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Here come the Buccaneers to London (again)
Posted Apr 14, 2011 by Paul Stewart
Updated Apr 14, 2011 at 10:21 AM
Two years ago the Bucs UK were fortunate enough to see their heroes play at Wembley Stadium. Club members who had long hoped for the chance to travel across the Atlantic to see the Pewter and Red take the field suddenly had the chance to do so without even looking at their passports.
The result was irrelevant. The atmosphere was magical and the events of the weekend with the club meal, the touch football and the tail-gate events were so special. And then came all the pictures and the NFL Films documentary to follow.
We all sat back, tried to take it all in and realised we had seen a once-in-a-lifetime event.
And then just like London buses, two came along at once. Two years after Tampa Bay gave up a home game to play host to New England in London, they seem likely to do it again in 2011 against the Chicago Bears. And even I had not seen this one coming in my wildest dreams.
Initially I felt very sorry for the Tampa-based fans. When you only have eight home games a year, then losing 12.5% of them is a lot. It is not like hockey and basketball which play an 82 game season and baseball were you keep playing until the Yankees win 100 games and make the post-season.
And what happened to the NFL’s promise of every team making one such trip? Putting up with the disruption, travel logistics and long flights to come across the pond to spread the word of football/sell more merchandise (delete where you think appropriate).
I guess the likes of Jerry Jones and Jim Irsay are not prepared to give up one of their precious home games after all in the name of collective responsibility after all.
But then you look at the fact that the Bucs did not sell out a single game in 2010 in spite of a 10-6 season and the youngest and most exciting team in the NFL. The Tampa area has suffered a lot from economic downturns and the Buccaneers want to capitalise on their marketing potential to a much wider audience.
Hence the likelihood of the Bucs featuring on the NFL’s “Hard Knocks” training camp show in 2011 and the chance to gain further worldwide acclaim from bringing their product to a wider audience. And the fact that they have the longest and most renowned NFL fan club in the UK has not hurt either.
So here we all go again. Delay those holiday plans to Florida for the official Bucs UK trip, prepare for another weekend of events with the club and the team, and the chance to once again see Josh Freeman lead the offense on a London field. Just need to make sure I do a better job calling the plays this time round with Gene Deckerhoff.
You’ve been great, enjoy the Clash (London calling).
The ups and downs of being Josh Freeman
Posted Feb 23, 2011 by Paul Stewart
Updated Feb 23, 2011 at 09:31 AM
Right now everyone loves No.5. A great finish to the season, wins in the final two games and the future looking so bright that Jon Gruden has passed his shades on to someone else. But it hasn’t always been that way for the Bucs’ young signal-caller as a quick trip down memory lane indicates.
April 2009 - UP - Selected in the first round, Josh gets to bring his family, friends and 23 people who once lived down his street on to the stage in New York to meet Commissioner Roger Goodell. He then travels to Tampa as Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik’s first selection and does the traditional press conference without managing to get wound up by Rick Stroud of The St.Petersburg Times.
September 2009 - DOWN - Find himself No.3 on the depth chart behind Josh Johnson and the Pillsbury Dough Boy. After Byron Leftover loses his first three starts, the call comes for Josh to take over as starter but it’s Johnson not Freeman.
October 2009 - UP - Down 35-7 to the Patriots at Wembley Stadium, the call comes down to Raheem Morris to “go with 5”. Josh trots on to the field for his first live NFL regular season action.
October 2009 - DOWN THEN UP THEN DOWN AGAIN - He is sacked on his first pass attempt. He completes his first pass to Brian Clark but the play is called on Buccaneer radio by yours truly.
November 2009 - UP - After the bye week, Josh makes his first NFL start, throws his first touchdown pass (to Derrick Ward) and leads the Bucs to a 38-28 win over the Packers on Throwback weekend.
December 2009 -DOWN - Josh starts the remaining eight games and throws 17 interceptions in those games including five in Carolina and three more the following week against the Jets.
Off-season 2010 - UP - Firmly established as the starter, everyone praises his work ethic and attendance at One Buc Place as he strives to gain the necessary knowledge to start in the NFL and be successful.
Pre-season 2010 - DOWN - Throwing a pass in an exhibition game against Kansas City, he bangs his hand on a lineman’s helmet and has a thumb fracture. He missed the remainder of the pre-season and everyone wonders what this will do for his development and how the Bucs are going to struggle because of this injury.
September/October 2010 - UP - Freeman leads the Bucs to a 4-2 mark and comeback wins over the Browns, Bengals, Rams and Cardinals.
November 2010 - DOWN - Josh has two of his six interceptions in 2010 in one game against the Falcons and people start writing columns about his being in a slump and needing to pick his game up if the Bucs are going to succeed.
