It's time to leap onto the Bucs bandwagon
Hubert Mizell, The St.Petersburg Times, published 22 September 1997

Four and Oh, My! We're deep into September and the Bucs are undefeated, untied and unbelievable. Tampa Bay souls are awakening this anything-but-blue Monday to discover it's not a dream. Not even the loudest, nastiest alarm clock can disturb the sunny delirium.

Our NFL neighborhood, so defeated and so belittled and so hungry for so long, deserves to be feasting on the moment. Beating the Miami Dolphins to go 4-0. Tampa Bay keeps on being the NFC's only perfect team. Bucs are one game up on Super Bowl champion Green Bay. Two ahead of NFC Central rivals Detroit and Minnesota. A full four in front of the poor, winless, humiliated Chicago Bears. Poor, winless, humiliated ... Bucs know those feelings.

It's still early on the NFC calendar. Nobody's numb to that fact. Bucs are a quarter through the season. But, based on the evidence, they have gone from rather bad to at least moderately fabulous. Tampa Bay is not America's Team, but the Bucs are unquestionably America's Darlings. If the world really does love an underdog, this team must have millions of boyfriends and girlfriends.

All aboard! Trent Dilfer is driving the Bucs Bandwagon. Mike Alstott is pushing it. Warrick Dunn is riding atop. Tony Dungy is mapping the route. Even if defensive tackle Warren Sapp did say, "Don't be jumping on now," please feel free if you're eager to leap.

All 50 states should be invited to this party. It's not going to last forever, but why not celebrate this as V-B Day? Dungy must work at keeping his team mentally harnessed, but it's okay for outsiders to go a little nuts over this. Am I going overboard?

I'm not a Bucs cheerleader. Not a house man. Check my record. But, for my community, I'm feeling terrific. People around here have put up with far too much NFL garbage. It's time they had a winner. Time they enjoyed. Time they partied. Bucs statistics have been so ugly for a generation. Allow me to convey several bags of sugar. With the Dolphins strangled, that's seven wins in a row at home. Since the 1-8 beginning to Dungy's long-deserved chance with the Bucs, they are on a 9-2 run. Who needs Jimmy Johnson? Who needs Steve Spurrier?

It'd been 17 years, 9 months since Big Sombrero danced with such enthusiasm. Not since the 1979 post-season, when the Bucs upset the Philadelphia Eagles to reach the NFC Championship Game. Tampa Bay was in just its fourth season as an NFL franchise when Lee Roy Selmon, Doug Williams, Ricky Bell and coach John McKay's other upstarts shockingly came within one step of the Super Bowl.

But this sold-out, nationally televised Sunday night against the Dolphins was, in a way, even richer with energy than 1979. Allow me to explain. So much Bucs history, most of it battered, has transpired since the short-lived joys of 1979. When a pro sports constituency has agonized and been so sickly for so long, through 14 straight losing and laughingstock seasons, it makes a return to the good and high-profile times seem all that much more invigorating.

Goodyear blimp was up, a rare sight in the Buccaneer sky. TNT cameras and voices documented the moment. All through the afternoon, Tampa Bay's bounceback darlings had been getting worldly kisses from announcers on NBC, Fox and ESPN. You wondered, "What can happen if this rise gets to 4-0?"

We're about to find out. This is the sweet smack of attention that Tampa Bay people so long have craved. Attention that must be earned, not fabricated. Dungy, Dilfer, Dunn, Alstott, Hardy Nickerson and other Bucs are getting the national glory treatment.

Two years ago, when the Bucs began with a 5-dash-2 record, it wasn't anything like the 1997 zeal. You knew that bunch was more lucky than good, more temporary than lasting. Those Bucs would finish as 7-dash-9 failures. These Bucs are different. A lot different.