And Now, Quarterbacking The Bucs
The Tampa Bay Buccaneer audiences that have endured as much losing as any since their birth season in 1976 (0-14), most often to sold-out crowds in a stadium judged by polls to be the best in the NFL, are compelled to rank games not for quality but for the lack of it.

Many veterans of this sad circumstance thought the Buc loss a week ago at Pittsburgh, 20-3, was among the worst Bucko productions, generally because it was there to be won but recurring Tampa excellence at fumbling and being intercepted on bummer passes, contributed once more to the loss to a not very good Steeler team.

Well, perhaps it was, and still is in the highest ranks of stinkers on a list that is so high in rancidity (if that is not a word, make it one), but the Stinker loss to Atlanta on Sunday at their beautiful home (17-6) was choking.

Oh, yes, the offense is the primary culprit with the quarterback, Bruce Gradkowski (thatís it, isnít it?) as leader of the losers. He was just terrible, again. Terrible. And, as usual, he apologized again after the game. Gotten truly good at apologizing. The cop: ĎíBut Iím learning.íí

Please, young man, learn to throw the ball away, out of bounds, out of Raymond James Stadium, out of town. He said heís doing that. Even ex-Bucs are encouraging him to do that. Donít see much improvement there - nor in deep throws. Oh, I know, heís a rookie out of Toledo and I know heís a nice kid from football country (Pennsylvania), and I know heís a last-resort deal, that he became a starter because Bucs coach Jon Gruden chose to keep prospect Chris Simms over Brian Griese.

Only his call - only to have Simmsí spleen squashed, and that got Gradkowski his shot at the starting job. It was a break awaited. Happens all the time. Gradkowski did not look back at all in the preseason and had a first game of the regular season that suggested he might be just fine. Go Blade! Well, he hasnít been.

Even the head coach, though well behind, opted Sunday to take the ex-Toledo Blade out and go with his veteran bench-rider, Tim Rattay. Rattay is not tall (6-0) but heís a bit of a scooter and has been around the NFL - mostly at San Francisco. Heís OK. OK. Bet here is he will start at least next week at Chicago where it will be cold, where a former Bucko assistant is the head coach and where the Bears are in the playoffs, though squabbling. If he shows much of anything, the coach here is a cinch to let Rattay start at Cleveland before coming home for the final Raymond James Stadium game against Seattle on New Yearís Eve.

Truth is, this is just a dandy way for the year to play out, now that we all know that this team is not the special team some hoped for, hinted at by some in the know, but one with some solid prospects little used (like some of the wideouts). Itís one that just may get the overall No. 1 draft pick - and some other good ones as well - and will know early if Simms is going to be OK, if Rattay can play, and start planning for 2007 and all it could be.

No, Gruden isnít going to quit, nor get fired, but he may well admit a few trading mistakes and try to get defensive lineman (and Michael Vick tormentor) Warren Sapp back. He will search the world, we know now, for a quarterback. Count on that. As most know, some think this head coach could use a dose or two of humility. I think heís already on it. This season has been - and may well continue to be - a tough teacher on the values of humility.

Now, another point never, ever mentioned by No. 1 Palace Place, particularly in the playing football side, Buc tickets arenít cheap. You are reading a season-ticket holder (six) since Bill Marcum and the Jaycees brought Washington and (ah-hah) Atlanta to play an exhibition game here at old Tampa Stadium. It was a key night in the successful drive that became these Bucs and those teams since 1976 who were remembered Sunday by those who applauded them at their halftime presentation. A bunch returned. It was a grand sight, those guys assembled from all of the past teams who gave what they could for their fans.

And, got to say this: This Buc team of a 2006, now 3-10 and surely going to get worse, particularly recently, and especially on their homecoming Sunday, are not giving those who buy those tickets, like my family, our moneyís worth. Iíd much rather see a touchdown or two from those well-paid players on the field than the Buc calendar they gave ticket buyers Sunday. A calendar? How about a fumble-less, interception-less game?

Tom McEwen, The Tampa Tribune 11 December 2006