Dilfer demands wins now, not playing time
Thanks, Trent Dilfer. Not for the football you fumbled, nor the interception you threw, nor even for your meaningless, mop-up touchdown pass to Courtney Hawkins. Thanks, rich rookie, for bringing a solo splash of spontaneous jubilation to Tampa Stadium, a place otherwise Bucs-contaminated by a throbbing, hopeless 36-13 failure against the Minnesota Vikings.

In the fourth quarter, as the ballpark reached its home-fan-sneering apex, Dilfer found a way to bring a grin to the Tampa Bay funeral. Upon that TD - the highly advertised Fresno State kid's inaugural NFL scoring throw - head linesman Dave Anderson hoisted his zebra-striped arms to signal six points. With the official's hands up, Dilfer raced over and stunned Anderson with a high-five double-palm slap.

A swatch of levity in another non-funny, non-entertaining Bucs floperoo. "It was a lot of sarcasm," Dilfer would say in a Tampa Bay locker room that reeked with disappointment. "I wanted to lighten myself up. I was trying to get a chuckle out of myself as much as anything." Dilfer grinned. Zebra fellow Anderson busted into a smile. Is that legal? Tampa Stadium guffawed at the delightful, $16.5-million exclamation point to what had been a 29-cent Bucs performance.

Dilfer didn't keep that first-touchdown football for his personal trophy case. "I'm not into that stuff," he said. Dilfer threw a million scoring passes at Fresno State, but brought no game balls home. More about him later. You're going to like what the 22-year-old Dilfer had to say following Tampa Bay's sixth loss in eight games, and about fellow Bucs quarterback Craig Erickson, and about Dilfer's many errors as an NFL first-grader, and about the future of both the boy QB and Tampa Stadium's long-suffering franchise.

Listening to Dilfer, there was just enough evident passion, just enough competitive anger, just enough personal humility, just enough athletic confidence, just enough manly class and just enough raging assurance about the sweet future Tampa Stadium's clients so desperately desire. Halloween comes once a year, but the Great Bucco Pumpkin keeps showing up Sunday after fruitless Sunday at Tampa Stadium. It's orange, it's ugly, it's inadequate, it's embarrassing, it's infamous and it's ours. Give us a clue, Buccos.

What should the good, deserving, fed-up, abused-because-you-Bucs-keep-losing folks of Tampa Bay be thinking and doing? I mean, without trying to re-implement the blind-obedience theory that was used up many, many losing seasons ago. This is a community that deeply craves pro football and major-league baseball. Citizens have long wondered, will they ever get either?

Nobody from Great NFL Pumpkin Inc., whether it's Bucs players or coaches or management, can possibly be so naive as to expect a forever-shortchanged Tampa Bay constituency to gullibly swallow not only the non-stop Sunday disappointments but also head coach Sam Wyche's now-worn-out Pollyanna campaign speeches. Back to Dilfer. He's candid, he's perplexed and he's promising that Tampa Bay's traumatic, constant losing will not continue into the 21st century. I can't imagine a Bucs follower standing beside Dilfer's locker Sunday evening and not liking his fire-spitting attitude.

"Let's get something straight," Dilfer said, nodding at reporters. "Make sure you write this the right way or I'll be p----- off and never speak to you again. I want Craig (Erickson) to succeed. I don't want to go into the game right now. When I go in there, it means things are going bad. I appreciate the repetitions and experience, but what I want is for Craig to play great. I want (him) throwing for 350 yards and us winning football games. He's a great guy and a great quarterback. I'm not concerned about my development right now.

"I don't give a s--- about my personal game. What I care about is winning. I'm not numb (to the setbacks and criticisms). It hurts like hell. I've never been 2-6. Never played so bad. I'm frustrated. I promise you this won't beat me down. I'll say that if we end up 2-14 (this season). I didn't think it would be this trying (as a rookie). But I'll get there. There will be a day when this organization is on top of the NFL. I'm going to be here to see it."

I like his talk, his walk, his ref-high-fiving and his hopes for Sundays ahead. All of it was desperately needed Sunday at Tampa Stadium, where the Great Pumpkin was as scary as ever.

Hubert Mizell, The St.Petersburg Times 1994