Somebody had better take Vinny Testaverde's temperature. He's burning up. Why, he's already caught fire. Testaverde is showing all the symptoms of becoming a great NFL quarterback. That was the terrific thing about the Buccaneers' quarterback starting Sunday's game against Green Bay with a fever. Everybody got to catch it.
Shaking off a virus, an inner-ear infection and his detractors, Testaverde completed 22 of 25 passes for 363 yards and two touchdowns while running for another score to lead the Bucs to a 31-3 belly-laugher over the Green Bay Packers before 50,051 at Tampa Stadium. The victory gave Tampa Bay a 2-0 record for the first time since 1980 and sole possession of first place as the only unbeaten team in the NFC Central.
And to think, Testaverde woke up feeling so crummy Sunday morning that he needed Gatorade, intravenous fluids and Sudafed tablets in the locker room before the kickoff to perk up enough to play against the Packers.
"This is just such a satisfying win for a guy we've all been looking closely at," Bucs coach Sam Wyche said of Testaverde. "Let's face it, the guy's been under the microscope. Every little thing. There is a faction that was hoping he'd have a couple incompletions early so that they could prove themselves right in all their barroom talk. And the guy has just come through and played well."
Testaverde played so well that he had Bucs fans rubbing their eyes and reporters thumbing through the record books.
Even Bucs receivers were fighting among themselves to stay in the lineup.
"How hot was Vinny? I know as receivers, the four guys we have were fighting to get in the game," said Mark Carrier, who led eight Bucs receivers with seven catches for 115 yards and a touchdown while teammate Lawrence Dawsey added five for 107.
In fact, so efficient were Testaverde's throws that at one point he actually was ahead of the NFL record for completion percentage by connecting on 21 of his first 23 passes, seemingly eclipsing the NFL record of 20-for-22 held by former Cincinnati quarterback Kenny Anderson since 1974.
But Testaverde's next attempt downfield to Courtney Hawkins fell incomplete when the rookie wideout tripped after tangling with Packers cornerback Lewis Billups. Still, Testaverde finished the game by completing 88 percent of his passes, which ranks fourth all-time.
"I messed him up right there," Wyche said. "I actually knew - I hate to even admit this - I knew that he'd set an NFL record for the highest percentage of completions in the history of the game. He broke Kenny Anderson's record, and nothing would please me more than to break Kenny Anderson's record. He's a close friend of mine. But we had a chance to go deep on what we thought was about blitz time. We called a blitz pass, and that was the one that Courtney Hawkins was tripped up. I think you could've argued it might have been called interference."
Wyche apologized to Testaverde after he retired to the bench with 8:15 left in the game.
"Actually, after it was done, after the end result was final, he told me, `I've got good news, and I've got bad news,' " Testaverde said of Wyche. " `The good news is you played great. But the bad news is, we just missed having the record by one completion.' But that doesn't really matter. The important thing is we won."
It was also important how the Bucs won.
Tampa Bay did it by rolling up 395 yards of offense while its defense held the Packers to 215. The Bucs sacked Green Bay quarterbacks Don Majkowski and Brett Favre a collective six times - including two each by Ray Seals and rookie Santana Dotson.
In fact, it was the Bucs' defense that lit up the scoreboard first.
Despite beginning the game with nine straight completions - four in a row on the first drive alone - Testaverde needed help from the Bucs' defense after running back Stanford Jennings lost a fumble at the Packers' 5-yard line. But defensive back Ricky Reynolds saved the day and sparked the rout by stripping Green Bay running back Harry Sydney of the football after he caught a short screen pass and running 15 yards with the fumble for a touchdown.
It was the first score by the Bucs' defense since 1989, when cornerback Wayne Haddix returned an interception of San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana for a TD.
"(Sydney) was coming up through the hole. I hit him from the side and went for the ball, because I knew he'd get tackled," Reynolds said. "I made the strip, the ball bounced out, I picked it up and took it in for a touchdown. That's how our defense is supposed to attack."
The Bucs attacked Majkowski with such regularity that new head coach Mike Holmgren gave his starter the hook at halftime after Majkowski went 10-for-15 for 75 yards and was intercepted by safety Darrell Fullington. Favre didn't fare much better, going 8-of-14 for 73 yards, four sacks and another interception. Favre's first NFL completion was to himself. He was 0-for-5 as a rookie with Atlanta last year and was traded for a first-round pick in February. His first regular-season pass as a Packer was deflected back into his hands by Seals.
Majkowski wasn't amused by his benching. "He said he wanted to experiment," Majkowski said. "I didn't agree with it. I'm obviously not happy about it. I didn't think he was the kind of coach that would have an early hook. I've come back from more than 17 points down in the second half. I'm angry."
Was that Testaverde who actually offered soothing words to Majkowski after the game? "I told him to keep his head up," Testaverde said, "to stay focused."
Of course, just a few hours earlier, Testaverde couldn't focus on anything. He had tubes in his arm. Somebody must have given him a Super Bowl I.V. "I don't know what he took, but I'm sure they're illegal," Wyche said. "I'm sure we're going to get fined over this. We know there's now a warrant out for everything we do."
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 1992