December 2010 - UP - Freeman merely throws nine touchdown and no interceptions in the final four games for stats that are just off-the-scale and the best in the NFL. The Bucs miss the playoffs but every TV and radio show wants a piece of the next young star in the NFL.
What all this goes to prove is that fans and sports writers have short memories and our lasting off-season image will be of Josh Freeman being a complete hero. Of course things can change quickly and one early 2011 game with a couple of picks will soon have the trolls and fickle fans out in full force to criticise him.
But for now, unless he is pictured at a Super Bowl being fed popcorn by Cameron Diaz, or gets beaten by TJ Rives in an off-season golf event, then there is not a lot he can do to spoil the great image that everyone in Buccaneer colours has for him now.
You’ve been great, enjoy the JoBoxers.
All these athlete quarterbacks who keep failing
Posted Feb 17, 2011 by Paul Stewart
Updated Feb 17, 2011 at 05:22 AM
We are just over two months away from the NFL draft which will take place whether there is a CBA agreement or not. All you need are owners and new players for this one. And if there is a lockout, then you can bet every player drafted will make some kind of replacement roster.
But aside from wild speculations, mock drafts are all the rage right now. OK so I lied about the wild speculations. Like the mock we ran earlier in the week that had the Bucs taking a defensive tackle in the first round. Haven’t these people heard of Gerald McCoy, Brian Price and Roy Miller?
The most coveted position in a draft by the media is of course the quarterback one. From the legendary 1983 draft where six went in the first round (of which three are Hall of Famers) to the three who included Josh Freeman in 2009, the top passers coming out of college are subject to more scrutiny than any other.
The term “franchise quarterback” is one bandied about and teams have gone into multi-year slumps based on mistakes made on passers at the top end of the draft (Cincinnati - Klingler, Smith, Detroit - Harrington, San Diego - Leaf etc).
But in recent years, it seems each draft has a real can’t miss running/passing player going in the first round who is “the next Michael Vick” (that should scare dog lovers everywhere) and who will revolutionise the position for the next decade. And they keep failing.
Trent Dilfer, who aside from being a first round failure as a franchise QB for the Bucs, is one of the best analysts out there right now and took part in a superb ESPN interview with Bill Simmons just before the Super Bowl in which he talked about scouting these players.
And his point was that too many of these “athlete quarterbacks”, the Vince Youngs, the JaMarcus Russells of the world, they have been successful in college based on their athletic abilities and not their heads. They have never had to truly read or understand a defense, so hence they fail when they get into the NFL.
Dilfer also put Michael Vick into that category as before his incarceration, he was exactly the same and “a horrible passer” according to Trent. But since Andy Reid got hold of him, Vick has learned to read defenses and his passer rating and ability as an all-round quarterback has gone through the roof.
I will brag a little here and claim that I called both Young and Russell as future busts from before they were drafted for the same reason. And I will have Cam Newton firmly in that category and potentially Tim Tebow too.
The likes of Josh Freeman and Ben Roethlisberger are athletic and can move around the pocket to extend a play, but they are doing it whilst continuing to read a defense. And they have the abilities up top to make it all work. Would anyone anywhere call JaBustus Russell (as Steve Careford now calls him) any kind of leader?
So when the first round rolls round at the end of April, someone is going to take Newton and is going to claim that his future potential totally outweighs any doubts over his passing ability or mental make-up. And now that Matt Millen is finally barred from ever selecting another player, you just know that Washington’s prize idiot Dan Snyder is going to pull the trigger on another athletic quarterback disaster.
The curse of Twitter
Posted Jan 27, 2011 by Paul Stewart
Updated Jan 27, 2011 at 11:26 AM
Jay Cutler comes out of the NFC Championship game injured and immediately the stories start about whether he was really hurt or not. The curse of Twitter now strikes the dumb American sports jock as it has done over here in the UK.
Because out come the likes of Maurice Jones-Drew and others who start posting comments criticising Cutler without knowing any of the true facts.
And then when the truth appears, Jones-Drew and others start back-pedalling faster than a cornerback in a zone, claiming they weren’t being serious/didn’t realise Twitter could be seen by everyone/were complete morons (delete where appropriate).
The main topic has been over Cutler’s attitude on the sideline which is not exactly what you would call inspiring. Again you can bring Josh Freeman in as a comparison in character and team leadership here. Well, actually it’s no comparison. Anyone want to take Cutler over No.5?
Twitter is a device for idiots to say things to the world without engaging their brains. Or in the case of Liverpool’s Ryan Babel, engaging a brain that is devoid of actual brain cells. And now the likes of MJD and other NFL stars have begun to realise that.
Juniors declaring for the draft
I hear on the grapevine that Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton is going to leave college and declare for the draft. I am amazed he could afford to turn down that much money to leave Auburn.
