Bucs put up fight, some of it bad, but most good
There was so much fighting, I glanced up at the baby-blue Los Angeles sky, expecting a surprise parachutist. But, unlike at last month's interrupted Holyfield-Bowe heavyweight hoedown, nobody dropped in Sunday to effectively curb the jabs, hooks and uppercuts. Not even seven NFL officials, who instead lost control of the Raiders-Bucs game. Seldom has the cheer, "Fight, team, fight!" been more apropos.

But, in pro football, there's bad fighting and good fighting. It was bad that the L.A. Coliseum slammings, sluggings and knockdowns kept erupting during a 3 1/2-hour riot that could've passed for Wrestlemania. Now, about the good fighting ...

With 3:51 remaining in the first quarter, Tampa Bay was bleeding like a slaughterhouse steer. A fumble at the Bucs 5 by quarterback Craig Erickson led L.A. to a rapid, easy 14-0 lead. Any curator of Bucs history couldn't help but expect mass assassination, by 38-3 or 55-7 or some such knockout score.

But like Sam Wyche keeps trying to tell us, the 1993 cast of Bucs isn't like the Tampa Bay losers of 1992-91-90-89-88 87-86-85-84-83. Sure, the gang of Coach Sam is 4-10, an 11th consecutive season of double-digit defeats, but there's something about these Bucs that is catching the eye and reaching for the heart. Their fighting.

Instead of surrendering, Tampa Bay's nine-point underdogs stiffened when L.A. frolicked to its early 14-0 walkover. After another 49 NFL minutes - which actually took three bloody hours, delaying the kickoff of 60 Minutes on CBS - the Bucs lost 27-20. Still, the Bucs coach would declare: "We were tougher than the other guys. They're the ones who lost their composure."

We'll get back to that. Tampa Bay's offense had an entertaining but agonizingly erratic California afternoon. Erickson completed a flurry of big passes, Courtney Hawkins made Jerry Rice-like catches, including a 49-yarder that may be the best Bucs grab ever. Mike Husted kicked a 57-yard field goal, longest in Tampa Bay history. Reggie Cobb made running impact.

But, too often, there were Bucs physical flinches. Like three offensive lineman who kept jump-jump-jumping before snaps. Like special teamer Bernard Wilson who nonsensically tumbled into the neutral zone on fourth-and-one, giving L.A. a first down. Like Horace Copeland and Dave Moore, who dropped passes that would've been touchdowns. Like Erickson being sacked five times. But still, they fought.

Nobody battled longer, tougher and more impressively than Tampa Bay's defense. Raiders running backs were floored, cuffed and held to 17 net yards. An average of 0.7 per carry. Bucs tacklers did everything but read Nick Bell and Napoleon McCallum their Miranda rights. No runners, in nearly 18 seasons, have remained so silent against a Tampa Bay defense.

Even the L.A. relay team - wide receivers Rocket Ismail, Tim Brown, James Jett and Alexander Wright with their blurring Olympic-sprinter speed - was well-muscled by the gutsy Bucs, despite Martin Mayhew and Jerry Gray going down with injuries in Tampa Bay's secondary. Two of three Raiders touchdowns came after Tampa Bay fumbles inside the Bucs 16.

Am I being too kind to an NFL team that was outscored 27-20? Too tolerant? I think not. I've been around for most of Tampa Bay's putrid, laughable 81-196-1 record since the franchise's 1976 birth by expansion, and it's a good - and different - look to see Buccos arising to fight fiercely and effectively after being bullwhipped early in the game. "Nobody got pushed around," Wyche said, sticking out a defeated chest. "At least 10 Raiders came up to me after the game and said we're the most intense team they've played."

When a smallish Coliseum crowd of 40,532 saw Bucs and Raiders fighting so often, L.A. patrons got into the fisticuff spirit. Nobody needs Rodney Dangerfield to say, "Hey, this is a tough crowd." There was a Santa Claus parading through the stands, wearing not a red suit but one of Raiders' black. Odor of smoking marijuana wafted into open press-box windows. How would I know? Some of my younger, wilder colleagues instantly identified the smell. At least, this time - even in their 10th defeat of '93 - the stench was not the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Hubert Mizell, The St.Petersburg Times 1993