A Tampa Bay Buccaneers Fan's Rebuilding Survival Guide
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This article originally appeared in the Pewter Report.
Another football season is on the horizon. We're now seeing the crack of helmets and pads slamming into one another in a glorious exhibition of violence.
Buc Fans' discussions are filled by questions regarding the number of running backs the Bucs should keep or who should start and whether Michael Clayton deserves to be on the 53-man roster.
They listen to coach Morris say "You're talkin' about" fifty thousand times during training camp while hoping to glean knowledge of the progress of Josh Freeman and the defense in the sea of sports cliches the coach delivers.
They closely monitor the Cleveland Browns' pre-season games, looking for weaknesses as if their scouting ability had any direct impact on the game plan for the Buccaneers. They're going to debate, discuss, and occasionally agree on the direction of the team.
It will culminate on September 12th, when their beloved Buccaneers take the field in a steamy Raymond James Stadium to kick off the 2010 season.
But what kind of season will we have?
By all accounts, the Buccaneers appear to have improved their talent base with this season's draft. Most of the skill positions seem to have that important element—skill. Freeman is another year into his progression and has been working hard all off-season to better himself. The defense has returned to it's Tampa Two roots, while coach Morris brings a myriad of new looks that should improve the defense. Then there's the Mt. Everest level of high hopes placed on the rookies, beginning with the likable Gerald McCoy and his partner in the trenches, Brian Price.
The schedule certainly looks favorable—or at least nothing like the gauntlet the undermanned '09 squad had to endure. Getting Cleveland to start, Carolina early in their rebuild, and Pittsburgh sans Rothlisberger could help Tampa Bay get off to a good start this season.
Still, despite the improvement across the board, the Buccaneers are a very young football team; from the front office to whoever that last player to make the cut will be. Most pundits have the team around the five or six-win mark; progress made but not enough to seriously challenge for a playoff spot in 2010.
What that means, of course, is Buc fans likely have another rebuilding season ahead of them.
After considering the prospect of how another losing season will effect the fanbase, I quickly realized that while we have plenty of folks who have been through early dark days with this franchise, a large portion of the fanbase is post-1998. They have endured losing seasons, but they've never had to cope with a true rebuilding project.
As a survivor of the 1980's and early 90's creamsicle Buccaneers, I present to you the survival guide for a rebuilding team.
1) Keep Hope Alive
At the beginning of every season of rebuilding, believe in your heart of hearts that this is the year the Bucs will turn it around. You have to believe that the rookies will come in and be instant superstars. The offensive line will suddenly gel and the defense becomes a stalwart. The coach will find his inner Vince Lombardi and the GM will find the next Kurt Warner playing in a flag football league. All will be well and the Bucs will make a cinderella story return to the playoffs.
As the season continues on and it becomes pretty evident that this is not the year, focus on the young players' production. In those lean years, there needs to be signs of light at the end of the tunnel. In past years, it was a solid season from wide receiver Mark Carrier, a tremendous running performance from James Wilder or Errict Rhett, or the impressive ability of a young rookie named Alstott that Buc fans could hitch their wagon to.
As the year progresses from bad to worse, look hopefully toward the coming draft and the new toy that the franchise could potentially bring in. Just hope there's more Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks types than Broderick Thomas and Keith McCants.
Even when the team is mired in a six-game losing streak, you can keep your hope alive.
2) Blame the ownership's miserly ways
Many of the new Buc fans have already learned this important skill. The only difference is, if you're to survive the rebuilding phase - you can't let those pesky, money grubbing owners win and make you quit.
Whether they're named Glazer, Culverhouse, or DeBartolo, there's always a "plan". Typically, for an owner not willing to spend a lot of money, that plan is to sign one "big name" to placate the fans and then streamline the rest of the franchise to offset that big name's price tag.
Whether it's a correct assumption or not, there has to be blame for the fans frustrations and the Glazer boys are willing to take the heat to make their plan come to fruition. Buc fans can only hope it works better than Culverhouse's.
The good news is that blaming the owners takes a lot of energy and the sting of how terrible the team is performing on the field. If you're focused on the Glazers, you're not directing your ire to the guys making millions of dollars to throw three interceptions or fumble at the goal line or miss a tackle that gives up the game winning touchdown.
3) Believe in Josh Freeman (at least at the start)
For Buc fans looking for a savior from rebuilding hell, the quarterback is always the guy we cast our eyes toward.
