Testaverde enjoys a superstar Sunday
Once again, the crowd called for Vinny Testaverde on Sunday afternoon. The difference was, this time it wasn't his head they had in mind. What a familiar sight this was. Here it was the fourth quarter, 8:15 to play, and Vinny Testaverde was pulled from the game. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sent in a new quarterback, and the crowd cheered as if set free. Except - get this - this time the cheers were for Testaverde. Honest.

It wasn't so much that Testaverde had the game of his life in the 31-3 battering of the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Heck, Testaverde had the game of Joe Montana's life. The way Testaverde was throwing Sunday, he could have thrown darts into hummingbirds. Twenty-five passes. Twenty-two completions, all of them to Buccaneers. Three hundred and sixty-three yards.

Great game for Vinny, you say? Hah. That's a great game for Johnny Unitas. Or Dan Fouts. Or Joe Namath. None of whom, by the way, ever achieved the 88-percent completion rate Testaverde had Sunday. Neither has Montana, Dan Marino nor Warren Moon. Testaverde came into this game feeling dizzy, and he left fans feeling dizzy after watching it. Vinny. Yes, Vinny. Sheesh, the way he played, you would have thought he was some kind of Heisman Trophy winner or something.

A game like this has been promised so long by Testaverde, back since he was the team's No. 1 draft choice some three head coaches ago. He was going to come in, and he was going to take over. He was going to turn second-and-20 situations into first downs. He was going to demand that a coach run a certain play in a certain situation, and it was going to pay off. And the Bucs were going to win. Like Sunday.

Testaverde sat at his locker Sunday, grinning the big grin, and answered questions about his three incompletions. Think about it. Four quarters, three incompletions. It isn't even rare when that's his interception total. "It feels good," Testaverde said. "Coming off the field, the cheers made up for all the bumps and bruises."

There have been a few of those, haven't there? Every year, every coach, there has been hope that Testaverde - and thus the Bucs - would turn it around. Every good game, every interview, there has been hope he still had a chance to be the goods as delivered. Give this area a reason to hope, and it will squeeze it to death. No, it hasn't been as hard on Testaverde as it would have been in some places (Chicago, Philadelphia, New York). But even in Tampa Bay, it hurts to have people question your courage and your intelligence.

Tampa Bay coach Sam Wyche heard those kind of comments about Vinny when he came here. "I heard everything from questions about his toughness to his smarts," Wyche said. "It amazes me that people would question his smarts, because he's as sharp as I've been around. He's tough enough to play. He's smart enough to play."

Sunday, Testaverde was tough enough to shake off a blitz by a flu and inner-ear infection. (Evidently, he was taking some medicine called "Marino in a Bottle.") Twice against the Packers, Wyche said, Testaverde was hit "hard enough for us to consider pulling him, but he absolutely would not come out of the game." As far as the intelligence question, twice Testaverde was insistent on play calls. On one, he threw an 8-yard touchdown to Mark Carrier. The other time, he called a bit of razzle-dazzle when Gary Anderson took the ball, ran left, reversed his field, broke a tackle, then lateraled to Testaverde. Testaverde threw a 41-yard completion to Lawrence Dawsey. "Vinny demanded that play," Wyche said. "He called it, and I said: `No, it's second-and-10. They'll be looking for a pass.' But he was insistent."

Ding-dong. Mensa calling. Next thing you know, Vinny will be critiquing the Fischer-Spassky chess match. Okay, let's not get giddy. It's two games. Testaverde has put two games together before (though not very often). But not two games like this, solid followed by spectacular. He has a lifetime rating of 62.6. So far this year, that number is 126.3.

Eight quarters, and Testaverde has yet to throw an interception. In his previous 11 300-yard passing games, he threw at least one interception in 10 of them. And of those previous 11 games, the Bucs lost nine. Not that Testaverde is ripe yet. He still takes too many sacks (four Sunday), still holds on to the ball too long at times. "That's the next lesson," Wyche said. "We have to get him to play some Marino-kind of football (translated: Testaverde has to throw the ball away more)."

Still, you get the feeling that, for the first time, Testaverde has a chance to succeed. Never has he had a better offensive line. Never has he had better receivers. Most importantly, never has he had as much guidance from the coaching staff. I mean, would you want Ray Perkins and Richard Williamson to design your blueprint for looking smart and courageous? Yes, it is only Week 2. But the Bucs are 2-0 and in first place. Testaverde has coupled a solid week with a spectacular one. Me? I think I'm going to go lie down now. I feel a little dizzy myself.

Gary Shelton, The St.Petersburg Times 1992