It was the tiny tot watching cartoons in Tony Dungy's office
last Friday who really put into perspective the legacy of losing
that Dungy is up against as the new coach in Tampa Bay. "Tell us
who you're going to cheer for on Sunday," Dungy said to his
four-year-old son, Eric.
"The Minnesota Vikings, I love 'em. They're the best," Eric
hollered before really lowering the boom on the old man. "You
know, Dad, the Bucs never seem to score a touchdown. Are they
sick or somethin'?"
"Now," said a smiling Dungy as he messed up his son's hair, "do
you see what I have to deal with?"
Familial insurrection, though, is the least of Dungy's worries.
Although Sunday's 24-13 upset of the Vikings in a half-empty
Houlihan's Stadium gave Dungy his first win after five losses,
the Bucs still look like a lock to finish below .500 for the
14th season in a row. "The opponent here is expectations," says
the coach. "There have never been any."
Just how unaccustomed the Buccaneers are to winning was evident
on Sunday. A little rusty in the nuances of the Gatorade shower,
the players almost missed Dungy with the juice, hitting him on
the right shoulder and back. And when quarterback Trent Dilfer,
who completed 22 of 35 passes for 218 yards and three
touchdowns, hooked up with journeyman wideout Robb Thomas for an
11-yard score to put the Bucs up 21-10 with 9:19 left to play,
both players bumbled their way through the celebratory
procedure--standing there for a moment like a couple of orange
traffic barrels. You can't blame them, though. Dilfer, after
all, entered the game having thrown only five TD passes (and 30
interceptions) in his first 23 NFL starts, and this season he
had a fourth-quarter passer rating of 0.00 (yes, zilch). And
Thomas's two touchdown catches on Sunday matched the eight-year
veteran's output during his last five seasons in Seattle and
Kansas City. "We're still not a Super Bowl team by any measure,"
said Dilfer--in case anyone was wondering.
There were some hopeful signs on Sunday, however. Dungy's
attacking defense, which he created while serving as the
Vikings' defensive coordinator from 1992 to '95, forced two
fumbles, picked off a pass and sacked Minnesota quarterback
Warren Moon three times. "There have been games here when I hit
the field knowing we didn't have a chance to win," said the
Bucs' veteran linebacker Hardy Nickerson on Sunday. "That has
changed under Tony Dungy."
Dungy is the fourth coach in Tampa in the last six years, but
his defense is just one of the many instant upgrades the Bucs
received when he signed a six-year contract in January. With his
solemn, introspective and regimented approach, he has added
intensity to a franchise that was born in 1976 and promptly
embarked upon a 26-game losing streak. When John McKay, the
coach during that infamous first stretch, was asked about his
team's execution, he replied, "I think that might be a good
idea." Since then the Bucs have repeatedly butchered their teams
with some of the worst personnel moves in the history of
organized sports. In 1983 they let quarterback Doug Williams
sign with the USFL, and he went on to become a Super Bowl MVP in
Washington; they failed to sign 1986 first-round pick Bo
Jackson; and they traded Steve Young in 1987.
Last year they signed Dallas wideout Alvin Harper to a
four-year, $10.4 million contract only to watch him flop so
badly by the Bay--he has 15 catches so far this season--that he
has been called Maxwell House because he's ... good to the last
drop. And even though the Bucs' offense ranks 28th in the
league, the Tampa Bay front office is no longer negotiating with
holdout Errict Rhett, who rushed for 2,218 yards in his first
two seasons. Says Rhett's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, "It defies
logic that there is no sense of urgency with this team despite
all the losing and an offense nothing short of pathetic." The
Bucs, for their part, say they won't talk to Rhett till he
reports to play the final year of his current contract.
Rhett's absence has opened the door for rookie fullback Mike
Alstott, a second-round pick from Purdue who is tied for the
Bucs' team lead with 19 catches. Alstott's first score as a pro
came early in the fourth quarter, a 12-yard reception in which
he dragged 240-pound Minnesota linebacker Jeff Brady the final
four yards to put Tampa Bay ahead for good, 14-10. "Anything can
happen now," said the gung ho rookie. "Who knows? We might go on
an 11-game winning streak and finish 11-5."
Maybe then even Eric Dungy might cheer for the Bucs.
GIANTS AT REDSKINS
New York's defense is playing well but not well enough to carry
an offense that has scored a league-worst four touchdowns. It
will have its hands full with the 5-1 Redskins, whose new Hogs
(average weight: 317) are clearing the way for the division's
best running game.
JAGUARS AT RAMS
Jacksonville's big-play quarterback, Mark Brunell, has enjoyed
nine consecutive 200-yard passing games--the last player to do
that was Green Bay's Brett Favre in '92--and averages 27.2 yards
per touchdown toss. He'll face a St. Louis defense that has
allowed twice as many TDs in the air (12) as on the ground (six).
STEELERS AT OILERS
Thirty-five players were fined a total of $145,000 when these
two teams met just three weeks ago. Houston, which committed
four turnovers in that game, can win if it protects the ball and
holds Jerome Bettis below 100 yards.
BUCCANEERS AT CARDINALS
The Siesta Bowl. As bad as the Bucs have been, they are 3-0 in
their last three meetings with the Cardinals, a streak that
should come to an end this week.
