Could this be one of the classic Super Bowls?

by Gary Shelton on January 24, 2020

in general

Friday, 4 a.m.

Think of it like a yearly movie.

Most of them are duds.

Most of them have bad actors, and bad scripts, and major plot holes. Most of them are death at the box office. You look at them, and you think that it's no wonder that the event fizzled.

But every now and then, too rarely for you to count on it, the Super Bowl works.

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Every now and then, there is drama, and there are heroes, and there are memories. Every now and then, you reflect on what you have just seen and think 'Wow. Now, that was a game."

There were times the Super Bowl was an annual bore-fest. I remember an early Super Bowl, the first one I covered for the Times, then the Super Bowl promised a duel between Joe Montana and John Elway. Great theater, right?

It ended up 55-10.

You may remember it as the "Heaven's Gate" of Super Bowls.


Lately, however, we have some some thrills, and the Super Bowl has been worth watching.

The Top 10 games.

  1. Super Bowl XXIII: This has always been my favorite game. You had Joe Montana, driving down the field in the dying seconds. He lifted his team over the Bengals, a team that lost Stanley Wilson to cocaine usage the night before the game, and Tim Krumrie on a grisly injury during it.

2. Super Bowl XLIII: You say you like comebacks? How about two comebacks. First, Arizona's Kurt Warner brings the Cards back into the lead with 2:37 to play. Then, Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a 27-23 win with a six-yard pass to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds to play.

3. Super Bowl XXV: Giants 20, Bills 19: Everyone remembers Scott Norwood's miss in the final seconds. But Norwood hadn't hit a field goal of that length on grass all season. I've always thought the Bills' failing was ignoring Thurman Thomas Thomas averaged nine yards a carry but touched the ball only 15 times.

4. Super Bowl XXXIV: The Rams won this game by a foot as Rams' linebacker Mike Jones tackled the Titans' Kevin Dyson just short of the goal in the closing seconds. It preserved. 23-16 win.

5. Super Bowl XLIX: Technically, the game was decided by a misplay, not a grand comeback. But when Seattle coach Pete Carroll decided to throw instead of run at the New England goal line, it was a gaffe that will last forever. Instead of giving the ball to running back Marshawn Lynch at the goal line, the Seahawks called a pass play. Malcolm Butler intercepted the ball at the one in the closing seconds.

6. Super Bowl XLII: No, Super Bowl III wasn't the biggest upset in Super Bowl history. That came when the Giants upset the undefeated Patriots, l7-14, in a game that featured a receiver catching a ball off of his head. The Giants, a wild-card team, upset the high-flying Patriots, who seemed to be inches from an undefeated season.

7. Super Bowl LI: It was the size of the Patriots comeback that makes this one memorable. The Patriots trailed the Falcons 28-3 at one point before coming from behind to win 34-28 in overtime.

8. Super Bowl XXXVI: At the beginning of a dynasty, no one knew much about Bill Belichick and even less about Tom Brady. But the Pats, a decided underdog to the Rams, pulled off a 20-17 victory.

9. Super Bowl XXXVII: Brady's reputation became golden when he led the Patriots to a comeback victory over Carolina. Adam Vinatieri kicked a winning field goal with four seconds to play.

10. Super Bowl XLVI: By now, we are used to Tom Brady leading the Patriots from behind. But he isn't perfect. In a 21-17 loss to the Giants, it was New York who came from behind when Ahmad Bradshaw ran six yards for the winning touchdown with 57 seconds left to play.

Can this game crack the top 10. Perhaps. Patrick Mahomes of Kansas City against the 49ers' defensive front is interesting. Will Jimmy Garoppolo be allowed to pass? We'll see.

Hey, it's the Super Bowl.

There's a chance it will be Super game.

Who would you pick to replace Winston?

by Gary Shelton on January 23, 2020

in general

Winston has a mixed legacy with the Bucs./STEVEN MUNCIE

If another team wants to intercept Jameis Winston on his way to work, well, I'm all for it.

He is a frustrating player to watch, isn't he? He'll be a roll, and then he'll throw a down-and-out to an opposing cornerback, who is suddenly running toward the scoreboard, and the day is lost. Again.

Might I remind you that Winston threw the most interceptions (30) in 21 seasons in the NFL. He defied all the trends that have helped quarterbacks throw fewer interceptions (throwing the ball away when out of the pocket, liberalized holding, limited contact by defensive backs, throwing to backs out of the backfield, etc.).