During the lean years we hitched our wagons to Jack Thompson, aka the Throwin' Samoan, Steve DeBerg, Steve Young, Vinny Testaverde, Craig Erickson, and finally, the immortal Trent Dilfer.
4) If Freeman throws three picks in the game, believe in the backup
When the quarterback doesn't perform like Joe Montana, the past-time for the rebuilding Buc fan is to throw their support behind the backup quarterback.
If he continues to struggle, the grumbling from the crowd and on talk-radio will get to a fever pitch.
For Jack Thompson, there was Jerry Golsteyn. For DeBerg, it was Steve Young (then in his second stint, Vinny Testaverde).In 1986, it flipped. Steve Young was the starter, Deberg was the backup. Testaverde had Chris Chandler (or Crystal Chandalier as he was later referred to when he played for the Falcons). Dilfer endured four backups - Casey Weldon, Steve Walsh, Eric Zeier, and Shaun King.
Like blaming the owners, blaming the quarterback takes a lot of energy out of the frustration of what's going on. The quarterback doesn't block. He doesn't play defense or miss that game winning field goal. Yet he's the target for all the blame, but also gets all the glory - as Dilfer found out in 1997 when he "arrived" for Tampa Bay (unless of course a certain radio host claims that your team won in spite of your performance).
Little did Dilfer know, three years later he'd be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in the Bucs' brand new stadium for another team.
5) Enjoy NFL football
As difficult as it is to watch the Buccaneers lose, there's still something special about watching great players be great.
I harken back to 1989, where the Bucs were looking to improve to 2-0 against the defending Super Bowl Champion San Francisco 49ers. Testaverde had just hit Carrier with a touchdown pass with 3:45 left in the game to put Tampa Bay up 16-13.
As anyone of that era knows, you don't give Joe Montana that much time to win a game. Down the field they came, marching 70 yards in 10 plays and Montana ran in the game winning score with just forty seconds left to play. Classic Montana.
There was Barry Sanders being his Barry-esque best against the Bucs. Favre always seemed to find a way to have the Packers avoid an upset. Walter Payton and the ‘85 Bears doing damage.
Great quarterbacks Joe Theisman, Troy Aikman, Dan Marino, and Randall Cunningham all threw spirals against Buc defenses in front of Tampa Bay fans.
When your team is sorry, sometimes the best thing you can do is just admire the best doing their thing.
6) Beware Fool's Gold
During the Bucs' horrible wasteland that was the 80's and early 90's, there were a few great starts that led fans to believe their team had finally arrived.
First that comes to mind was 1983 - coming off a strike season and the last playoff appearance for the Bucs until 1997, the '83 team won all four of their pre-season games and looked primed to be a force. It just goes to show you that pre-season games mean diddly. The Bucs would lose their first nine regular season games on their way to a 2-14 season.
In 1987, the Bucs got off to a surprising 4-3 start under new head coach Ray Perkins. Fans began to whisper the "p" word, only to watch the team collapse, losing eight games to finish 4-11 (the season was shortened one game due to a player's strike).
The aforementioned '89 team got off to a 3-2 start, including a narrow loss to the defending champs. Fans again believed that this Perkins led team may have turned the corner. Instead, the Bucs lost nine of their last eleven to finish 5-11.
You would think Buc fans would have learned their lesson - but the following year, the Bucs were again off to a fast start, jumping out to a 4-2 record. A six game losing streak would doom the season and facilitate Perkins firing at the bye week. Richard Williamson would have the interim label removed from his name the next season.
In '92, Sam Wyche got the Bucs out to a 3-1 start, only to once again see the team fall apart mid-season to finish 5-11.
In '95, Sam made his infamous "Five-Dash-Two" remark after the Bucs completed their fourth straight victory to improve to 5-2 on the season. The Bucs would finish 1995, seven-dash-nine and Tony Dungy would come in to resurrect the franchise.
The moral? Don't get too excited if the Bucs come out hot.
Following these six tenets may not make watching a rebuilding Buccaneers team be any more tolerable but it certainly will enhance your viewing pleasure and get you through these lean times. There's going to be many times when you want to give up, when you're tired of the jokes and ridicule and you simply don't want to deal with it any more.
Stay thirsty for Bucs football, my friend! For I can assure you that there is no joy like that of seeing a team that you struggled with through rebuilding for so many years finally achieving that ultimate victory.
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