Remember Tampa Bay’s best moments

by Gary Shelton on April 2, 2020

in general

Ronde Barber had the biggest play in Tampa Bay history./© Joe Mestas

There have been a lot of bad days. There have been a lot of bad players.

There have been bad coaches calling bad plays for bad players. There have been draft picks who fizzled and free agents who flopped. There have been a lot of dejected fans trudging from dejecting games.

We haven't exactly witnessed dynasties in Tampa Bay, have we? The big three of the Bucs, Lightning and Rays have played a total of 95 seasons (counting this Lightning season); They have made the playoffs only 26 times. They have two championships. There haven't been nearly enough parades.

Ah, but every now and then...

There has been a memory.




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Oh, there have been players. Derrick Brooks and Lee Roy Selmon and Warren Sapp. Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos. Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford and David Price. We have seen Mike Alstott at the goal line and Derrick Brooks streaking across the field and Andrei Vasilevskiy and Ben Zobrist.

But what are the 10 best moments? If you were telling your kid about the good times, which 10 would you pick.

One man's list:

1. Bucs 48, Oakland Raiders 21 (Jan. 26 , 2003): As far as individual plays, this one didn't have the drama of the NFC title game that year. But that win over the Eagles is huge only because the Bucs finished the job. The win over the Raiders distinguishes that as the finest season of all for the Bucs.

2. Lightning 2, Calgary Flames 1 (June 7, 2004): The Lightning endured the grueling trek of the Stanley Cup playoffs, getting two goals from Ruslan Fedotenko and stellar goaltending from Nikolai Khabibulin and winning Tampa Bay's only title at home.

3. Bucs 27, Philadelphia Eagles 10 (Jan. 19, 2003): Veteran's Stadium had become the place where Bucs' dreams go to die before 2003. But this Bucs' team was more resilient than others. Ronde Barber made the greatest play in Bucs' history when he returned an interception 92 yards to clinch the game.

4. Lightning 3, Flames 2 (June 5, 2004): The Lightning's answer to Barber came when Marty St. Louis scored in double overtime of Game Six to bring the series back to Tampa. It was the ninth goal of the playoffs for St. Louis.

5. Rays 3, Boston Red Sox 1 (October 19, 2008): The Rays got to their only World Series with a 3-1 victory for the American League title. David Price came on to the get the save. The Rays lost the World Series, but it remains their best season.

6. Rays 8, Yankees 7 (Sept. 29. 2018): Evan Longoria's 11th inning home run was the most dramatic in the history of the Rays, helping the team overcome a 7-0 deficit.  Longoria joined Bobby Thomson of the 1951 Giants as the only players to  hit a walkoff homer in the final regular-season game to put his team in the playoffs.

7. Bucs 33, New Orleans 14 (Dec. 11, 1977): After 26 straight losses to open their history, the Bucs finally won one, beating the Saints. Two interception returns for scores gave the Bucs' a 26-0 lead.

8. Rays 10, Indians 15 (Aug. 7, 1999): Who will ever forget the image of Wade Boggs kissing home plate after homering for his 3,000th hit. Few will remember the final score.

9. Bucs trade for Jon Gruden (Feb. 18, 2002): The Bucs were looking in every direction possible after getting jilted by Bill Parcells (again). Most reports thought they were aiming at Steve Mariucci, but the Glazers took over the search and made a huge trade for Gruden. It was worth it.

10. Lightning awarded to Phil Esposito (Dec. 6 1990): The birth of a new franchise is huge. it was when the Rays were awarded to Vince Naimoli in 1995 and when Hugh Culverhouse purchased the Bucs (from original owner Tom McCloskey in 1976). But Esposito has been much of the heartbeat of this franchise throughout its existence.

The Bucs need more help than Tom Brady

by Gary Shelton on March 31, 2020

in general

Tuesday, 3 a.m.

They matter again. The Tampa Bay Bucs are no longer an endangered species. These days, the Bucs are an easy headline braced by star power.

That said, however, they are not cured.

In certain quarters, the only question is just how big the Bucs will win in the coming season, how far into the playoffs they will last, how many records they may break.

But here's a reminder.

Jameis Winston was very, very wrong for the Bucs last season.

But he wasn't the only thing that was wrong.




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Granted, Winston's face after yet another interception is the way we will all remember last year. But remember the 47 sacks given up by the offensive line? Remember the league-leading 133 penalties? Remember the third-worst pass defense? Remember the 24th-best rushing attack?

Yeah, those areas have to be improved, too.

Sometime late in free agency, sometimes early in the draft, there are holes that need to be plugged. Tom Brady isn't going to run for a lot of yards. He isn't going to shut down an opposing receiver. He isn't going to block a defensive end.