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Thirty. That's 30 drives that were stopped because Winston didn't take enough care of the ball. That's a potential of 210 more points. That's 30 sudden changes that a defense has to play against.

So, yeah, I'm as fed up as many of you. I've seen enough. I think Winston will cut down on his interceptions, but he'll still throw too many. It simply isn't important enough for him to stop it.

The Bucs without Winston? It isn't as daunting as you might think. Heck, it isn't like they're winning Super Bowls because of him. He's never been to the playoffs. Sure, he throws for a lot of yardage, and a lot of touchdowns, but he doesn't collect a lot of wins.

Here's the thing, though.

Who are you gonna call?

After all, dumping Winston -- and the potential fortune he would make -- is only half of the equation. You still have to find someone to play quarterback. You owe that to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

If any team should realize this, it's the Bucs. They chased Josh Freeman with Mike Glennon, who wasn't very good. They followed Trent Dilfer with Shaun King, who had only sporadic success before giving way to Brad Johnson. They replaced Vinny Testaverde with Craig Erickson. They followed Doug Williams with Jack Thompson.

So, yeah, you can always do worse.

But can the Bucs do better?

A lot of guesswork lately has connected the Bucs and San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, who evidently has purchased a home in Florida. Those are easy dots to connect, but do they make sense? Rivers is 38, which means that it would take two moves (at least) to replace Winston: One with Rivers and one with the guy who will be groomed for the starting job. Rivers throws a lot of interceptions, too. He threw 20, and he threw only 23 touchdowns (10 fewer than Winston). Rivers has three seasons with 20 interceptions or more. But he's made eight Pro Bowls, which means he'd probably be better for a season or two. But is that enough to watch Winston from elsewhere?

The golden fleeces in free agency are Tom Brady and Drew Brees, both aging but excellent quarterbacks. But in a million years, can you see either quarterback leaving teams that are built around them? Saints' general manager Mickey Loomis said Wednesday that the Saints want Brees back. How many more millions would the Bucs have to offer for him to move? More than you can count?

The one hope with Brady is that the Patriots have a history of turning loose of players a year early. But remember how dearly Pats' owner Robert Kraft loves Tom Brady. I can't see him in another uniform.

There was Eli Manning before Wednesday. Manning retired, leaving a legacy as a spotty quarterback who won the big game twice.

There is Andy Dalton, whose name Bucs' fans started throwing around early. Dalton has been a good -- not great -- quarterback for the Bengals, but he's coming off a season when he won two games and had a career-low rating of 78.3. He's reached four playoffs, but lost in the first round each time.

There is Cam Newton, who is intriguing. He was the league MVP in 2015. If he's healthy -- and that's a big if -- then he may be worth a flier if the Bucs decide to move on. He's just 30, which means he's worth bringing for a visit (and a physical).

There is Marcus Mariota. That would be amusing, wouldn't it, if the Bucs now picked Marota over Winston after doing the opposite. It won't happen. Mariota will have to scramble for a backup slot.

There is Blake Bortles. I will now pause while you laugh. Again, he'll be looking for a backup spot.

There is Teddy Bridgewater, who played very well for the Saints. He lacks Winston's ability, but most quarterbacks do.

There is Justin Herbert, the rookie out of Oregon. Look, a team doesn't get into the position to draft Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa from the 14th slot. It has to hope that Herbert slips in the draft. That doesn't usually happen with quarterbacks, but the Bucs could entertain a slight move upward if they're sold on Herbert.

It is a list like this that has a lot of observers guessing that after kicking the tires on a lot of quarterbacks, the Bucs will work out a one-year deal with Winston. Except for Brady and Brees, who started playing during the war of 1812, there are warts on all of them.

That's life in the NFL. It's tough to find a quarterback if you don't have one.

And if you have half of one?

Then you're between a rock and a bad throw.

Jeter was the best of bad Hall of Fame class

by Gary Shelton on January 22, 2020

in general

Jeter was nearly unanimous.

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

You say you're looking for someone who isn't going to be honored by the Hall of Fame. You're looking for someone who will honor the Hall of Fame by his presence.

Well, you've got Derek Jeter.

And after that, you've got Derek Jeter.

And did I mention Derek Jeter?

Jeter was elected to the Hall Tuesday, getting 99.7 percent of the vote. Only Larry Walker also got in and just barely.

