Beleaguered Dilfer goes down, and out, fighting
Trent Dilfer made his points Sunday. They were few, but maybe the most important one wasn't on the scoreboard. In a scene that could signify either the nadir or apex of his tumultuous second season in the NFL, the quarterback got tossed out of the Bucs' 31-17 loss to Minnesota for "fighting" with Vikings defensive tackle John Randle in the third quarter. "I've never been kicked out of a football game," Dilfer said. "Actually, I was coaching a powder-puff team in high school and I got kicked out once. I was yelling at the ref."

On the play, second and 25 from the Vikings' 28, Dilfer began in the shotgun, then scrambled to the right, away from Randle's defensive pressure. A split second after firing incomplete to receiver Alvin Harper, Dilfer was taken down on a Randle hit that referee Gary Lane ruled legal. Dilfer thought otherwise, and jumped up and protested vigorously, appearing to body slam himself atop Randle. Both Dilfer and Vikings defensive end Roy Barker, who threw his helmet in frustration after the incident, were ejected. The Bucs trailed 28-7 with 6:39 remaining in the third quarter.

"Has that ever happened before, throwing out an NFL quarterback?" asked Dilfer, who finished 9-of-18 for 148 yards, with six sacks and one interception. "I was simply trying to make a point to Johnny Randle about I think what he does is cheap. Johnny Randle's the kind of player, he's going to go for your knees all game long and he's going to tell you about it between TV timeouts and so forth. He's an upbeat, try to talk smack, try to intimidate type of player, and I'm not going to be intimidated by that. I don't think I swung at him. I started to point at him and let him know something. I wasn't out of control. I just simply let him know that I thought it was cheap."

Randle, the younger brother of former Bucs linebacker Ervin Randle, had one of Minnesota's season-high eight sacks. The Vikings entered the game averaging 2.5. "(Dilfer) was in my face cussing me," Randle said. "He pushed me back and then hit me with, I don't know, either an open hand or his fist. I wasn't about to go back at him. What was I going to do? Get up and fight him? I didn't want to get kicked out of the game. I just looked at him like, `What are you doing, man?' "

Bucs general manager Rich McKay termed Lane's call an "overreaction." "I've seen a lot of football games, and I've never seen a quarterback thrown out," McKay said. "I didn't see him throw a punch, which I always thought was the one (criterion) for fighting. Gary Lane just overstepped his bounds. When you throw a quarterback out of the game, you change the competitive balance of the game. He knows that. He had an effect on the ability that we had to come back."

McKay said a protest would be a waste of time, but he refused to criticize Dilfer's judgment. "He was fighting," he said. "He was hanging in there. We were down, way down, and he was going to keep fighting."

Added Bucs center Tony Mayberry: "I've never heard of a quarterback getting tossed, so he must have done something. Most of the rules are made to protect quarterbacks, but this one wasn't. I think people knew Trent was still fighting, still trying to win."

Bucs linebacker Hardy Nickerson, who was thrown out of last week's game at Green Bay for fighting, drawing a $6,000 fine from the NFL, said Tampa Bay's comeback chances were hurt when Dilfer departed. "I don't think we were out of the game at that point," Nickerson said.

The Vikings' Warren Moon did not defend his fellow quarterback. Asked if he had ever thought about fighting back as Dilfer did, Moon said: "No, because I know that I would have to play against a guy like John Randle again, many more times in my career."

When he came off the field after the ejection, Dilfer received several handshakes and back slaps from his teammates. "I think my teammates saw that (I was competing), recognized that and congratulated me for it," he said. "I'm sure there's guys on the team that think it was not the right thing to do. I'm sure there are coaches that think that. I really don't care what those people think, because I know what I was doing."

Don Banks, The St.Petersburg Times 1995