Make No Mistake, These Bucs Are As Bad As It Gets
Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune, published 4 October 2004

Their future's so bright they've got to wear gas masks. This is what bad football teams do. And the Bucs are a bad football team.

Bad football teams find a way to lose when they should win, in games the other team is begging to give away, as the Broncos were Sunday. Bad football teams look victory in the eye, then spit into the wind. Bad football teams don't look a gift horse in the mouth. They get kicked in the head by it, in this case by a 16-13 score.

Bad football teams trail the division-leading McFalcons by four games - after four games. Bad football teams' seasons end before they begin. Bad football teams run off the field while a strange fan holds up a sign: Where's Steve Spurrier?

Bad football teams, like the Bucs. Bad football teams like the Bucs do exactly - exactly - what the Bucs did with two minutes left in Sunday's addition to the boxed set. Bad teams like the Bucs make the big stop on third down, third and 3 to be exact, forcing the all- important punt and ... Bucs lineman Chartric Darby is ruled offsides. Five yards. Broncos keep the ball. Run out the clock. ``It's a tragic penalty, obviously,'' first-team tragic figure Jon Gruden said.

The clock reads 0-4. Yes, when a team is bad, this bad, even reunions are screwy. So it was that an old Buc returned to his old stomping ground Sunday, reliving all those memories, then making the big play. Yeah, the old Buc: Patrick Hape.

John Lynch? Oh, he was there, too, but Hape caught Denver's only touchdown. Any old Buc will beat you when you're bad. By the way, Lynch also had a fine time with seven tackles, including a lick on his friend the A-Train to make another big Bucs' third-and-short play turn to dust. Lynch also spent time chatting with his Bucco friends, who all smiled and said the same thing: ``Please, take us with you!''

Ronde Barber was found hiding in Lynch's shaving kit as the Broncos left town. OK, so he wasn't. But could you have blamed him? The future's so bright they've got to wear a Hubble telescope to see the Super Bowl. ``It's a long way off. I don't ever go back there,'' Barber said. ``It's a whole other team. A different era, really.''

Really? Bad football teams do things like the Bucs did Sunday, like Charles Lee's fumble leading to Hape's touchdown. Bad football teams like the Bucs waste breakout games from their only playmaker, Michael Clayton, who caught and ran for his first NFL score and later made a circus catch. The Bucs' still had to upgrade from a clown car to a clown minivan because of the overflow.

When you're bad like the Bucs, you drive inside the other team's 15-yard line twice, only to settle for field goals. On a third- and-9, Cap'n Checkdown, Brad Johnson, throws 3 yards to Tim Brown, who had no hopes of getting 4. When you're bad like the Bucs, your prized O-line pickup, 33- year-old Todd Steussie, is already coming out for Kenyatta-yatta-yatta Walker, who went from Gruden's doghouse to a place in his heart. Bad will do that.

When you're bad like the Bucs, people take pity. ``The team we beat today was a heck of a football team,'' said Denver's Mike Shanahan, shortly before the NFL announced random drug testing of head coaches. When you're bad, bad like the Bucs, you leave the field muttering about that long pass-interference call on safety Dwight Smith, which hurt the Bucs' momentum, seeing as they'd reeled off six unanswered points, and led to a Broncos field goal, which put the Bucs in an impossible hole - down by a whole three points with only nine minutes left!

They're 3-10 in their last 13 games. Two years ago, they were astride the world. Now they're everybody's homecoming game. When you're bad like the Bucs, it's already about next year. And you're the last to know. ``We know we're a few mistakes or a few plays away from being 4-0,'' Smith said. From bad to worse.