The Buccaneer back-up quarterbacks
Two weeks do not a career make, but there is a legitimate chance that thanks to Luke McCown, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may possess something they have very rarely had in their history: A quality back-up quarterback.
By quality I mean a back up that can go into a game at any moment and cause only minor disruption to the continuity of an offense. Think Don Strock and what he could do for the Dolphins when Dan Marino went down or what Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak accomplished for the Denver Broncos when John Elway was hurt.
Those two teams had exciting offenses that didnít miss a beat when Strock or Kubiak came in. Were the Dolphins or Broncos better off without their future Hall of Famers? Of course not. But Strock and Kubiak kept the wins pouring in. That is something the Bucs donít have much experience with.
Granted McCownís performance against the New Orleans Saints could have been a fluke, but to win a game on the road (in a dome no less) against the toughest divisional rival of the season was no small feat. It compares with what Shaun King accomplished for the team as a third string quarterback in 1999. Even though King went on to prove that his 1999 season was an anomaly, it is still the gold standard by which all other Buccaneer back-ups will be measured.
Starting quarterback Trent Dilfer was out. Back-up quarterback Eric Zeier was out. In comes third-string rookie Shaun King who helps guide a team to the NFC Championship Game. I understand the Bucs defense had more to do with the playoff push than King did, but letís not underestimate the important role having a calm hand under center was that year. If the Bucs had been forced to turn to say, Scott Milanovich or Steve Walsh (other back-up Bucs of that era) I donít know that the Bucs make the post-season much less advance to within a game of the Super Bowl.
Looking back throughout the history of the franchise a pattern of underwhelming back-up quarterbacks litters the roster: Jeb Blount, Mike Rae, Chuck Fusina, Jeff Komlo, Casey Weldon, Todd Philcox, Jeff Carlson, Steve Walsh and Scott Milanovich. Thatís not to say the Buccaneers havenít had some solid but somewhat flawed back-ups to go with the underwhelming few listed above.
Joe Ferguson was a good quarterback for the Buffalo Bills for many years and a very likeable man. By the time he came to the Bucs to back up Vinny Testaverde his best days were behind him. He never played badly when he would fill in, but he didnít have the ability to rally the Bucs or raise their level of play (but at the time neither did Vinny).
Chris Chandler never accepted being a back up and while I never questioned his ability (for all his talk, he was a decent quarterback) he was a bit of cancer on those early 90ís Bucs teams. A quality back-up should not petition for playing time in the press, belittle his coach in the press and make disparaging comments about the starter to the press. Chandler did all three of these things much to the teamís detriment.
Ironically the best back-up quarterbacks the Bucs had were when the team was arguably at its worst. Steve DeBerg and Steve Young battled back and forth in 1985 and 1986 for the right to lead the Leeman Bennett coached Buccaneers. Tampa Bay won a whopping 4 of 32 games during that span and both men spent their time on the bench recovering from the shellshock they endured while starting.
On the plus side both men were very supportive of each other and went on to bigger and better things after their time in Tampa Bay. Itís hard to really think of either one as a Tampa Bay back-up because of what they did throughout their careers, but neither one was really a full-fledged starter in í85 and í86 because the team was in such constant turmoil.
McCownís second start against Houston wasnít as fruitful as the one against New Orleans. However, McCown didnít play poorly or in any way cost the team a shot at the victory. McCown managed the game well, executed to the best of his ability and until the Bucs defense and special teams had their meltdowns kept the team in contention. Thatís really what one would expect from a back-up quarterback. Itís about time Tampa Bay fans got to see one!