Same old song and sack dance
You have seen the scene. You have smelled the stench. Yes, sir, these are the Tampa Bay Bucs, all right. You would have known them anywhere. No longer can there be any doubt. This is a Bucs team, just like so many Bucs teams before it. This was a Bucs defeat, just like so many defeats before it.

You want to know the truth? The truth is that there wasn't anything really new in the Bucs' 34-13 pasting at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons. With this team, there never is. There have been so many days like this for the Bucs, days when the running game needed training wheels, when the defense looked as if it were playing tag, when the correct answer to who should be playing quarterback seemed to be: "None of the above."

This was such a familiar brand of wretched that it defied belief. That is, it defied any lingering belief that there might be something different about this year's version of the Bucs. Oh, you have wanted to believe. You listened as this team told you it was going to shape its own history. By nature, Bucs fans are a stubborn lot, still buying watches from the guys on the corner in the overcoats, still hoping for a Rolex.

But the truth is, there isn't anything different here. The suspects have changed faces, but the history is the same. The new players are simply the latest soldiers in the Hundred Years' War, losing battles anew. Oh, the Bucs will tell you different. They always doctor a good spin, these guys.

In one room, Sam Wyche was talking about how his team was still within striking distance in the Central Division. That was Wyche saying the Bucs are "not a bad football team." That was Wyche saying he wouldn't mind a rematch with the Falcons in the playoffs. The playoffs! Oh, come on. If this team is really different, for heaven's sake, where is it?

The Bucs were crushed by the Falcons, a team that scored all of eight points the previous week against the Rams. Seven defensive backs weren't enough to slow Jeff George. For a long time, the longest run by a Bucs running back was a loss of 1. The offensive line is tinfoil and balsa wood. The only problem the opponent had was boredom. Again. "It's just a matter of time," said quarterback Craig Erickson. "It's going to happen this year."

Where? When? How? So far, we have to take the Bucs' word for their alleged improvement. They talk the talk in the locker room, but their words sound as dry as a rainmaker's. After a while, you not only don't believe it, you wonder if they do. "We really are different," center Tony Mayberry said. "That's my honest opinion."

There is a certain comfort in denial. Perhaps the Bucs need to believe they are of a different cut from their predecessors. As far as results, however, this is like comparing Vanderbilt '94 with Vanderbilt '84. Going into their bye week (the Bucs are a two-point underdog), this team is 2-4, and the victory over Detroit came on a day when the Lions worked hard to lose and Bucs happened to be in the room. This is a team that has the look of another 10-loss season all over it.

So what's new, you ask? For this team, not much. Only one new discovery and one new question in Sunday's game. Discovery: Rookie quarterback Trent Dilfer is not yet ready. Question: Why not? Have the Bucs been doing enough to get him ready, or are they perhaps spending too much time working on the fake-field-goal-pooch-punt? "We're ready to bust out," tight end Jackie Harris said.

They keep saying things like that, like Custer's scout saying they just lost to a hot team on a hot day, like the Titanic's navigator saying he was just inches away from clear sailing, like Nixon's press secretary during Watergate saying that better days are ahead. They keep trying to polish the junk and tell you it is art. "Losing one game here and there doesn't make you out of it," said defensive end Eric Curry.

The thing is, the Bucs don't just lose games here and there. They lose road and home. Offense and defense. Rain and shine. Just as always.

Gary Shelton, The St.Petersburg Times 1994