The Labour Agreement issue
I have a whole series of features on the labour negotiations between the NFL Owners and the Players’ Association ready to run as this is the biggest issue of the entire off-season. Both sides claim to be talking, both sides are posturing beyond belief and still we wait for serious developments.
And I don’t include some of Roger Goodell’s recent outbursts in that category. Only taking $1 in salary if there is a lockout, numerous press releases etc. In my view, anyone who is having to tell everyone what a great job they are doing, cannot rely on the facts to back up their performance and/or they have something to hide.
Goodell is a good Commissioner and has a tough job to do. But sending out global releases taking credit for moving the Pro Bowl before the Super Bowl “for the fans’ benefit”, it smacks of desperation. And Pro Football Weekly laid into him with both barrels last week.
If the owners want 18 games, then the players want something back. Some of the owners want help with the buge debts they have on their stadiums, the players have told them to get stuffed. And in the middle are the fans who just want football.
There will need to be give and take on both sides - that is what negotiation is all about. But the bigger picture here is bigger than just football in 2011, it is the damage that could happen to the sport with a lockout would be the same as baseball in 1994/95.
Guys take a leaf out of Pete Rozelle’s book - lock everyone in a room with no air conditioning and don’t leave until you get an agreement. No posturing, no success-claiming press releases, just results please.
You’ve been great, enjoy Otis Day and the Knights
Two weeks into the off-season and bored already
Posted Jan 20, 2011 by Paul Stewart
Updated Jan 20, 2011 at 06:26 AM
When do pitchers and catchers report?
Cold Weather Football
It seems to be an accepted fact that football games played in freezing conditions is just ideal. Ideal for who? Perhaps Buccaneer fans have been spoiled by watching games in beautiful warm weather in Tampa, but I find the idea of sitting outside for four hours in sub-zero temperatures about as appealing as sitting for that long with Nick Halling.
Images of players’ breath visible at the line of scrimmage, of players huddled in overcoats on the sideline, and of morons in the crowd with bare chests trying to get on the TV. it might do it for you but it sure as heck doesn’t for me.
I can understand geography plays a huge part and that outdoor cold weather games are a fact of nature in the likes of Chicago, Green Bay and New York. But as for the people who want to see a Super Bowl played in a cold weather city - you really are having a laugh.
Anyone attending the game sure as heck wouldn’t enjoy it so much. And the big money corporate people would soon find that there aren’t enough luxury boxes with heating to go round. The only people who like these sub-zero games are the people in those boxes, and the people sitting in their warm homes watching on television.
Who to root for in the playoffs
Most of you are well aware that I don’t give a monkey’s about non-Buccaneer football. And my total viewing time for the past two weeks has been about 40 seconds when flicking channels. But I will watch the Super Bowl just on the off-chance that Erasure or Flock of Seagulls are invited at late notice to do the half-time show.
Of the four teams remaining, I have partial reasons for rooting for three of them. Expansion Buccaneer and friend Barry Smith was a 1st round pick of the Packers in the 70s and long-time buddy Rick Moore is a die-hard Chicago lover. And in the AFC, Hollywood Dodds loves the Steelers. But even though they’ve won fifty or so Super Bowls so far, there is no way I can root for that foot-loving egomanic in New York so I’ll want to see Pittsburgh lose in the big one to either of the NFC teams. So why exactly did I pick Jets and Packers in this week’s competition?
NFL Statistic of the Year
TV companies have been asked to increase their use of “frozen tundra” because the Packers have been on the road twice in the post-season. Look for additional mentions during the NFC Championship game even though it is being held at Soldier Field and not Lambeau.
Head coaching watch
So all the jobs are filled and none of them are now occupied by anyone called Billick, Cowher or Gruden. Of course we are all really glad Brian will continue to commentate on NFC games as he is the best out there by a mile, but the other teams turning down Super Bowl winners? Just maybe no-one is prepared to give Bill or Jon the kind of total control they seem to want.
So if we are going to have Cowher in the CBS commentary team for another year, can we please stop calling him “Coach Cowher”? Or maybe “ex-Coach Cowher” instead?
Another commentary thought - every time a top player (or Keyshawn) seems to retire, they join one of the analysis teams. The desks are getting too big to fit on camera now. “Hey and welcome to NFL 2017 and your summary team of Boomer, Tom, Keyshawn, Cris, Michael, Howie, Brett, Marvin, Tony, Jon and still unemployed Coach Cowher”. Ridiculous.
Bone to pick with Pro Football Weekly
Great magazine but how the heck does Scott Pioli win GM of the Year in Kansas City? How do their off-season moves compare to what Mark Dominik did in turning up starters and gems from anywhere and everywhere? And like the AFC West was anywhere near the challenge the NFC South was. Total Patriot and ex-Patriot bias as usual from PFW.
You’ve been great, enjoy Guru Josh.