Drats! Rats Lament Life Without Bucs But Relish Their Role In History
Yesterday's news sat forlornly on the decaying back patio, near outdated weight sets. Once an iconic figure, his whiskers sagged. His chiseled front teeth were surrounded by a reddish-gray frown. His slender tail lay lifeless. From one eye, a teardrop fell. "My boys," he whispered.

A few miles away, the Bucs worked at their new fab-plex. But what of the orphans of One Buc Place?

"We've been with them since the start," Chester the brown rat, Rattus norvegicus, said. "Now it's like Mr. C with Parcells - jilted at the altar. No more A-Train. No more Booger. No more eating the rest of Monte Kiffin's sandwich when he leaves the room. Those guys were family."

Chester and his friends, Willard, Ben, Flopsy - the names go on and on - are as much a part of Bucs history as Booker Reese and Eric Curry. And: It wasn't their fault.

"The Black Death? Our bad. You got me," Chester said. "Typhus? Who do I make the check out to? But we didn't let One Buc run down. They wanted us in that wall. They needed us in that wall. Now they're too good for us. Be honest. If it was 'Rats on a Plane,' you'd line up to buy tickets."

Chester, the leader of the rat pack, has seen it all. He's proud of his part in Bucs history. He considers the Super Bowl win the most exciting day of his life, with the possible exception of when the Bucs had to throw out that huge "Welcome Bo Jackson" sheet cake. "Lived off it for three weeks."

Chester was in an air-conditioning duct three decades ago when someone said, "Hey, why not orange?" He was in the meeting room, chewing on electrical wiring, when Tony Dungy installed the Cover 2. "Everybody loved Tony," Chester said.

He was there the day the trainer cut off Alvin Harper's fingertip. "We all put on lobster bibs when that sucker hit the floor."

Chester was around during work stoppages, including 1987, when the Bucs brought in replacement rats. One time, Chester was scampering down a hall when Vinny Testaverde pointed and said, "Hey, a blue rat!" "And I knew then: Vinny had a problem," Chester said.

Four years ago, Chester was in a dumpster at 3:17 in the morning when an alarm sounded. A car pulled up. A two-legged mammal with blond fur emerged. Chester looked at the snarl on Chuckus gameafaces and hid three days.

But he also remembers halcyon afternoons sitting on his hind legs as Hugh Culverhouse fed him apple cores, corn kernels and Leeman Bennett's employee file. "That was the Hugh no one knew," Chester said. "We called him 'Papa Rat.'"

Monday, old Bucs marveled at their new home. Dave Moore discussed the rat "problem." Never more, Moore said. "It is over."

But Mike Alstott reminded us. "We won a world championship in the old place."

Rat problem? Chester recalled the week of the 2002 NFC title game against Philadelphia. Gruden had gone home. Chester stayed behind to nibble on his visor. But one of his claws accidentally scraped Play on Gruden's video remote. Philly's defense came on screen. Chester spotted something. He scratched Pause and left. "Next morning, Jon sees the screen," Chester said. "He sees if he sends Keyshawn deep and McCardell on an out route, Jurevicius is open over the middle."

Chester licked himself. "Seventy-one yards. Biggest play in team history."

Chester turned to crawl away. "No, don't thank me. I just hope they like the white tablecloths in their new dining room."

He has a tryout next week at Fenway Park. Or maybe the Port of Tampa will call. Maybe. Chester raised his proud, blunt snout. He can't stay mad. He's a fan. And he wanted an update on his all-time favorite Buc. "How's Tim Rattay looking?"

Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune 22 August 2006