So where do the Bucs go? At this point, it's doubtful they're going to pick up a free agent who is going to make you go "wow." Most of their additions will be through the draft.

So where do the Bucs need to look?

  1. Offensive tackle. The Bucs haven't rushed to re-sign Demar Dotson, who is plumb tuckered out from jumping offsides. My own feeling is that this is where the Bucs go first in the NFL draft. I've seen as many as four different names linked with the Bucs, which means 2-3 of those will bust. Tampa Bay did sign Joe Haeg, but he didn't start for the Colts last year. It's hard to see him make a difference for the Bucs.

2. Running back. The Bucs lost half of their running combination last year when Peyton Barber signed with Washington. Frankly, the Bucs needed help there anyway. Only two teams in the league averaged fewer than the 3.7 yards the Bucs managed. This second round of the draft may be their answer.

3. Quarterback. What's that? Yes, the Bucs spent a few nickels on Brady. But he'll be 43 when the season starts, which means he's in his twilight. And it isn't like the backups are exciting. Ryan Griffin has thrown four passes in his career, and Blaine Gabbert is, well, Blaine Gabbert. It's a dark horse pick in round one, maybe round two.

4. Defensive line: Again, the Bucs invested heavily to bring back Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul (traditional defensive ends, although the team lists them as linebackers) and Ndamukong Suh. But Suh is 32 and Pierre-Paul is 31. The Bucs could use a rotational player somewhere on the line.

5. Wide receiver. This is the team's deepest position, so why should they draft another guy? Well, Breshad Perriman left. A slot receiver to get open underneath would be nice. No, it won't be Antonio Brown. Bruce Arians went out of his way to nip that conversation in the bud.

6. Safety. A lot of mock drafts keep harping on cornerbacks. But the Bucs can only play so many -- it's why there was no room for Vernon Hargreaves -- in their rotation. I think a safety makes a lot more sense.

Can you imagine a return of our sports?

by Gary Shelton on March 29, 2020

in general

Tropicana lies in wait ./CARMEN MANDATO

Sunday, 4 a.m.

The sights.

The deep green of the grass, and the uniformed men frolicking on it. The gleaming white of the baseball. The father and son, both wearing baseball gloves, sitting by the rail. The sudden intake of breath as two hockey players drop their gloves. The cornerback who is hopelessly beaten, so badly he's not even in the picture, only to have the receiver overthrown, and on his way back to the huddle, everyone high-fives the corner, as if he has accomplished something noble.

The smells.

The whiff of a fresh baseball. The smell of hot dogs. The stale beer on the guy behind you. The walk through the parking lot past fans grilling burgers. The guy in front of you who sweats like an offensive guard.

The sounds. The one lout in the crowd who keeps yelling "watch the pass" on third-and-14, as if he's the only guy who has considered the possibility. The smack of a ball inside a mitt. The groan of the crowd after another interception (does that just happen around here?). The dopey fans who think Neil Diamond is a big deal when they hear "Sweet Carolina" in Fenway Park. The beer salesmen. The anthem singer. The umpire crying "play ball."

The tastes.

A bratwurst at Lambeau Field. Crab Cakes at Camden Yards. The barbecue at a Carolina Panthers game. The tacos in Arizona. Popcorn at a Rays' game. The Bananas Foster in the press box at Raymond James. (As a child, my daughter went to her first Lightning game because she wanted cotton candy. She had it in the pregame and, once finished, pronounced herself ready to go home. Exactly 32 seconds had passed). There are as many flavors as colors, a flavor for every sport, and a sport for every fan.

Now, imagine when it all comes back.




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We are in an unprecedented shutdown of sports, and it has served to remind us how we get lost in these little games. Yes, they are trivial; that's what makes them so special. It is a place to hide in times such as these. I suppose it was this bad in 1919, when the Spanish Influenza caused the Stanley Cup to be halted with Montreal and Seattle tied 2-2 (with a tie) and the baseball season to be shortened.

And so the part of our brain that appreciates the distraction that sports provides is dry ground. We read about free agency, and about the upcoming draft, and we wait.

And when it returns, when we are whole again it will be a dozen Christmases rolled into one.

Do you think about it? Do you think about a resumption of the lives we are used to living? How can you help it? Don't you want to hear a cheering crowd (or a booing one)? Don't you want to debate whether that was a foul or not with the analyst? Are you aching to boo Roger Goodell and all he stands for?

It will be a celebration when it all returns. We over-inflate sports, true, but this time, they will represent something bigger than our particular teams. It will be a return to life, although we will be wary as it resumes. The theaters will re-open. The restaurants. And, yes, the ballparks.

