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Friday, November 14, 2003
Tampa Bay is a no-horse town

By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

My "NFL Chronicles" column concept, staggered with NFL UTBs (Uncensored Thought Balloons), was originally titled "Chronicles of NFLia," my bite on the C.S. Lewis "Chronicles of Narnia" series.

But, then, I actually thought about it, and decided most NFL fans would think C.S. Lewis was an ex-Packer offensive coordinator.

Jon Gruden
It's only been 10 months since Tampa won it all. It must seem like 10 years to the Bucs.
Plus, "NFLia" sounds a little too much like "Necrophilia."

What's worse than necrophilia? When the dead do you!

Go "Ewwww!" all you want.

That's precisely what happened in the League last weekend.

Using won-loss records going into Week 10, the San Diego Magic Flutes (1-7) did Minnesota (6-2). The Atlanta He Dunn Its (1-7) did the New York Foosball Giants (4-4). Washington (3-5) did Seattle (6-2) and Jacksonville (1-7) did it to death on the Indy Moon Pies (7-1).

So our text for today deals with the dead who are Undead; it is taken from the Second Book of Gru-Dog, New Testament. Verily, you have heard Richie McKay is on the outs as GM in Tampa, right? Hell, everyone is on the outs in Tampa Bay. The year that began with Pattonesque swagger from everybody involved has devolved to the current chorus of "Wot hopp'n?" It's Gruden's fault. It's the defense's fault. It's Kenyatta Walker's fault. Well, yes and no, in all cases. What happened was simple. The Bucs have no horsey.

They have no Jim Bob Fred.

Specifically, they have no running back. No Jim (as in Jim Brown), No Bob (as in Bobby Mitchell), and especially no Fred (as in Fred Taylor, since he's still playing and relevant to their predicament).

(Funny: Anybody know of a world-class running back named Bob? At any time? I vaguely remember a fullback at Ohio State named Bob Ferguson, but apparently he didn't translate to the big leagues. I had to go all the way back to Bobby Mitchell to even come close to a "Bob" who was a real runner. Somebody want to research this and throw it up in my face, like it actually has relevance or means something in the fullness of time or composition? Anybody at all?)

If Gru-Dog, Jon Gruden, wanted to be effective as well as avant garde, he should've tried Warren Sapp at RB instead of tight end, just to play keepaway. Sapp would be worn out either way, but at least the rest of the formerly world-champion defense might appreciate it, and get adequate oxygen. Now the Bucs' once-vaunted D is playing as if O2-deprived.

Mike Alstott being out hurt worse than the Bucs thought it would. Undersized or not, that was a 178-yard knot ex-Buc Warrick Dunn put on the Jints' domes. And no, I don't count Michael Pittman as a running back. Now we can argue whether or not bodybuilding is a sport (although I won't argue it long -- posing, vamping, body-painting and Vogueing might be a sport to Madonna, or to Ah-nold, but not to moi) but we can't argue the fact that Mr. Pittman is not a world-championship-caliber back. Whatever else he is, he isn't that. He has a ring; but remember, the Bucs had three pick-and-goes in the last Super Bowl. That's 21 points from the defense, enough to win.

And whatever happened to Thomas Jones? Gru-Dog has an eye for wides and cubes and maybe O-linemen, but maybe he should bring in Bobby Mitchell, ex-Redskins exec now brooding in exile, to show him what a RB with upside looks like.

Look at the numbers from last Sunday's division-salting 27-24 win over Tampa, at Carolina. Carolina made hay all season by running the football, mostly with Stephen Davis, but also DeShaun Foster, who I always liked at UCLA. Not only does a crisp running game make the O-line chipper -- they get to fire into the defense, instead of the other way around, instead of always back-pedaling in pass protection and getting struck about the head and body -- it winds clock, allows a D to rest, tilts field position, and generally works.

For all the plays Keenan McCardell has made for the Bucs -- and he has made a few, including the Rice-like fourth-quarter TD catch on Carolina -- the Bucs would've been better off with Fred Taylor.

