The present is Griese's, if only for one week
Yesterday belongs to someone else. Tomorrow has already been promised. All Brian Griese has is today. For him, for now, it is enough. He does not instill faith, the way an old starter does. He does not carry hope the way a young one does. All Griese provided was a victory. For the Bucs, for the time being, it was plenty. When it came to saving the day, was anyone looking toward Griese? When it came to a lifeguard dragging a season out of choppy water, did anyone look his direction?

In a season that came down to a choice of Brad vs. Chris, he was the overlooked quarterback. No one pleaded his case. No one called his name. He was just another son of another quarterback-turned-analyst, another passer who was interesting enough to notice but not inviting enough to debate. Until Sunday, that is, when Griese quietly and efficiently dropped his name into the Bucs' quarterback debate.

Griese came off the bench to win the game for the Bucs on Sunday. On a team that has been erratic, he provided efficiency. In a situation bordering on chaos, he supplied calm. He was precise, poised, polished. In other words, against the Saints, he out-Bradded Brad. Considering that Griese had been stuck between forlorn and forgotten, he had a pretty spiffy day. Who would have figured Griese would steal the show? Sunday was supposed to belong to Chris Simms, boy wonder. Griese was just another unpicked player in the Dating Game.

When the Bucs benched Brad Johnson earlier in the week, they looked right past Griese. Why not? In his career, Griese has been called everything but special. In the game of Who's-Your-Daddy, you would have expected Phil Simms, the old Giant, to have had the warm father-son chat on Sunday evening. Instead the call went to Bob Griese, the old Dolphin. For 20 plays, Simms looked like exactly the right choice. Of the Bucs quarterbacks, Simms has the most voltage, and there is something to his play that seems to energize his team. He moved well in the pocket, and he threw fastballs.

Then Simms was sacked, and the muscles in his left shoulder were twisted into braids. That was when Griese rose from the ashes and said hello. He hit 16 of 19 passes, and he controlled the game like Bobby Fischer at a chess board. And now for the big question: Who starts now?

If you are Jon Gruden, the answer lies in Simms' sore shoulder. If Simms' shoulder isn't damaged, it's an easy decision. You made it last week. Provided Simms somehow wakes up over the next few mornings and, whillickers, his shoulder is all healed, then he should start against the Rams. None of his 20 snaps against the Saints were an argument otherwise. "If you guys think I'll be out for a month or something, well, no way," Simms said. "I truly feel I should be able to throw a football by Wednesday or Thursday. it's just how effective I'll be."

On the other hand, the probability is that Simms is going to wake up feel like someone parked a truck on his rotator cuff. Hey, the kid has enough on his shoulders without pain in there, too. If he's sore enough for it to affect his passing, or his preparation, then give him a week off, and let's have another serving of Griese. Certainly, his play Sunday deserves a longer look. No, Griese didn't light up the scoreboard. He led the team to one touchdown and one field goal (and another field goal miss). That doesn't deserve a trophy.

What Griese did, however, was win. Also, he managed the game. Consider the team's final drive. When the Bucs took over with 3:32 to play, when a holding call on first down left a first-and-20 situation, the feeling was that the defense was going to have to withstand one last flurry by a Saints offense that is more talented than the team's output would indicate. Instead, Griese and the Bucs played a rare (around here) game of keepaway to kill the clock. The Bucs converted two third and 5s, and on one of them, Griese took a deep drop, waited, then found Michael Pittman late for a 14-yard gain. Afterward, he went to Kenyatta Walker and Cosey Coleman to thank them for giving him time.

There is something there, something that calms the seas and smooths the ride. No, no one looks at Griese the way they used to, back in Denver when he was the hotshot, before he turned into the Guy Who Wasn't Elway, before he went to Miami and became the Guy Who Wasn't Jay Fiedler. Griese has been around the block. He has been the young gun, and he has been run out of Dodge. He has been propped up, and he has been beaten down. Once, Denver was agog over his potential. He made the Pro Bowl in 2000, when he was 25 years old and had 23 starts. Now, he is 29. He still thinks he can reach the potential others once saw in him. "I don't think there is any doubt," he said. "I understand. I've been there before. Things haven't always gone my way, but I've continued to fight and I've continued to get better. I'm confident I can get back to the level I played at before."

When two teams have given up on you, it takes more than one game for a community to fall in love. Griese seems to understand that. When people want to remember good days of the past, they'll talk about Johnson. When they want to talk about potential, they'll talk about Simms. For Griese, for his team, he's somewhere in between. Say this much. Last week, Gruden changed quarterbacks because he felt he had no choice. This time, he does. Look, you don't have to make this a long-term relationship. Don't give Griese a ring. But if Simms is banged up, give him a start.

Gary Shelton The St.Petersburg Times 11 October 2004