QB John Reaves on why he chose to play for the replacement Bucs
Since you might not be able to tell who the Bucs' fill-in players are without a roster, here are a few facts about one of them - quarterback-to-be John Reaves: He hasn't thrown a pass in two years, not including a few spirals aimed recently at Lakeland Evangel Christian receivers. He still huddles with colleagues to plot new and inventive ways of reaching paydirt, albeit as a real estate salesman. At 37, he will be one of the oldest players in the National Football League.
But Reaves, the former University of Florida and Tampa Bay Bandits star, still plans on reporting to One Buccaneer Place on Wednesday as a signed free agent to replace the striking NFL players. ``I've weighed all the pros and cons of it and prayed quite a bit,`` Reaves said. ``And I believe the pros of getting a chance to play again outweigh the cons. I empathize with the players, having been a member of the union. But being in the business world now, I also see where the owners are coming from. They're the ones with all the risk. I'm not going to get into who's right or wrong. I just know I have a chance to play and it's a big opportunity.``
Providing the strike continues until Oct. 4 - the first day the replacement teams are scheduled to play - Reaves would have to be considered an anomaly even among the pre-strike signees. Most are recent draft picks or free agents out of college who were cut by an NFL team during preseason. Reaves hasn't practiced with a professional football franchise since the Bandits ended their 1985 season. Thirteen months later, after the USFL had switched to a fall schedule and Reaves signed to play for the Orlando Renegades, the league went belly up.
James Ramey, a former defensive end at the University of Kentucky who played briefly for the St. Louis Cardinals and last played for the Bandits in 1985, said he never expected to put on shoulder pads and a helmet again. ``I honestly felt my playing days were over,`` he said. ``But I've got that feeling again that tingle up and down my back that I only get from football.``
And none of the newly signed free agents expressed much misgiving about the circumstances of their second chance to make a NFL team or the uncertainty of the length of their stay in Tampa.
``I have a lot of friends in the NFL and I hope the strike ends real soon because the guys on the 45-man rosters worked real hard to make it,`` said Herkie Walls, the former Houston Oiler who was in the Bucs' camp this summer. ``But people will understand us wanting to make the most of another opportunity.``
Lee Paige, a former defensive back from Florida State who was twice unsuccessful in earning a job with the Bandits, said he's unconcerned about the name-calling that is sure to follow. ``That stuff doesn't bother me,`` he said. ``I'm a college-educated man, an adult and I'm free to choose. I just want to play football and, besides, this is a dog-eat-dog world.``
None of which seems to bother the veteran Reaves, who has remained in excellent physical shape and appears to have no qualms about crossing an NFL picket line if it means one final chance of finding his lost football fortunes.
``Some people golf or play tennis, but my hobby is running and lifting weights,`` Reaves said. ``So I'm in excellent condition. I'm on the school board at Evangel Christian and we've initiated a football program there, so I've been throwing quite a bit in practice a couple days a week. Since all this came about, I've intensified my throwing and my arm is as good or better than it ever was. I think I have a lot to offer. Probably the best thing is experience. Having played 12 years, I've probably seen every defense imaginable.``
Reaves has also seen the NFL Players Association flex its considerable biceps before. In 1974, he was part of a demonstration of player unity at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. ``One of the dumbest situations I've ever been in in my life is when I was on the picket line holding a sign,`` Reaves said. ``All the players were screaming and hollering these slogans and we wore these T-shirts - some of them were pornographic. I probably still have one somewhere.``
But what Reaves doesn't have is many opportunities left to prove he can still play pro football. Of course, all strikes come to an end sooner or later. And unless current NFL players wind up sharing the same fate as, say, the air traffic controllers a few years ago, Steve DeBerg and Vinny Testaverde will be coming back to work one day.
So where will that leave Reaves? ``I don't know,`` he said. ``There's so many different things that can happen that it isn't worth worrying about. All I can do is take it a day at a time. I just know I go in (Wednesday) and if I get a chance to practice or even play - great. I might show them something. When the other guys come back in, maybe they'll decide to keep me around.``
Certainly that hope is shared by three of Reaves' former Tampa Bay Bandit teammates, Chuck Pitcock, James Ramey and Fred Nordgren, who also signed free agent packages with the Bucs. ``I'm excited about playing here again,`` Reaves said. ``Having a chance to play with the Bucs in front of the hometown fans and in Tampa Stadium again is a tremendous opportunity.``
Or as Pitcock said Monday, ``I'm not doing this out of spite. I'm doing it out of necessity. I never thought my athletic career was over in the first place.``
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times October 1987