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In Jeter's case, it was a foregone conclusion. He was going to get in if they had to move out some others to make room. His total percentage of the vote (one short of being unanimous) was second-highest of all-time, behind only former teammate Mariano Rivera, who was unanimous. (It was just ahead of Ken Griffey Jr., who missed by three votes; Ty Cobb, who missed by four; Tom Seaver, who missed by five; Nolan Ryan, who missed by six; and Cal Ripkin Jr, who missed by eight. Both Hank Aaron and George Brett missed by nine.

Aside from Jeter, however, it was largely an unlovable bunch of candidates. What? Were you really supposed to feel warm and fuzzy over Barry Bonds? Over Roger Clemens? Do you feel good about making Curt Schilling and his loony ideas immortal? ˙How about Sammy Sosa and Manny Ramirez?

Even for a guy who thinks performance should be 95 percent of the vote, that's a hard class to swallow. There were rule-breakers left and right, corner-cutters and out and out cheats. It's a hard group to embrace.

For the most part, yeah, I can see that Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame. Clemens, too. Maybe even Shilling (who should be the first inductee to wear a tin-foil hat).

But it's up to someone else to vote them in. I just can't bring to do it.

I know, I know. As a voter, that's passing the buck. But stats are one thing, and what you believe is another. I wouldn't have any problem if Bonds, Clemens and the Hole-in-the-arm gang get him. I'm just not going to help them buy a ticket.

Ah, but then there is Jeter, a Hall of Famer you can get behind.

No, Jeter wasn't perfect. You can find a lot of arguments about his lack of range. I once chastised Jeter for squawking his way onto base as he claimed he was hit by a pitch; replays showed it hit the end of the bat and never touched him. I thought that was beneath someone of Jeter's reputation, frankly. I still do.

Still, the public loved loving Jeter. In the time of steroids, they needed a Mr. Clean to admire, a winner who was slick and efficient, who wore his stardom like a leather mitt. Jeter was that guy. He was as admirable in the way he carried himself as, say, Cal Ripkin Jr. He was a star.

But for two decades, Jeter was the ultimate winner in the game. His Yankees won five World Series. He hit .310. He made 14 all-star teams. He had 3,465 hits. He drove in 1,311 runs. He scored 1,923 runs himself. He won five Silver Slugger Awards. He was a World Series MVP.

He was the voice of reason. There were other Yankees who would give you headlines with their bold talk. But when Jeter said something -- or did something -- it mattered. He was the Captain.

Yeah, that's worth remembering. I just would love to have the one guy who didn't vote for him explain to me why.

The rest of the class?

Larry Walker got in. I probably wouldn't have voted for him. His chief asset seemed to be that it was his last year on the ballot. But good for Walker for getting in.

Curt Schilling didn't. The guy with the bloody sock and the outlandish tongue got 70 percent of the vote. He'll probably get in next year. The voters on Mars will be excited.

Clemens got 61 percent and Bonds 60.7. To me, they're almost identical. The reason I would include both is that they both had Hall of Fame resumes before the world discovered steroids. I like Bonds better myself, but you can't feel horrible that neither got in.

Omar Vizquel got 52.6 percent of the vote. He would have gotten mine. He was slick and dangerous.

Scott Rolen got 35.3 percent of the vote. I wouldn't have voted for him. To me, his numbers are bigger than his legacy.

Billy Wagner? No. Gary Sheffield. Not quite. Todd Helton? No. Manny Ramirez. Hell no. Jeff Kent? No. Andrew Jones? No. Sammy Sosa? Double hell no. Andy Petite? No. Bobby Abreau? No.

For personal reasons, I supported Fred McGriff. I supposed Dale Murphy.

In all, it's hard to feel wronged in the name of anyone. Some years, there are. You can't understand why this guy got in and that guy didn't. You try to make sense of the numbers.

This year, there was Jeter.

And there was everyone else.

17 years later, Bucs’ title is memorable

by Gary Shelton on January 21, 2020

in general

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

On the night the world stood still, we were all in motion.

You were cheering. Your friend was dancing. Warren Sapp was talking. Jon Gruden was grinning. Me? I was running through the tunnels of a football stadium in San Diego and out toward a makeshift tent nearby.

The Tampa Bay Bucs -- of all teams -- had conquered the world, and it felt as if it would last forever.

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It was the team of our lives -- and for a lot of fans, the only team worth keeping in their lives. The Bucs had been dreadful. Soon, they would be dreadful again. They had been not-quite-good-enough.