RAIDERS AT CHARGERS
Can any defense that has Junior Seau really be the league's
fifth worst? The stats say yes, but San Diego will have had a
bye week to prepare for Oakland's improving offense. The Raiders
have gone three games without losing a fumble. They won't go four.
THE HOT SEAT
FAST TRACK TO NOWHERE
With his team's 30-27 overtime loss to the Oilers on Oct. 6,
Bengals coach David Shula suffered the 50th defeat of his
career, and because it took him only 69 games to get there, he
has achieved that dubious milestone faster than any other NFL
coach. Clearly, being the son of Don Shula, the winningest coach
the game has ever produced, is no guarantee of success. Here are
the coaches who most swiftly gained membership in the Fifty Loss
DAVID SHULA, Bengals
Games It Took to Lose 50: 69 (19-50), Career Record: 19-51 Was
four years old when his dad lost his first game and a freshman
in college when he lost his 50th; Dave did it in his fifth season.
JOHN MCKAY, Buccaneers
Games It Took to Lose 50: 72 (21-50-1), Career Record: 44-88-1
Won four national championships while coaching at Southern Cal,
then lost his first 26 games in the NFL.
TOM LANDRY, Cowboys
Games It Took to Lose 50: 74 (20-50-4), Career Record: 270-178-6
Eventually won the third-most games in league history, 14
division titles, five conference crowns and two Super Bowls.
MARION CAMPBELL, Falcons, Eagles, Falcons
Games It Took to Lose 50: 75 (24-50-1), Career Record: 34-80-1
In six seasons with the Falcons, who fired him after a 6-19
stint, then rehired him 11 years later, he finished last three
DAN HENNING, Falcons, Chargers
Games It Took to Lose 50: 77 (26-50-1), Career Record: 38-73-1
Attended same high school (Brooklyn's St. Francis Prep) as Vince
Lombardi, who lost only 35 games in his entire career.
THE NUMBERS GAME
REVERSAL OF FORTUNES
Through Week 7 the name of Seahawks running back Chris Warren is
nowhere to be found in the statistical ranking of top AFC
rushers. Running behind a patchwork offensive line that has been
revamped for the ninth straight season, Warren has rushed for
only 250 yards as Seattle has gotten off to a 2-4 start. He is
on pace to gain a total of 667 yards this year. Is this the same
Chris Warren who rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of the
past four seasons?
"It seems unrealistic," Warren says of his yardage. "It looks
like a misprint in the paper."
Meanwhile, Steelers back Jerome Bettis, who became expendable
after gaining only 637 yards with the Rams in '95, now runs
behind a better offensive line and after six games has nearly
matched last year's rushing total, with 633 yards.
Bettis understands Warren's plight and knows that a good line
means everything to a running back. "Chris hasn't become a
terrible back all of a sudden," says Bettis. Here's the
statistical tale of two backs going in opposite directions.
Avg. yds. NFL Yards per
per carry rank* game
Warren 4.3 10 84.1
Bettis 3.5 38 42.5
Avg. yds. NFL Yards per
per carry rank[**] game
[Warren] 3.0 30 41.7
[Bettis] 4.6 9 105.5
* Minimum of 100 carries [**] Minimum of 38 carries
The Steelers' Bill Cowher, who began his career as a coach on
the same day (Sept. 6, 1992) as the Bengals' David Shula (chart,
left), has as many career wins (51) as Shula has losses after
Pittsburgh's 20-10 defeat of Cincinnati on Sunday....In the
last two drafts the Jets have used the ninth and first overall
picks on tight end Kyle Brady and wide receiver Keyshawn
Johnson, respectively. Brady has only two catches this year, and
Johnson, who has been injured the last two games, has 21.
Meanwhile Wayne Chrebet, an undrafted free agent out of Division
I-AA Hofstra, who caught 66 passes in 1995, has hauled in 40,
including 12 in New York's 21-17 loss at Jacksonville on Sunday.
Among AFC receivers only Tim Brown of the Raiders, with 43, has
more receptions....The Redskins are 14 for 14 in the red zone
this year, with 10 touchdowns and four field goals, but they
entered Sunday's game at New England with the league's
26th-rated defense, a misleading figure. Although it had been
allowing 344 yards per outing, Washington's D was yielding a
league-low 11.2 points a game. The Patriots gained 382 yards and
scored 22 points against the Skins but still lost 27-22....
Panthers linebacker Lamar Lathon is the game's hottest pass
rusher of late, having collected 121/2 sacks in his last 12
games. Meanwhile Carolina running back Anthony Johnson has more
than filled in for the injured Tshimanga Biakabutuka. Johnson, a
seventh-year back out of Notre Dame, ran for 126 yards, his
second straight 100-yard performance, in the Panthers' 45-13 win
over the Rams....Eagles kicker Gary Anderson, 37, who was 0 for
5 on field goal attempts of 45 yards or more last year, kicked
four field goals in Philadelphia's 19-10 defeat of the Giants
and is 3 for 3 from beyond the 45 this year....Each week the
NFL selects an offensive and defensive Player of the Week from
both the AFC and the NFC. The Broncos, the league's top-rated
offensive team, has failed to have a single player win offensive