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Lots of bad memories for Tampa Bay Buccaneers in San Francisco

Defensive end Todd Kelly and the 49ers battered Bucs rookie quarterback Trent Dilfer, a surprise starter on Oct. 23, 1994. “To this day, I have no idea why,” Dilfer says of Sam Wyche’s decision.

Associated Press (1994)

Defensive end Todd Kelly and the 49ers battered Bucs rookie quarterback Trent Dilfer, a surprise starter on Oct. 23, 1994. “To this day, I have no idea why,” Dilfer says of Sam Wyche’s decision.

Perhaps the problem is the distance, and perhaps it is the destination. Perhaps it is altitude, and perhaps it is aptitude.

For whatever reason, there is something about a trip to San Francisco that seems to drive the Bucs batty. Full-blown, unquestionable insanity.

As in Keyshawn crazy.

As in Simeon screwy.

As in Wyche wacky.

So many bad things, and so many strange things, have happened to the Bucs when they've visited the city by the bay. Say what you want about Tony Bennett's heart, but as a franchise, the Bucs lost their heads in San Francisco. Everything else, too.

This was the place where Keyshawn Johnson had his meltdown, and when Simeon Rice had his lost weekend, and when Sam Wyche decided it was perfectly logical to start rookie Trent Dilfer against the best defense in the NFL.

This was where Jeb Blount started his first game, and Mike Rae started his last game, and Jack Thompson started his best game, and every time, the Bucs lost. Frankly, it doesn't seem to matter whom the Bucs start at quarterback. They are 1-11 in San Francisco, and the 11 losses belong to 11 different quarterbacks.

This was where the Bucs lost games to Joe Montana and Steve Young. And also to Cody Pickett and Shaun Hill. This was where they lost when they had clinched the playoffs and when the playoffs were on the line. This was where they lost to terrible 49ers teams and to terrific ones.

"I don't know what it is," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said. "We've just never played well out there, and not for any particular reason. It's a kooky kind of place, man. It's bizarro world."

Evidently, it also drains a man's memory. Barber swears he can't remember a thing from his three games against the 49ers. Normally a man of perspective, a man with complete recall, he draws a blank.

"Selective amnesia," he calls it.

Former Buc John Lynch, on the other hand, remembers just fine. After all, he almost died there.

It was in 2003, Lynch's final year with the Bucs, and Lynch was in the bottom of a pileup. Linemen were laying across his arms, and Lynch had no choice but to wait for them to get off him. That's when he felt Terrell Owens' arm pressing down hard against his neck.

"I thought I was going to die," Lynch said. Evidently, Owens had been ticked off after Lynch hit Garrison Hearst the previous season, and he was intent on taking it out on Lynch's windpipe.

"I've never been so mad on a football field," Lynch said. "The rest of the game, I was trying to kill him. They say don't take it personally, but yeah, I took it personal. I was going to get him."

And did he?

"I tried, but we couldn't catch him."

Then there was Rice going AWOL. There have been few characters quite like Rice, who had a habit of picking which flights and which meetings he was going to make. But in 2005, the Bucs decided to send Rice home after he missed a meeting.

Rice didn't exactly apologize, either. The following week, he talked glowingly about how wonderful the trip home was because he had been bumped to first class and he had "lots of magazines" to read.

For Rice, that was the beginning of the end. He played eight more games for the Bucs before being cut.

It all sounded familiar, because two years earlier, Keyshawn Johnson had blown up after a loss to the 49ers, in which he had only one reception for 4 yards. Johnson later said then-coach Jon Gruden had offered to pad Johnson's stats late in the game, but Johnson walked away. He missed the team flight home.

That, too, led to a bad ending. After four more games, Johnson was suspended for the season then traded.

Yet that all pales in comparison to Wyche's decision in 1994 to start Dilfer against a 49ers team that went on to win the Super Bowl.

"To this day, I have no idea why," Dilfer said.

Neither did the other players. Lynch remembers the rest of the team didn't quite believe Wyche would go through with it. In the walkthrough the day before, Lynch remembers thinking, "This isn't going to be pretty." And it wasn't. Dilfer hit 7 of 23 passes for 45 yards.

"My best pass was my first one," Dilfer said. "I threw it about 40 feet over the receiver's head out of bounds."

To make the story even stranger, Wyche didn't exactly bench quarterback Craig Erickson for the game, either. Erickson had a contract that paid him a $10,000 bonus for each start. So Wyche started Erickson at wide receiver, as if to make the 49ers fearful of a trick play. Instead, the Bucs ran Vince Workman up the middle for a loss of 4. Oops.

But that was vintage Wyche, who was forever tinkering with West Coast trips. Lynch remembers a trip when Wyche was determined to make sure the Bucs weren't dehydrated by the trip — so he woke the players every hour to drink water or Gatorade, which resulted in a plane filled with ticked off athletes.

Former defensive lineman Brad Culpepper remembers when Wyche forbade tight shoes, because a person's feet swell on a long trip. Dilfer remembers Wyche banning headphones because he had read they make people tired.

"Poor Sam," Culpepper said. "Everything he tried to do to give us an edge ended up hurting us. He's a good guy, but he was always looking at the frame and not the picture."

When it comes to San Francisco, that has been the case since the Bucs gave Blount his first start. Blount, a quarterback who claimed to have learned to pass by throwing footballs at cattle to herd them, lost. In the years that followed, so did Rae and Doug Williams and Thompson and Steve DeBerg and Chris Chandler and Vinny Testaverde and Dilfer and Brad Johnson and Chris Simms and Jeff Garcia.

In that time, only Williams (who was 1-1 in San Francisco) beat the 49ers on their turf — with the help of a Garo Yepremian field goal in the final minute. The opposing quarterback was a kid named Joe Montana, making his third start.

Strange things happen, in other words. Like a game-clinching drive led by a quarterback named Cody Pickett in 2005. Like the 49ers entering back-to-back games against the Bucs with 1-13 records and winning both times. Like Gruden resting his regulars in 2005 for the upcoming playoffs, which didn't seem to help when the Bucs lost their first playoff game.

"There has been a lot of strange stuff," Lynch said. "Maybe it takes too much time to get there and you think too much."

Sunday, the Bucs try again. They have another coach, and another quarterback, and another chance.

Just a thought, but if I were Raheem Morris, I would tell my team that it was in Buffalo.

Lots of bad memories for Tampa Bay Buccaneers in San Francisco 11/20/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 20, 2010 4:48pm]
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