Without sports, we are less than what we were. Oh, sports does not exist in a reality of its own; of course the same restrictions need to apply to sports as the rest of the world. It doesn't mean we don't miss them.

In my idle time, I think about the sports I have missed the most. For all of us, the priorities will change. It's why the ice cream shops sell chocolate and vanilla, right?

  1. I miss the Olympics already. I covered 10 of them, and I loved every day. The anthems. The odd sports. The stories. The endless bus rides. I was the only American on the media bus that took us to a badminton match in China -- badminton is huge there -- and back. In Turin,I stood at a balcony with the survivor of a soccer team that died in a plane crash (he did not make the trip because of a pregnant wife) looking at the Olympic flame. I walked through a village made of igloos by fans in Norway).

2. The Final Four. No, it isn't what it used to be when things called "juniors" and "seniors" played college basketball. But as drama, it has never disappointed. There is nothing like the one-and-done of March Madness.

3. The stretch run toward the NHL playoffs. I won't mention the Stanley Cup, because I hope it is only delayed. But the intensifying season of the NHL in its final days seems to be at risk.

4. Opening Day. This is down on the list because, again, you hope there is an Opening Day to come. Who cares if it's on May 28 or June 3? I love baseball, as many of you do. Opening Day is more special to the ice-locked areas of our country than Florida, of course, because it represents renewal. But really, Opening Day is just the start of a long journey. Still, it will be nice to see it.

5. The Masters. If you walk the back nine in Augusta, if you hang out by the Eisenhower tree, if you take in the beauty of Amen Corner, you will understand why so many people want to be buried there. I'll be honest. Most Pro tours are played on gorgeous properties. But August is a Rembrandt in a hall of kids' art.

There are others. The OTA's of NFL teams. Spring training games. A tennis tournament here. A soccer match there. The beauty of sports is that it is ever-changing. It is a menu for our souls. We are not complete without it.

Soon, I pray, it will resume.

When it does, it will be delicious. Even better, it will be normal.

Brady’s first message to the Bucs is a positive one

by Gary Shelton on March 25, 2020

in general

Things are looking up for Bucs, Arians./JOE MESTAS

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

You don't have to love English Literature to know who Shakespeare is.

You don't have to be a fan of space flight to know all about Neal Armstrong.

You don't have to be a basketball fan to have heard of Michael Jordan.

And so, when Tom Brady's voice could finally be heard, you don't have to be a fan of the Tampa Bay Bucs to appreciate the sound.

Brady arrived -- at least on a telephone conference -- Tuesday afternoon. It was a strong voice, filled with confidence and accomplishment, and it




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sounded a new direction for a franchise that has been lost for years. It didn't assure fans that he was still the quarterback who has been considered as the best -- certainly the most accomplished -- to ever play the game. But for the Bucs, it was a voice to follow, a voice in which to believe.

"The expectation is for me is to come in and do what I feel is right for the organization and that’s to be a great team player," Brady said. "I’m going to try to do everything I can to get up to speed with all of the things that I need to do and what my responsibilities are. I obviously have a ton of trust and respect for Coach (Bruce) Arians [and] for Jason (Licht) and what he has done to build the team and the organization as it is now. I’m thankful to the Glazer family for giving me an opportunity."

Brady is replacing Jameis Winston as the Bucs' starting quarterback. Winston threw for more yards and more touchdowns than Brady a year ago, but his turnover rate was climbing, and the Bucs felt that even at 43 (as next season begins) Brady was a better bet.

“I think, obviously where I’ve been, I’ve learned a great deal," Brady sad. "As I move forward, like I said the other day, no one cares what you did in the past. They don’t care what you did last year, five years ago or 10 years ago. I think hopefully the knowledge I have with my experience playing quarterback will allow me to transition quickly. There are a lot of things I’ve got to get up to speed on. Obviously, learning different terminology – that is a unique challenge that I haven’t faced, but it’s one that I’m looking forward to, also. Again, I’m not going to make a bunch of predictions to where I’ve been. I go in looking forward to the opportunity to learn from the new coaches and the new players that I’ll be playing with, and I’m going to go out and give it everything I’ve got.

"There were a lot of things that really were intriguing to me about the organization – the players, and the coaches and the willingness of everyone to try to accomplish what the goal of playing football is, which is to win. I’m going to try to do everything I can in my position and in what I am responsible for to make it happen. I’ve got to trust that everyone else is doing the exact same thing. That part is no different from what I’ve experienced in 20 years of my own role.”

Brady said the offense of coach Bruce Arians was appealing to him.

