Pinch me, these can't be the Bucs
Before Sunday, the Tampa Bay Bucs had played 250 games in an overwhelmingly awful 17-season NFL existence, and only three times had they won by more than 21 points. Odds had become 82-to-1 against Buccaneers victory by blowout. That's why 31-3 is special.

For five seasons, Vinny Testaverde was a quarterback predominantly submerged in a stormy sea of defeats, interceptions, controversy, boos and doubts about his cerebral qualifications. That's why 22-of-25 passes against Green Bay for 363 yards, and Vinny's two scores by air, plus a third touchdown that No. 14 personally hammered across on the ground, were so memorable and created Tampa Stadium cheers such as Testaverde had never heard. Vinny's looking like Einstein.

They're 2-0, a record the Bucs last achieved in 1980, during Jimmy Carter's final autumn in the White House. Maybe you'd forgotten, as I had, but the only times before Sunday that Tampa Bay had won by more than three touchdowns were against Atlanta (48-10) in 1987, Green Bay (37-3) in 1981 and the New York Giants (31-3) in 1979. Sam Wyche keeps bounding over Tampa Bay hurdles, grinning and triumphantly pumping his fists. Next challenge for the hot-handed new coach is to prove his Bucs aren't still the road dogs that have lost 14 in a row away from Tampa Stadium.

They are at Minnesota next Sunday, and the Bucs are at Detroit a week later. Can Sam's first-place NFC Central men - now doesn't that sound rare? - possibly rise to a 3-0 record, or even 4-0?

Probably not, but Neither of their 1992 wins, a 23-7 smacking of Phoenix and then Sunday's 28-point domination of the Packers, had any scent of a fluke. Both times, Tampa Bay was easily the superior team. Kickoff coverage was crummy against the Cardinals, but the Bucs cured that little malady in time for Green Bay. "The final link," suggested the effervescent Wyche.

Two years ago, lest we forget, Tampa Bay began its season with a rather saucy 4-2 record. But never did those Bucs - and a less-effective Testaverde - appear as solid as Sam's assassins have played against Phoenix and Green Bay. That 1990 brood of Bucs, coached by Ray Perkins, quickly turned rancid and lost eight of their last 10 games. Tampa Bay wound up being "lousy again" with a 6-10 season. "I hear things haven't been too good around here in the past," said Santana Dotson, a smiling rookie defensive lineman with back-to-back, double-QB-sack Sundays. "You can't prove it by what I've seen in my two Sundays as a Buccaneer."

Trust us, Santana. It's been rotten. Sunday was also special beyond the Tampa Stadium playing field, up in the stands where most of the 50,051 customers were having outrageous fun like they've too seldom known. Before this year when the Bucs (72-175-1) occasionally won games, they were so often nail-chewing thrillers that left patrons little time to gleefully carry on. Among the precious few victories of 1976-91, almost 35 percent were won by a field goal or less (25 games) and 54 percent (39 of 72) were ruled by less than a touchdown.

But not these Sundays against Phoenix and Green Bay. No, the Cards and Packers aren't exactly the Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills, but the two Bucs runaways by a combined score of 54-10 allowed a Tampa Stadium chorus rare chances to sing, "Nah, nah, nah, nah Nah, nah, nah, nah hey, hey, hey, goodbye."

Hey, do you suppose that Tampa Bay could be so lucky as to get itself a major-league baseball team called the Giants, and also at last a big-league football team called the Buccaneers? One by one, as the Bucs left the arena, they were cheered as if Charles Lindberghs and Babe Ruths and Martin Luther Kings. Last off the happy grass was Testaverde, after his best Sunday in a half-dozen NFL seasons, and Vinny's oft-fickle constituency was delightfully roaring and even blowing kisses Great fun, while it lasts. Now we'll see if it lasts.

Hubert Mizell, The St.Petersburg Times 1992