Once again, Alstott's effort goes for naught
Gary Shelton The St.Petersburg Times, published 11 October 1999

Once again, Alstott's effort goes for naught This is the essence of the game, in the place that would best recognize it. This was Mike Alstott, slugging it up the middle, time and again, as subtle as a punch to the teeth. They recognize this kind of football in Lambeau Field, the House of Pain. This is the way Jimmy Taylor used to run the ball, slamming it up the middle, punishing the linebackers more than they would punish him. This is how Johnny McNally earned the nickname of "Blood," wading for the tough yards, going up the middle, dragging the opponent along with him as he went.

Alstott kept running the ball, bouncing from Packer to Packer, carrying players with him, ignoring those who tried to strip the ball from his hands. Above him, circling the stadium, were the name of the Packer legends. You could almost picture them watching him, nodding. Lombardi. Nitschke. Davis. This is the way they played football, too. Simple. Brutal. Relentless.

It should have been enough, of course. Has this team ever had a more wonderful sight than Sunday night, with Alstott rolling into the end zone? His 22-yard run in the final two minutes gave the Bucs a comeback victory, here at the sight of the greatest torture. But it was more than his final ramble that made this Alstott's night. All game, he had been a force for his team, pushing, driving, crunching.

In the end, however, Brett Favre was simply too good. Once more, he was unstoppable in the final moment, carving up the Bucs' secondary as if the players were blindfolded. On his 30th birthday, he made the Bucs party favors. If they recognize this kind of football in Green Bay, they should also recognize it in Tampa Bay, too. This was the missing identity of a wayward offense. This was Bamm-Bamm Alstott setting the tone for the game, and perhaps the season. While he was at it, he reminded a team of the way it used to play, and which way it has to go to win again.

How tough a defeat was this for the Bucs? This was one of those fork-in-the-road games, where a team can take the high road or the low. If the Bucs were to lose this game - and let's face it, they usually manage to find a way in Lambeau - then the next two weeks would have been spent on the hellmouth. This could have been a victory to save a quarterback, Dilfer, and one to save a season. Instead, it leaves a particularly bitter taste.

This should have been huge. The Bucs managed to overcome a 10-0 deficit and spoil Brett Favre's birthday party and Reggie White's welcome to immortality, and they managed to take control of their own destiny. No, 3-2 isn't where Dungy wanted to be, but given the chaotic start to this season, where you can't even count on the Rams to lose, for goodness sakes, it isn't a bad place to be, either.

For the Bucs, it was Alstott who set the tone for all of this. This game was Alstott at his finest, taking a half-dozen shots every time he touched the ball, wading through the Packers as if they were swamp grass. He has always been a runner who depending on momentum - the cure to Alstott is to hit him quick, and to hit him low, before the avalanche begins - and the Packers couldn't seem to check it. Once he began, the most magical thing seemed to happen. Suddenly, this offense seemed to work. Suddenly, Warrick Dunn was darting everywhere, making linebackers dizzy trying to cover him the pass. Suddenly, there were holes in the secondary for the receivers.

For the Bucs, Alstott has always been the tone-setter. He is the jab that sets up the rest of the punches. At times, it seems the Bucs' coaches are dazzled by the speed that surrounds Alstott and, as such, are determined to get other players into the game. But other teams should have to prove they can stop him before the Bucs do. Consider his second quarter. The score was tied at 10, and the Bucs took over with 6:59 to play. On first down, Alstott took a short pass from Dilfer, then pushed his way for a 12-yard game. After an incomplete pass, he crashed up the middle again, this time for 13 yards. The next play, he went for 14. It set up a field goal to give the Bucs a rare lead in Lambeau. In the end, however, it was just numbers, and statistics. In the end, it was wasted. As so much of this season seems to be.