"I’ve obviously paid attention to him and his offense for a long time," Brady said. "Everybody has somewhat different styles and philosophies on how to call things and so forth. Football, to me, is about throwing the ball to the guy that is open. If he is open deep, that is where you throw it and if he’s open short, you throw it there. If he is open outside, you throw it there. If they are open inside, that’s where you throw it. You get the ball to the guy who can do something with it.

"There are some really talented players here on this offense that have very unique skill sets and it’s really my responsibility – I have one ball and I’ve got to be able to deliver that ball to the guy who can do something with it. There is a lot of ground to make up because I haven’t worked with these players. I’m going to have to learn what they do, and their body language and how they like things. That’s part of the challenge. It’s unfortunate what we’re going through in our world. It presents different challenges for all of us, so again, as soon as we have the opportunity to all be together in one place, we can really start working toward that. That’s what I’m going to do.”

Brady said there was a lot to like about the Bucs.

"In playing quarterback for a long time, that’s what I do is I watch film and I study." Brady said. "I try to learn, I try to grow and I try to evolve every year. I’ve watched this offense over a long period of time – with a lot of different quarterbacks – have a lot of success. It’s a great offense for the quarterback. It’s a great offense for the receivers, for the tight ends and for the running backs. There’s been a lot of great players who have been a part of working with Coach Arians. It’s for me to come in and to understand the things I’ve got to learn to be successful within what we are all trying to do, and what we collectively do well. It’s not about what one player does well.

"Great offenses aren’t about one player. Great offenses are about every guy being on the same page and playing with confidence and anticipation. Until you can get to work on doing those things – for me getting a lot of those logistical things out of the way is important because there is a tactical aspect. I’ve got to get to that. I’ve really got to get up to speed on. It’s going to be a busy offseason for me learning a lot of new things, which is a great challenge and a great opportunity for me. I’m just going to do it the only way I know how to do it, which is just to fully engulf myself in what is done here. It’s a new program that I’m a part of and they have their way of doing things. They’re committed to winning and I’ve got to come in and do my part. That’s why I’m here.”

Brady didn't want to address specifics about leaving New England -- except to repeat his loyalty to Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick. Still it will be an adjustment for him.

The biggest question, of course, is what Brady has left. Words alone will not answer that. Only play will.

"I’m prepared to give them every bit of commitment I’ve had my entire career to be the best I could be to makee this team be the best it could be," Brady said. "I did say there’s not one person that makes a team. It’s every single person doing their job every day that’s committed and determined to be the best. I’m a very disciplined quarterback and I try to follow through on the things I’m committed to and I try to work every day to be the best I can be. That’s what I’m going to try to push my teammates to do and I’m just excited to get started.”

Can you wait to see?

Why won’t a team offer Winston a position?

March 22, 2020 general

Sunday, 4 a.m. Would you buy a broken promise from this man? He is 26 years old, and already, he has 70 starts in the NFL. He’s thrown for 19.787 yards. He’s thrown for 121 touchdowns in five seasons. And these days, Jameis Winston can’t get a job. Winston is in limbo. He has no […]

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Which 10 Bucs can Brady help the most?

March 21, 2020 general

Saturday, 4 a.m. If Tom Brady is still Tom Brady, the Tom Brady, the Pro Bowl and the Greatest of All-Time (or at least, the greatest Bucs’ quarterback of all-time), then he’s going to help everyone. Probably, he will make your Sundays go a little better, too. But that’s the greatest asset of a great […]

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Head to head, how might Brady and Winston do?

March 19, 2020 general

Thursday, 4 a.m. He’s better. No rational man would deny it. In any game, Tom Brady trumps Jameis Winston, and it isn’t close. The Tampa Bay Bucs have been wrong about a great number of things in their history, but this is not one of them. Despite the age, despite the cost, despite the adjustment […]

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Brady’s signing would bring hope back to Bucs

March 18, 2020 general

Wednesday, 4 a.m. Try not to think about the miles he has traveled. Try only to think about the moments he has accomplished. Tom Brady is 42 years old. He has been sacked 500 times, and hit countless others. His right arm has thrown 9,988 passes, and that’s just in the regular season. Who knows […]

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Bucs bring back their pass rush with new deals

March 17, 2020 general

Tuesday, 4 a.m. We can assume that Shaq Barrett got there with speed. He shot off the line, and he closed in on the deal in a heartbeat. He was always a quick player, that Barrett, so should it be any different when he was rushing Jason Licht’s checkbook? Jason Pierre-Paul, however, was more about […]

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The rich get richer as owners win again

March 16, 2020 general

Monday, 4 a.m. Gentlemen, start your yachts. The war is over. The rich guys won. Again. Here in the land with no sports, the guys who run the NFL have won again. They got their 17th game, and they got their extra week of playoffs, and they got a decade’s worth of labor peace.They have […]

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