What an incredible start
In the portable computer on which I write newspaper columns, there is no chip to handle 48-10 victories by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. What do I do?
This morning, I figured we'd all wake up and find the Bucs in a shower with Bobby Ewing. They would explain, ``It's all been a dream.``
Not this time. Sunday was no mirage, no Dallas and no bull. Suddenly, the NFL's most notorious pushover, a Tampa Bay franchise with 53 losses in its last 65 games, had the look of a world-beater.
Or at least a bird-beater. Steve DeBerg performed against the Atlanta Falcons as if heading for the Hall of Fame and not the Old Quarterbacks Home. Arising from a sickbed, he fended off a fever and ignored his aching back to play as though third-and-long was no challenge at all.
Bring me your Dan Marinos, your Phil Simmses, your Joe Montanas and your John Elways and maybe none among them will have four more accomplished 1987 periods than did the Tampa Bay quarterbacking elder whose future is supposed to be short-term. DeBerg was near-perfect. Had anybody wished to locate a man named Al Testaverde in the Tampa Stadium crowd, it should've been easy. His voice had to be the only one chanting, ``We want Vinny!``
But ol' dad Testaverde and his millionaire baby boy will have to wait at least until DeBerg quits completing 24 of 34 passes for 333 yards and five touchdowns. ``After the fifth touchdown,`` DeBerg said, ``I came off the field and said, `Hey, Vinny, I'm making some records for you to break someday.' `` So, for another week, the kid with the Heisman Trophy and the bank account remains the Bucs' quarterback of the future. ``The future,`` said DeBerg, ``is a long, long time as far as I'm concerned.``
Perhaps what happened Sunday was pure aberration, and not some miracle Ray Perkins-induced turnaround of long-running Tampa Bay habits. We can all think what we want. But, for 60 minutes in September, the Bucs were outlandishly handsome, both offensively and defensively. Atlanta, a city not new to burnings, took a Tampa Stadium torching that not even the most outrageous, most unrealistic Buc zealot could've predicted.
This time, it was the Bucs who looked like the champ, and the opponent who had the air of a beaten dog. Tampa Bay had a better passer, better catchers, better blockers, better tacklers and better pass defenders. On a hot afternoon, the Bucs were far superior to Atlanta in physical conditioning. And, when they needed to, the locals even got lucky on officiating calls. It was that total.
Too bad the ballpark wasn't sold out. Too bad 2-million Tampa Bay residents did not get a chance to watch on live TV. Then, they'd know for sure I'm not making this up. They would know the Bucs, at least for a day, were unbeatable. Honestly
Atlanta quarterbacks felt the unrelenting heat of a creative Buc pass rush. Tampa Bay's offensive line continually picked up Falcon blitzes, giving DeBerg sweet time to throw. Can you believe it?
Victory was total, and startling. The 48-10 onesidedness was as unanticipated as Florida snow flurries. From the opening kick, the Bucs couldn't have looked more secure had they been riding along in a Popemobile. In the first half, DeBerg faced third-and-7, third-and-8, third-and-9, third-and-11 and third-and-12 and every time the Bucs made a first down. Deep into the third quarter, Tampa Bay was 9-for-9 in third-down situations before DeBerg finally misfired on third-and-12.
Even then, nobody yelled, ``We want Vinny!`` Not even Al Testaverde. It was clear, to all, that young Vincent was maybe the only soul on the Bucs' roster who would not have some sort of heroic battlefield role. Perkins left the field with a Mona Lisa smile, which for him is raging jubilation. He congratulated all in his locker room, but then warned against reading too much into one game, no matter how remarkable. Especially with the Chicago Bears next up. ``We've got it all in perspective,`` said veteran linebacker Scot Brantley. ``We plan to keep working hard, absolutely taking them one at the time all the way to the Super Bowl.``
Hubert Mizell, The St.Petersburg Times September 1987