Rumors make even this win seem hollow
Gary Shelton, The St.Petersburg Times, published 11 December 1995

A game like this provides hope. A game like this provides relief. A game like this allows fans to be encouraged about the future. The question is: Which fans? Tampa Bay's? Or Cleveland's? No news is completely good when a team has one foot in a moving van, and so not even a rare victory can be fully enjoyed. See those fans dancing in the aisles? Then wonder if they are doing the same in a Cleveland sports bar. Have friends calling you to talk about the big plays of the game? Then wonder if Paul Tagliabue is calling Cleveland Mayor Michael White to talk about the same.

Two bad things happened Sunday night. First of all, the game was blacked out in Tampa Bay. Second, it wasn't in Cleveland. That denied Bucs fans the chance to see 12 straight seasons of double-digit losses come to an end with the team's 13-10 overtime victory over the Packers. Worse, it allowed Cleveland fans to look at the Bucs and decide they don't stink.

For Tampa Bay fans, there have been too few victories such as this one. What a shame the future is so shaky they cannot fully enjoy what may have been their final one in Tampa Stadium. What a shame they do not know if this is more important to the team's ownership for purposes of selling tickets locally, or for negotiating a move to Cleveland. This is the problem of judging the Bucs on a short-term basis. You don't nearly get the idea of just how bad things are with this team. So, imagine yourself in Cleveland, sitting in front of a television set, holding a milk bone in your hand, and thinking: Hey, this could work, after all.

Before Sunday night, the notion of a Bucs move to Cleveland might have come across less as a settlement than as a threat. Take the guys in orange, dress them up in the familiar uniform, and call them Browns? It was an idea that seemed almost as distasteful to that city as this one. But now? Now, White can stroke his chin and think maybe.

Such are the shadows cast over this franchise after a week of rumors that this team was headed to Cleveland to replace the Browns. With Cleveland fans fighting desperation and Tampa Bay fans fighting paranoia, it is a move that made some twisted sense. And so fans could not enjoy how this played here without wondering how it played there. An overtime victory is full of promise and possibility, after all. A Cleveland fan can look at Errict Rhett and see promise, not at Eric Curry and see a defensive end pitching a no-hitter for the season. Victory allows a stranger to see an offensive line, not an offensive franchise. It allows you to turn a blind eye to the past and a deaf ear to Sam Wyche.

After all, it was Cleveland that picked Vinny Testaverde off Tampa Bay's scrap heap, polished him off, and found him not completely useless. Perhaps the team can be salvaged as well. Perhaps the mayor should call his attorneys and tell them not to blitz, after all. Cleveland fans should know this. If Sunday night's game were not so abnormal, this team would not be at risk. If it had a few more overtime victories, a few more running backs plowing through a defense like Rhett, a few more quarterbacks leading late drives like Trent Dilfer, there would be a new stadium already.

Frankly, the deal should be this. If Cleveland wants the Bucs, it should take them the way they have been. It should have to keep Wyche, who has taken this offense and scored the fewest amount of points in the league. It should have to go through remedial quarterback school with Dilfer. It should take the Citrus Surprise uniforms and the losing seasons and the busted draft picks. It should be required to throw to Warren Sapp every time it reaches first and goal from the 1, and then required to listen to Wyche describe what an absolute genius he is for calling it despite the resulting interception.

Today, however, it is easy to think things could be better. Winning allows that. It hints that a team could be turned around. That it could win no matter what uniform it wears. That every dog will have his day. You can think that in Tampa Bay if you dare. You can think that in Cleveland if you wish.

No, this team does not play as if it is a work of art. Then again, in Cleveland, they hate Art. Home-field advantage Sunday's victory marked the Bucs' second in front of a large home crowd since a November '92 win over the Bears - but it was the second in a row.