Healthy Harper plays spectator
It no longer is a question whether Alvin Harper will be invited to play for the Bucs next season. It's whether he will have a job with the team next week. Despite shaking off a hamstring injury and participating in every practice last week, Harper did not participate in a single snap of Sunday's 24-0 loss at Carolina and spent the entire game on the sideline in an orange raincoat.

Tony Dungy could offer no explanation for Harper's benching, except to say the team decided to go exclusively with Robb Thomas, Courtney Hawkins and Karl Williams at receiver. It was the fourth game this season Harper has not appeared in, but the first time his absence wasn't injury-related. Harper has two catches for 34 yards in the Bucs' past seven games.

But today, he will pick up a check for more than $150,000. "If they want to pay me for just hanging around here, I'll take the money," said Harper, who signed a four-year, $10.66-million contract before the '95 season. "I've got no problems with that."

Friday, Bucs GM Rich McKay even told Harper's agent, Jimmy Sexton, that it was important to see his high-priced receiver play Sunday. "I thought I was going to play," Harper said. "We warmed up good, and he just told me to get real good and loose because the conditions were not ideal conditions for a guy who's got a bad hamstring or a leg problem. But I warmed up, I felt good, I thought I was going to play, but it never happened."

The Bucs might have been able to use him. Bucs receivers dropped six passes, and the offense struggled to make plays in the red zone. "I guess they kind of felt like I did early in the season when I was dropping a few passes," Harper said of his teammates. "But I know how it feels. Like I say, if I was the coach, I could answer these questions. As a competitor, I want to get out there. We're not winning, and I want to get out there to make the team better. But I can't just go out there on the field myself."

McKay downplayed the benching but indicated the team would make a decision on Harper's future at season's end. "You've got to look at everybody, sure, with free agency and things," McKay said. "You've really got to look when people carry big cap numbers. In Alvin's case, I would say the two most disappointed in Alvin's production is Alvin and us. We were trying to find a way to get through that. Alvin's been a pretty unlucky guy when it comes to injuries, and he's had trouble staying healthy. He did not have the tendency with Dallas that he's had with us since his third play (in preseason last year)."

Dungy said he sympathizes with Harper's situation. "I've told him he's got to hang in there and get healthy and there will be some spots for him to shine," Dungy said. "It's very frustrating when you're not healthy and you can't do what you're capable of doing. He practiced better this week in game conditions. It just didn't work out for him to get in today. Robby (Thomas) was having a good day. It's just one of those things. It didn't plan to be that way, but sometimes it works out that way."

Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 1996