That was the year that really wound me up!
The year of course started with the Bucs' playoff run and the magical day that was SuperBowl XXXVIII. But remember back to the first play-off game against San Francisco when I appeared on the Sky Sports coverage and that moronic Scottish idiot Andy Colvin decided to start a weekly column slagging me off? This was the man who couldn't get a Super Bowl ticket to see his Raiders play because the NFL decreed that "he wasn't a real gridiron journalist". Anyone who reads First Down could have told him that.

First Down was also the magazine that ran a fantasy competition throughout the 2002 regular season and I had several teams finish in the top 100 with the highest ranked at No.76. As a snide attempt at some kind of revenge for my seeing the Bucs winning the Super Bowl, they decided to award secondary prizes of Super Bowl caps to those who finished 3rd to 50th and Super Bowl shirts to the next 25. Like I really needed another Super Bowl shirt - how many do you think I came back from San Diego with?

First Down aside, and I have finally stopped reading their weekly drivel because even Mike Carlson's column cannot make up for the rest of the rubbish it contains, 2003 was the year that a new UK gridiron side was launched in conjunction with the NFL. But the level of league involvement in has to be wondered at when they have incredibly useful and informative polls such as "If West Ham goalkeeper David James played in the NFL, what position would it be?" - where was the option for sitting on his arse in the stands?

And of course this led on to bandwagon-jumping when the England rugby team won the World Cup in Australia. "Could Jonny Wilkinson head for the NFL?" came the ridiculous headlines from not just the tabloids. "Kickers in the NFL make in excess of $2M" said Neil Reynolds of trying desperately to justify his existence and conveniently forgetting that this relates to probably one player such as Jason Elam who has been in NFL for nearly a decade. This kind of crap media is not going to attract new fans to American Football - remember, it is just rugby with pads on isn't it?

The 2003 season itself was a tale of disappointment and frustration on the field for Buccaneer fans but many I have spoken to did not feel the same way as if it had happened in previous years. Any other time that the Bucs could blown a 21-point lead on Monday Night Football inside the final five minutes would have led to mass burnings of merchandise and opposing fans - 2003 became the year of "Oh well, at least there was the Super Bowl". I don't think this is a bad thing but if fans as devoted as ourselves can experience this complacency, you begin to understand why the intensity level of the playing field is not so high.

Before the Indy debacle though, there was the small problem of my two protected fantasy QBs, Michael Vick and Chad Pennington, going down injured in the same pre-season week, Neither would be back for three months much to the hysterical giggling of my fellow fantasy owners. Like I would ever wind them up if one of their key players got hurt...... And I managed to lose both games to Phil Jones meaning the Tossers Trophy (a model of Vinny) would be heading Congleton-way at the end of the season. Still, makes more room on the shelf for the actual FFL trophy I guess!

Some on the field frustrations in 2003 - F.U.A.T. takes the biscuit although had I actually been at the games this season, "Personal Foul, 67 offense" as Kenyatta Walker's jersey now says, would come close. The NFL asked for that to be put on the back to save the referees time during games. This is the same Kenyatta who drove into Selmon's restaurant on a quiet evening and parked his Hummer on the grass outside because he thought he was too important to find a normal space 10 yards away.

And Keyshawn. If I start on him, I want to include Michael Irvin here too. Irvin ruins ESPN's NFL Primetime show with his ridiculous comments most of which get proved wrong ("No way Arizona beats Minnesota in Week 17, I know what games like that are and they have one foot in the car to drive home for the winter"). Irvin was the only person who thought Keyshawn was right to act the way he did. Hang on, Keyshawn is a moody, mouthy receiver with a severely over-inflated opinion of himself ..... and Michael Irvin is ..... answers on a postcard to the usual address.

If I'm going to start on TV pundits, I really want to throw Joe Theismann and Paul Maguire from ESPN's Sunday Night coverage into this. Losing to the Jaguars at 5am in the morning live on Channel 5 was bad enough, but these two make you want to give up watching the sport all together. My ideal 2004 wish would be for this second-guessing and irritating duo to be forced to cover World League, sorry NFL Europe games, so I have two perfect reasons not to watch (you didn't think I could have a rant without mentioning that do you?)

Right, time to come down off my soapbox. There is plenty of room up there for anyone else who wants to have a rant. Just be prepared for some editorial discretion if you don't agree with every word I say!

Happy New Year!

Paul Stewart, January 2004