Time's running out for Williamson, Bucs
Tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick . . . This is not the kind of 60 Minutes we expect. Not on Sunday night. Fraud. Deceit. The kinds of dreadful behavior Mike Wallace and Ed Bradley dig up week after week. Now that's the kind of Well, okay, maybe Sunday night in Tampa Stadium wasn't all that different.

ESPN, killing two dogs with one stone, televised the Vikings and Bucs everywhere but here. One can only imagine, despite what turned out to be an entertaining evening, what the ratings will be. All around the nation, dozens - nay, hundreds - of football fans turned on their televisions expecting to discover the dirty little secret which heretofore has been Tampa Bay's alone. The Bucs.

So what happened? The Minnesota Vikings made them look good. Would you believe almost good? Occasionally good?

Like those movie channels that tease you with a few opening minutes, then scramble themselves when it's time for the good stuff, the Bucs gave half a stadium of Tampa Bay fans a game that simply reeked of promise. But they've done this before - and on national television. Except for the snippets on local and cable sports shows, the rest of the country has had to take on faith what we have known since Eric Dickerson was a rookie and Tony Dorsett was in his prime - the only things the Bucs are good for are a laugh and an ulcer.

On a Sunday nearly 15 months ago, the country watched Vinny Testaverde and the Bucs rally to beat Detroit 23-20. Yeah, right, it must have said; don't give us those cow eyes and crocodile tears. You can't kid us. The Bucs aren't that bad. And again Sunday night, the Bucs, against a mediocre opponent and when it no longer mattered, rose to the occasion, made for some excitement and insisted, see, we really aren't all that bad. "A come-close team," coach Richard Williams called his Bucs. "We come close. But we don't make it happen."

Should that comfort the fans who spend a few hundred bucks to watch them week after week, season after season, who have lived here long enough to remember Lee Roy Selmon and Doug Williams and are still trying to figure out how it could go so bad, so quickly and stay so bad, so long? The Tampa Stadium stands were bereft of fans Sunday night. Perhaps some of them were home watching TV.

With the game blacked out locally, Bucs fans had plenty of appropriate alternative programming from which to choose. Sunday Comics on Fox TV. Looney Tunesodeon. Dead in the Water on USA.

For a change of pace, Lifetime (or was it the Williamson channel?) had Cardiology. Poor Richard. Was it only a year ago that he inherited the head-coaching job on this Chernobyl of a franchise from Ray Perkins? Was it only a year ago that you couldn't have wiped the smile off his face with steel wool, after his debut against the Vikings ended with a Testaverde-led 26-13 win, a Gatorade bath and a promise of a new era?

Remember how he told his beleaguered troops that he wanted them to go out there and have some fun, how Vinny said he and the rest of the Bucs had never felt felt so relaxed, so loose, and how the campaign to make Williamson the '91 coach began at Testaverde's locker that very afternoon? Remember how we anticipated a more confident, wide-open, entertaining attack? "I remember," Williamson said. "And that makes it even more frustrating. We could have won 10 of the 14 games we've played. But something's always going wrong. We've made mistakes that cost us games. We've had penalties that cost us games."

On Sunday, just enough mistakes and penalties elbowed their way into a performance that kept the Bucs on the short end of the final score. And once again, the only thing Tampa Bay's fans have going for them is January. Sunday, after another 60 minutes of futility, the clock marking the seconds, the hours, the weeks of the Bucs' season and Williamson's job, moved inexorably closer to midnight. Tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick

Bruce Lowitt, The St.Petersburg Times 1991