If you don't believe me, ask Colts' rookie safety Mike Doss. He's the one with Fred Taylor-brand tire tread marks all over his body. T.O. my a**, somebody get this guy a Gridiron shoe.

Fred Taylor
The Bucs need someone who can giddy-up like Taylor.
I've already consulted on this matter with the aforementioned Jim Brown, and with Bobby Mitchell. First (as he would insist), Brown.

"Who do you really like among today's running backs, Jim?" I asked, expecting to hear the normal and quite reasonable litany of Priest Holmes, Marshall Faulk, and Ricky Williams, a soupcon of Jamal Lewis, perhaps a dash of Ahman Green, a pinch of A-Train Thomas, any and all in no particular order.

"Fred Taylor," Jim Brown muttered.

"Don't know nothin' about no Fred Taylor, do you?" Jim Brown said. "Fred Taylor's the package. Fred Taylor's a man. He's got a few miles on him now, but did you see that game-winning run? Did you see the 360 he did in the backfield before he ever got to that rookie, Whatshisname?" (And take no offense, young grasshopper Doss: To Jim Brown, every rookie is "Whatshisname.")

"Fred Taylor's also hurt all the time," I said blithely. I must've blanked out for a minute and thought I was talking to Bobby Mitchell, Dog, or one of my insouciant Page 2 contemporaries.

I was immediately reminded of my gross error. Jim Brown looked at me the way Conan the Barbarian looked at evil wizard Thoth-Amon, or whatever his name was. James Earl Jones played him (Thoth-Amon, not Jim Brown) in one of the Conan movies, I do remember that much. (Man, I used to devour those Robert Howard "Conan" books when I was a kid; I would read them and think to myself, "Wow -- this dude is the white-guy Cimmerian version of Jim Brown!" Seriously. I did do that. I mean, not that you care.)

"I don't care . . . " said Jim Brown. "I said, Fred Taylor!"

I hear you, Jim. And even if I don't, Mike Doss does. Now Jon Gruden does, too. As for Bobby Mitchell . . . he's still brooding.

So. The Bucs' problems stem from not having a horsey. Without a horse RB to ride, even when they move the ball, they turn it back over to the opposition double-quick -- quicker than they should. In all five of their losses, the Bucs surrendered more possession time to the opposition. Factor in losing the edge, that hangover most first-time Super Bowl winners suffer, the nagging injuries all teams suffer (Jurevicius, Alstott, Lynch for a time) and the vagaries of NFL justice and war, and what you've got is finger-pointing time.

A lot of those surplus and now-obsolete (?) styrofoam Tampa Bay No.1 fingers will be pointed at O-tackle Kenyatta Walker, who has found more ways to block illegally in pass-protection than modern man knew existed. Illegal hands to the face, illegal holding, illegal noogies and wedgies and face-farting -- Walker's done it all.

But be not deceived. When drive-blocking, Kenyatta Walker is a different animal. And if drive-blocking for Fred Taylor, Kenyatta Walker jumps into a phone booth and emerges as Jonathon Ogden. But when pass-protecting, or run-blocking for a Mike Pittman . . .

Is Loserville Bay now the new home for the late, lamented, world champion Bucs? Loserville Bay Bucs? Not so fast, Panther breath.

I say the Philadelphia Iggles and Tampa Bay Bucs may still be pound-for-pound the best in the NFC, and one of those two are the only NFC teams that can give either the Kansas City Chiefs or Tennessee Titans, the two best teams in football, a decent game.

The Carolina Panthers? The Dallas Cowboys. Oh yeah. Them, too. I guess. Oh, I give Carolina all the regular-season dap in the world. But would you honestly put your money on them against the Iggles or the Bucs in a dense, barely breathable playoff atmosphere?

We'll see, come January, won't we?


In the interests of fair and balanced sportswriting, which, frankly, I've rarely seen implemented on these or any sports pages, here are notes on What's Happening Now in R-Dub's Sport-O-Rama.


8 WEEKS -- And counting until the first R-Dub and Road Dog NBA Chronicles column. Dog can't wait. Although you probably can.