But for one night, for one season, they owned the sport. They owned this town, too. We all had Sapp's strut and Brooks' quiet fire. We had John Lynch's competitiveness, and Ronde Barber's instincts. We had Mike Alstott's determination and Joe Jurevicius' resilience. We had Monte Kiffin's energy and Brad Johnson's efficiency. We had Simeon Rice's knack for big plays and Dexter Jackson's timing.

And we had a championship.

It was the darndest night ever to be a sports fan in Tampa Bay. No franchise had the dirt kicked in its face like this one. No one had been through the punch lines and the insults and dismissals of this one.

Looking back, that entire era of Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden -- it took both men to win it, frankly -- was something of a fluke. Look at the years before Dungy. Look at the tears after Gruden.

So what was so special about this team?

In hindsight, this was a team that had grown up together. They almost got there in 1999 but for a controversial call. They almost got there in 2000 but for a missed kick.

And then they shut out the lights on the Raiders in a lopsided Super Bowl.

Legacies are hard when a franchise fades away afterward. So it is with the Bucs, who are still trying to get Lynch and Barber into the Hall of Fame. There isn't much requirement to think about the Bucs nationally anymore. They don't have a playoff win since that night almost 17 years ago. They aren't quite as bad as they were in the Leeman Bennett-Ray Perkins years, which is something for the Raheem Morris-Greg Schiano eras to be proud of. But they weren't much better, either.

So how about it? Were the Bucs the flukiest franchise ever to win a Super Bowl?

No, not if you count the 10 years before the Super Bowl. That was a great defense. Take the rushing average, the sacks, the quarterback rating, the defensive ranking, the points allowed ... everything you can use to determine a great team -- and this one acquits itself well. I did the breakdown a few years ago, and only the Steelers had a better decade.

But if you consider the life of a franchise, well, maybe. Remember, Cleveland doesn't have a championship. Or Detroit. Or Arizona.

Through the history of the franchise, the Bucs have a .387 winning percentage. That's worse than one-time winners such as the Jets (.449), the Eagles (.449) and the Saints (.463).

Does that mean the Bucs should give the trophy back? Of course not. They earned their title. Heck, a lot of people were getting frustrated waiting for it to happen.

Look, Neil Armstrong only walked on the moon once.

I'd bet he remembers it fondly.

Still, isn't it time it happened again?

49ers run all over Green Bay; will face Chiefs

January 20, 2020 general

Monday, 4 a.m. It is a franchise built on quarterbacks, a talented, clutch bunch if ever there were any. Joe Montana? Some will still tell you he’s in the running for the best ever to play the position. Steve Young? He’s in the Hall of Fame, too. John Brodie played here. Y.A. Tittle. Jim Plunkett […]

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Can Tannehill surprise us one more time?

January 19, 2020 general

Sunday, 4 a.m. Blake Bortles starred here. Dan Pastorini, too. Shaun King was a player here. And Mark Sanchez. And Chris Chandler. All of them, at one time or the other, were good enough to reach a conference championship game with their teams. Most of them, at the key moment, didn’t succeed. Content beyond this […]

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Cirelli’s hat trick leads big Lightning win

January 18, 2020 general

Saturday, 4 a.m. Do the Tampa Bay Lightning have to take a break now? I mean, they barely figure in the All-Star game. And given their choice, who wouldn’t prefer to keep this hot streak going instead of sleeping in for a few mornings? The Lightning won its 10th game of its last 12 Friday […]

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Again, Bolts can’t conquer Minnesota

January 17, 2020 general

Friday, 4 a.m. If a Tampa Bay Lightning player lives a bad life, does he spend eternity in Minnesota? For the past few seasons, the state has been hell on the Lightning. Counting Thursday night’s 3-2 victory, Minnesota has beaten the Lighting five straight games and eight straight at home. Never mind that the Lightning […]

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Baseball gives mixed signals over sign-stealing

January 16, 2020 general

Thursday, 4 a.m. Back when the world was young, when dinosaurs roamed the outfield, when you bought baseball cards to get that cardboard bubble gum inside, baseball was innocent. Cheating was, too. It was 1970, and I was fresh out of high school. I was working for a small newspaper in South Georgia at the […]

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Kucherov scores late to lead Lightning comeback

January 15, 2020 general

Wednesday, 4 a.m. As a player, Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov is one of the most dynamic players on the ice. As an analyst, well, not so much. Shortly after scoring with 68 seconds to play to force overtime, in which the Lightning won their 11th game of their last 12, Kucherov stood in the […]

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