect enough? "I hope not," Dilfer said. "I think it's a bigger issue than one game, and I would have said that even if we would have won."

A decision to vote for a multimillion dollar tax, or against it, should be made with a cool head and rational thought. If a voter had looked at such things as education, police, road improvements and economic impact, the defeat should not have mattered to a calmly thinking voter. Likewise, if a voter had decided against the tax for - What was that reason again? Oh, yeah, because they didn't like the owner - a victory should not have swayed him.

But this has rarely been an issue without emotion. Sunday's defeat could dredge up some familiar frustrations, and it could hint that more are ahead. Are enough voters ready to believe that a no vote is a vote against the Same Old Bucs? "That would be a shame," said center Tony Mayberry. "I've been here seven years, and the fans have always supported us no matter what. They've endured so much. It would be a shame for this team to leave."

The words sound so right, but the deeds had looked so wrong. For the Bucs, Sunday afternoon was one of those games that felt a little larger than normal. And the results were the same. Remember two years ago, when the Bucs played the Packers in the season finale? There was a chance the team could move then, too, and a chance to break a 12-year streak of double-digit losses. Guess what? The team lost 34-19. Then there was the Detroit game last year. The Bucs had a chance to finish .500. Guess what? The Bucs lost 37-10.

This loss was just as bad. The Bucs can say what they want about bad breaks - and it is true they handed 10 points to the Packers early with an interception off a receiver's hands and a fumble by a back running into his own blocker. By the end of the game, however, this was familiarly wretched. The disappointment was not in the defeat. The disappointment was the Bucs didn't offer voters an argument of what they might miss. No long passes. No exciting runs. No touchdowns. And darn little hope.

It isn't hard to build an argument that, right now, this is the worst team in the NFL. No team scored fewer points Sunday. No team scored more. It also is easy to say that no fans have a bigger right to be disappointed than Tampa Bay fans. Who else? Pittsburgh, with a loss to Jacksonville and injuries? Atlanta, getting clobbered by Carolina? No, because no other team's very future might be affected by the defeat.

How taxing is it to watch the Bucs? We'll see. Tuesday, we find out if the Packers ran Tampa Bay out of the stadium. Or out of town.

Gary Shelton, The St.Petersburg Times 1996