Receiver Wilson steps in and steps up
He knew all the lines, learned the play by heart. Like any dutiful understudy, all Charles Wilson could do was wait until the star was unable to perform. When starting wide receiver Courtney Hawkins went down with a sprained left knee in the first quarter, Wilson emerged. He not only stepped into the part with confidence, but created for himself a role rarely seen in Tampa Bay - that of a big-time playmaker.

Wilson caught four passes for 176 yards - three which turned into 17 of the Bucs' 24 points - and recorded the first 100-plus game for a Buccaneer receiver this season. If his 71-yard touchdown grab in the second quarter wasn't spectacular enough, Wilson brought down the house with a 44-yard open-field catch that finished off the Rams in a 24-14 victory. Realizing he had the spotlight, Wilson stutter-stepped into the end zone on that fourth-quarter play, diving face-first to the turf. "It was a thrill for me," Wilson said. "Today, my number was called and I performed."

Wilson led the team with an 18.4 per-catch average coming into the game. He finished Sunday as the Bucs' leading receiver with 544 yards and five touchdowns. "His role's been a funny one this year," Tampa Bay quarterback Craig Erickson said. "He's gone from being a starter, to a backup, to being injured, to now, the star of the game, getting the game ball. And he deserved it. He played great today the one thing he is, is consistent."

For more than two years Wilson has toiled in anonymity in Tampa Bay, after the Packers released him late in 1992. Last year he had just 225 yards receiving and two touchdowns. He had a 62-yard touchdown catch in the first Minnesota game in October but missed the next two games with a hamstring injury. "He was probably the least heralded, the least known," Bucs coach Sam Wyche said. "He didn't come in with a lot of fanfare; he's not from the area or anything like that. He's just gotten the job done every time we put him on the field."

Wilson, from Memphis State, may not have gone to the University of Miami like fellow receivers Horace Copeland and Lamar Thomas, or starred at Florida State like Lawrence Dawsey, but he is from Tallahassee, where he developed his nickname Fleet Feet. "I can go deep on anybody," Wilson said, mixing modesty with vindication. Why? "Because of my speed and my ability to adjust to the run."

While the Rams keyed on stopping the running of Errict Rhett, at times putting eight players on the line, they didn't respect the Bucs' deep threat, Wilson said. As Rhett pounded out his fourth 100-plus yard game, his effort allowed Wilson to shine. "They were going to make us throw the ball to win the game today," Erickson said.

Wilson accepted the challenge. In the second quarter he caught a 53-yarder that resulted in the Bucs' first score, a 20-yard field goal. But on Tampa Bay's next possession, Wilson made the play of the game. Erickson rifled the ball from his own 29, finding Wilson on the Rams' 34 between two defenders. "The guy who was behind me didn't see it (safety Marquez Pope). I came down with the ball and I think the two defenders just collided with each other," Wilson said. From there Wilson juked a defender at the 15 before crossing the goal line.

He was wide open on his next touchdown catch because Erickson called an audible. Facing third and 4, with 1:42 remaining and a 17-14 lead, Erickson changed the play from a run and found Wilson in the middle of the field. "I was just thinking about catching the ball," laughed Wilson.

He didn't drop anything Sunday, his performance especially satisfying since he didn't have one ball thrown to him in last week's win over Washington. Wilson was frustrated, said Copeland, but didn't let it bother him. "I think he just kept working hard and was just waiting for the opportunity. It's all about making the best of the opportunities you get," Copeland said.

Liz Robbins, The St.Petersburg Times 1994