Bucs turn Packers' goofs into gold
As the telecast began, Monday Night Football's familiar theme came thundering from jumbo video boards at Raymond James Stadium. Patrons went berserk at the Hank Williams Jr. singing query, "Are you ready for some football?"

Did he say ready? Fifteen years of pent-up, overcooked Tampa Bay desires were unbuckled. Ray-J rocked. MNF hadn't dropped by the Bucs' house since 1983, the final season of Howard Cosell in ABC's booth and the NFL rookie year of today's extraordinary quarterbacks, John Elway and Dan Marino.

Ray-J was the place to be, even for idiots. During the game, two nitwits came running from stands. Both were appropriately booed and shackled. The first bonehead was flattened by a highway patrolman, one of Monday night's most technically flawless tackles. Officers simply corraled the second. Okay, let the fumbling begin...

Green Bay spent the first half lobbying for a new Olympic sport. Greased pig, greased pig, can anybody capture the greased pig(skin)? Brett Favre, thrice the league's MVP quarterback, became an early favorite for the gold medal. He dropped the ball four times. But the Bucs, they were less than adept at capturing pigs. With Tampa Bay quarterback Trent Dilfer going deep for TD passes of 64 and 62 yards, if somebody dressed in red and pewter could manage to recover a Packers bobble, there was a chance for a whopper of a Ray-J party. Oops!

There came another one. Greased pig on the grass. Late in the second quarter, Favre fumbled a fifth time. This is a fellow who has established so many highs. Now he moved within two of the NFL record for fumbles in a game. That time, finally, a Bucs employee clutched the slippery pig. Marcus Jones swallowed it at the Green Bay 20. Making the Packers pay. Well, not really.

Tampa Bay went nowhere with the opportunity. The clock was running down. Michael Husted blew a field goal. Six times in 30 minutes, the Packers had fumbled, but it cost them zero points. Opportunistic not!

You could feel a murmur going through Ray-J. Was this just a Bucs tease against the Packers? Tampa Bay was leading 14-6 at recess, but if there'd been friendlier bounces of the pig, it might have been 24- 3 or some lopsided such. Those oft-suffering patrons, how could they not think that a lack of the Bucs seizing a more healthy advantage, with all Green Bay's boo-boos, might well cost the home team between there and midnight? Oh, about the crowd...

There was a dramatically different look from when the Pack came to Tampa last time. It wasn't just the flashy new ballpark. Not just the worldly, high-decibel pizzazz of MNF. It was a green-and-gold factor. Far, far fewer cheeseheads managed to get through Tampa Bay gates. Ninety percent Bucs fans, not the locally embarrassing 50/50 of a year ago. No more "Lambeau South."

Favre kept losing it. In the third quarter, he fumbled a sixth. But, still, it meant zip for the Bucs. Packers recovered again. They're so good at pig. But that Mississippi critter, he is noted for doing fabulous things. Not for fumbling footballs. You knew Favre would eventually cause trouble. He drove the Pack to a third field goal, then a TD. It became 17-15 as Green Bay missed a two-point conversion. Serious, to-the-wire MNF dandy.

As the final 13 minutes ensued, the message was more clear than a Three Tenors throat. If the Bucs were serious about becoming NFL challengers, it was time to beat Green Bay. Time to prove something to the Packers, and to themselves. Ah, one more pig!

Derrick Mayes had Green Bay's eighth fumble. Instead of the celebrated No. 4, it would be a quite-harassed No. 12 making the victorious play. Dilfer drove the Bucs to the touchdown that melted cheeseheads. Scrambling into the end zone, like Favre is famed for doing. Making a killer play. Winning. Ray-J was Mardi Gras.

Hubert Mizell, The St.Petersburg Times 1998