Trent and Rah: Reflections of Jacksonville

by Gary Shelton on August 17, 2017 · 0 comments

in general

Thursday, 3 a.m.

The last shred of optimism to surround Raheem Morris died here.

The last ounce of greatness by the Tampa Bay Bucs' defense did, too.

And, the wheels were greased for the end of the Trent Dilfer era.

That's the thing about the Bucs playing the Jacksonville Jaguars. Too often, it has meant the demise of someone's career. So when Tampa Bay plays tonight against the Jaguars, well, they had better tread lightly. Too many times, going to Jacksonville has been a trip to nowhere at all.

Remember the game in 2011? If so, you probably wake up screaming in the night.

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The Bucs were in the middle of folding up under Morris, but their game against Jacksonville was really when the wheels came off.

Mind you, things were not wonderful before that game. The Bucs had lost six in a row, and they had no clue which direction to line up on defense. It was bad, Leeman Bennett bad. But against the Jags, the Bucs jumped to a 14-0 lead, and things looked good.

And then they didn't.

The Bucs gave up 41 points that afternoon to quarterback Blaine Gabbrrt – a simply awful football player. They gave up two scores on fumbles. It's a miracle they didn't score 100.

After this, the Bucs would lose three more games, and give up 124 more points, and Morris was quickly fired. It didn't come soon enough.

Jacksonville is like that. Once, in 1998, I was sitting in the press box before the game, and I was flipping through the game program (which I rarely did.) I got to one page that had an ad featuring defensive end Regan Upshaw. Beneath the photo, it said “Upshaw leads Bucs' defense.”

Now, that defense had Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp. It had John Lynch and Ronde Barber. But here was Upshaw, according to the ad, “leading” the defense.

Being a wise guy, I guffawed and turned to the p.r. guy, Reggie Roberts. “Reggie, Upshaw leads you guys? He has one more sack than a dead man!”

I looked back, and sitting next to Roberts were Rich McKay, the general manager, and Tim Ruskell, the director of pro personnel, who admonished me for being mean. Guilty, I guess.

Well, you guessed it. On the game's very first play – the very first – Sapp came tearing up the middle, and he flushed Mark Brunell to his left, and Brunell ran into a very surprised Upshaw, who wrestled him down for a four-yard loss.

And, man, did McKay and Ruskell give it to me. Never mind that Upshaw was gone the next year. I was the bad guy. But it was funny. The Bucs should have hired me as Upshaw's personal motivator. Looking back, though, he wasn't very good.

That was the game that also was the beginning of the end for Dilfer. He hit only nine of 23 passes against the Jags, and he made one of the biggest lunkhead decisions of all time. With victory still achievable, Dilfer rolled out and had Interstate 95 in front of him. I mean, if he had run the ball, well, he might still be going. But he pulled up and threw wildly across the field.

Dilfer played six more games that year, then 10 the following year, before opting out of his contract. Needless to say, the fans of Tampa Bay did not weep giant tears.

In 2003, the season after the Super Bowl season, the Bucs went to Jacksonville again. The Bucs defense was already showing some cracks, but that day, it was awful. This time, it was quarterback Byron Leftwich who would beat the team, 17-10. Tampa Bay gave up 359 yards, including 224 through the air.

Then there was 2007. Jacksonville came to Tampa that year and gave Quinn Gray (who?) his first start at quarterback. Gray completed only seven passes for 100 yards...and won, 24-23 in an embarrassing game.

Sensing a trend? The Bucs have lost to Gray and Gabbert and Leftwich.

No other team can say that. (Gray won only one other start).

So now, the Bucs are back in Jax, where disaster has often found them.

Tread lightly, guys.

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