It's not a pretty picture
Picture this: the Tampa Bay Bucs striking a pose of futility in their final home game of the season while posing no threat to the Atlanta Falcons. There was quarterback Wade Wilson throwing for 324 yards and five touchdowns. There was linebacker Jesse Solomon running the football. There was cornerback Deion Sanders making his first pro touchdown reception. It all resulted in a humbling, bumbling 35-7 loss to the Falcons, giving the Bucs at least 10 losses for the 10th consecutive season.
Afterward, the Bucs said they were embarrassed. They said they were humiliated. They said they had been shown up. They said cheese.
Despite having had their noses rubbed in it by Solomon, a former Tampa Bay linebacker who taunted coach Sam Wyche after a fourth-quarter sack Sunday, three Bucs players - Darrell Fullington, Broderick Thomas and Keith McCants - mugged for the cameras with their former teammate at midfield after the game.
But Wyche did not consider it a Kodak moment. "Yeah, that bothers me," Wyche said of the incident. "I didn't see it. If that happened, that would bother me. It's something I couldn't do. I find it hard to believe that anybody could muster it up, but I guess they did."
It was a bizarre ending to a game that might have rekindled the dying embers of the Wyche-Jerry Glanville feud. Solomon, released by the Bucs late in preseason after refusing a contract offer, had seven tackles and a 10-yard sack of Vinny Testaverde. Then Solomon convinced Glanville to let him play running back in the game's waning minutes and responded with a 12-yard jaunt that ended in front of the Bucs' bench.
"I feel like that was a slap in our face," said Bucs cornerback Milton Mack, who was in on the tackle. "That's something he wanted to do and Glanville let him do it. I guess he felt (with) all the off-season hassles he had with us, he just wanted to throw something in our face. As soon as the ref said No. 54 is eligible, I knew Jesse would get the ball. I'll never forget that as long as I play."
Chances are, neither will Wyche, who renewed the coaching rivalry with Glanville that dates to their days in the AFC Central with Cincinnati and Houston, respectively.
"I think they thought it was pretty cute, so I guess they did a cute thing and it probably made them feel pretty good," Wyche said. "It made him feel pretty cute."
Not feeling cute was Thomas, who is close friends with Sanders and Solomon. Thomas was the picture of dejection in the locker room after the game and sat motionless with a towel covering his head for several minutes. "We do what we have to do in the 60 minutes," Thomas said. "The game was over and we're friends. I didn't do anything wrong. I mean, you can't have friends? I played my a-- off. I hated it more than anything because he used to play alongside of me and now he's out here laughing like it's funny. Him and `Prime Time,' they enjoyed themselves. But the game is over."
Actually, the game may have been over shortly after halftime. Before that, Testaverde brought the Bucs back to tie it at 7 early in the second quarter by engineering an 80-yard drive capped by Reggie Cobb's 1-yard plunge. But Wilson brought the Falcons right back, throwing a 20-yard touchdown pass to Andre Rison, who appeared to bump cornerback Ricky Reynolds to give himself room near the goal line.
That's when Wyche decided to play quarterback roulette - as he had planned - sitting Testaverde for a chance to play rookie Craig Erickson. Erickson played the rest of the first half and was 4-of-8 for 27 yards, but his second series was a disaster. After huddling on the sideline during the two-minute warning, the Bucs were called for a false start while trying to beat a delay-of-game penalty. Then Erickson threw long to receiver Lawrence Dawsey, who was clotheslined. On the next snap, Erickson was hit from behind and his pass drilled linebacker Darion Conner in the ribs. On third down, Erickson handed off to Gary Anderson, who nearly lost a fumble.
"It looked like a good decision at the time because the team had momentum," Testaverde said of the decision to play Erickson. "We had good field position. If you're going to put a young quarterback in, it should be a good situation. I know everybody's going to look at it after the fact and say, `Why did you pull Vinny out? He was moving the ball.' I guess it's natural to look at it that way when you lose."
Or one could look at Wilson, who had his fourth career 300-yard game against the Bucs and threw a career-high and team-record five touchdown passes. He ended the Falcons' first two series of the second half with long scoring passes - 38 yards to Mike Pritchard and 60 yards to Michael Haynes. Neon Deion completed the rout. Sanders, who ran about 15 plays as a receiver as well as defending on the Bucs' 55 plays from scrimmage, caught a 37-yard touchdown pass to account for the final score as the Falcons won on the road for the first time this season (1-6).
Testaverde played well before being replaced by Steve DeBerg in the fourth quarter after aggravating a shoulder bruise. He finished 11-of-14 for 121 yards but was sacked three times and threw an interception in what may have been his last game in Tampa Stadium.
"I'm disappointed we played our last home game the way we did and I think the fans deserve more than what we showed them," said Testaverde, a free agent after this season. "Blowing a 24-point lead. Coming out and getting beat by 28 points today. It's disappointing."
Only Solomon had the last laugh, at the Bucs' expense. "Those are my boys," Solomon said. "I miss their friendship and camaraderie. But they're still my friends and I'm still with them. This is a game. Once the game is over, it's friendship. That's why we took the picture, because it's going to be a memory."
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 1992