If this was a dream, don't wake up King
Fantasies do come true. Shaun King, a Bucs fan from the St. Pete crib, surely dreamed this. Monday Night Football. Robed in a No. 10 red uniform for his lifetime favorites. Tampa multitude in a rock- roar as Kid King is introduced as starting quarterback. This was so hard. Like a rookie voice plunging in with the Three Tenors. A shortage of rehearsal. Everybody watching. Listening. Judging. Experts across America. Endless peers. You don't want to belch a loud, sour note. But, oh yeah, you must sing. No room here for Milli Vanilli.

Tampa Bay was ahead 7-0 when King went to work. Sing it, Shaun. Sling it. First play, the Bucs called a pass. Good idea. Less time to get more nervous. King took the snap, immediately arose and threw a 3-yard completion to Jacquez Green. Kid took a deep breath. Concert was on. So many experienced minds, attempting quick assessments, were uttering "poise." Which beats frenzy or panic.

Reidel Anthony, a slumping Bucs receiver, made it a bit harder on that first possession. False starting. Five penalty yards put the new QB in a third-and-10 at the Bucs 33. There, a smart play was attempted. Even if it didn't work. To negate any problems with a Vikings blitz up the middle, King was rolled left. Moving pocket. Using his youthful mobility. No friendly hands came open. Shaun threw the ball out of bounds.

Shaun's next drive was impressive. Bucs still up 7-0. Mike Alstott eased the rookie's load, busting runs for 8 yards and then 30. King repeated his rise-and-throw maneuver, hitting it again for 9 yards. Raymond James Stadium hummed with a loud version of King Tut by Steve Martin. ABC-TV was firing its Shaun King graphics. Showing a photograph of Gibbs High, his old St. Petersburg school. Plus a cute shot of Kid King at age 6. On third- and-goal, he scrambled 4 yards to the Vikings 2. A field goal would fatten Tampa Bay's lead to 10-zip.

In this business, the enemy is always plotting. Minnesota defensive coaches made adjustments. Next time Kid King tried, 15-year NFL veteran Chris Doleman came flying from the right side. Bucs left tackle Paul Gruber blocked inside. Doleman was unimpeded. Sour note coming. Doleman put a blind- side monster mash on King. Shaun's arm was cocked, but the football never got moving forward. He fumbled. Bucs took a shot with an replay challenge. No dice. Vikings possession. They soon scored. It became 10-7.

More sweet 'n sour coming. King's poise never seemed in jeopardy. No matter the nastiness of challenges. He executed play- action with an old pro's aplomb, faking a handoff before spiraling an 18-yarder to Green. Jacquez, the one Tampa Bay receiver who refuses to slump, caught it while skidding across wet grass. King Tut blared from P.A. speakers. Feeling good, Shaun then swung for the fence, going deep down the right side for the astonishingly swift Green. Robert Griffith, one of the NFL's ace safeties, came slicing in front of Jacquez to intercept.

Up, then down . . . growing in a hurry. King's poise was indelible. He ignored a drop by Bert Emanuel. Shaun was learning fast, Kid King went back to his new best pal. Green went blistering past Vikings cornerback Kenny Wright. Shaun lofted a soft missile. Perfectly thrown. Wright interfered with Green. Doing everything but a lap dance. Officials threw no flag. Didn't matter. Jacquez embraced the 30-yard pass for a touchdown. Bucs back ahead 17-14. Fantasy? Dream? Reality?

Shaun was growing up before the world's eyes. Confidence was clearly mushrooming within Bucs coaching hearts. Kid King was trusted in the shotgun formation. Even on second down. Monday night's loudest cheers were coming. Fantasy? No, reality, baby. Tampa Bay earned its chance to take the vital NFC Central game by the throat. From in close, Alstott was twice stopped shy of the goal. Bucs didn't try it again. Smart. King, from the 'gun, found Trent Dilfer's favorite clutch receiver. Tight end Dave Moore reached high and caught Kid's second touchdown pass. If this was dreaming, Shaun King didn't want to ever wake up.

Hubert Mizell , The St.Petersburg Times 1999