Brock Berlin
Berlin had 14 minutes of fame in high school and used up the other one with Miami.
BROCK BERLIN -- Jeff George, without the arm. Face it, the kid came out of a parochial high school "powerhouse," that term being relative, because it was in Shreveport, La., not exactly the football capital of world. He jumps ship in Florida when Spurrier bails, and then he gets the Miami job handed to him on a plate. But sooner or later, the road map runs out, and then you've got to hack your own way out of the jungle. Sooner or later, you have to actually play.


KELLEN WINSLOW JR -- A little boy lost, kind of a scared little kid, Harry Potter trying to act all hard, and given by wizards the body of Achilles and a father more demanding than Marinovich. Prince of Darkness Skip Bayless in San Jose reminded me that the kid has also been watching T.O. act out and get nothing but sweet commercials out of it. I mean, the kid looks like he can add, a little. Maybe this is how he now thinks a star talks. No wonder the kid has outbursts. No way his mind could have caught up to his body yet. He may be Shockey waiting to happen, but let's get off the boy's back just for saying he was a " #$@&! soldier!" after a loss. He should apologize? Maybe the old men who send young men Winslow's age off to war are the ones who should apologize, eh? If he turns out not to be able to play, then I'll get on his back. Beside, if we think football is not our little approximation of war, then we're the ones in denial. Just how many major surgeries were needed last year in NCAA D-1 football, not to mention the NFL?


MARK CLAYTON (NO, NOT THAT MARK CLAYTON), OU BOOMER SOONERS -- Larry Fitzgerald without the press. QB Josh White may win a Heisman, but I've not seen greatness at QB without at least very goodness on the other end of the throws.


WOMEN'S TENNIS IS BETTER, MORE COMPETITIVE, AND COMPLETELY OUTPERSONNELS THE KNICKS, THOUGH IT BREAKS MY HEART & KNICK MANAGEMENT'S COHONES IN HALF TO SAY SO -- And statuesque Amelie Mauresmo just made it even more interesting at the WTA Tour Championships out in L.A. by out-hammering Justine Henin-Hardenne, 7-6 (7-2), 3-6, 6-3. Good stuff there. Double H, the little Belgian piece of rubber, may be the best pound-for-pound female athlete in the world not on steroids. That woman has a jet, although I can't say where, else the verbiage police will pounce (and to think, this used to be Page 2, where people like yours truly and the scurrilous, scandalous Hunter Thompson came for political and prosaic asylum), and the lateral movement of, well, Fred Taylor -- her legs are so strong she can stop on a dime and reverse direction in a blink, moves that would send the average person to a hosptial with all kinds of strains, hernias pulls and stress fractures.

Henin-Hardenne has the physical makings of greatness -- a perpetual motion engine, just a great motor, all the shots you want, serve-and-volley when called for, low, hard, punishing groundstrokes, precision passes, baseline game, net game, reflexes of a housecat. Oh, there's a reason she's No. 1, and she is No. 1 in my book. She makes Kim Clijsters look like an American boy. If she displays the implacable confidence of a Navratilova (who, I believe, thinks she could take the Williams sisters), she makes for compelling theater.

Throw Venus and Serena into the mix, add Jennifer Capriati to the blend, and you got our attention at the majors. Andy Roddick? Oh yeah. Old boy needs a foil; and, apparently, noted Australian twit Lleyton Hewitt is not it, though Russell Crowe can play him in the movie. Russ Crowe can play anybody in a movie, as long as you've got $20 mil laying around for him to scarf up.

Ralph Wiley has written articles for Sports Illustrated, Premiere, GQ, and National Geographic, and many national newspapers. He was one of the original NFL Insiders on NBC. His many books include "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir," "Why Black People Tend To Shout," "By Any Means Necessary: The Trials and Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm X" with Spike Lee, "Dark Witness," "Best Seat in the House" with Spike Lee, "Born to Play" with Eric Davis, and "Growing Up King" with Dexter Scott King and the children of Martin Luther King Jr. He contributes to many ESPN productions, and bats cleanup on a weekly basis for Page 2.