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Tampa Bay Buccaneers must rebuild fans' trust

First, they must rebuild the defense.

Second, they must reinvent the offense.

Most of all, they must replace the trust.

When today's organized team activities (read: practices) begin, expect the Bucs to hit the field running. There is so much to be done. There are holes to fill and doubts to erase and systems to learn and legends to replace and newcomers to consider.

Somewhere along the way, it would help if the team could start to recapture a little of a relationship that seems to have suffered over the years.

Once, the Bucs were as congenial as the neighborhood grocery. They were homespun and homegrown, friendly and familiar. They were much like Tampa Bay itself: warm, unassuming, easy to like.

Over the past few years, that changed. As an organization, the Bucs became colder, distant, secretive. Where once they seemed to embrace their community, they increasingly held it at arm's length. They became harder to like. They became harder to trust.

Now, with a new organization and a new start, it would be a fine time to rekindle the old warmth.

Now, this would be a good time for the Bucs to make Tampa Bay fall in love with them all over again.

Of course, there are fans who have never stopped pulling for the Bucs, and there are fans who think cold and distant would have been just fine as long as it translated into a few more victories.

On the other hand, the stands weren't as full late last season as they had been, and the season-ticket waiting list has disappeared. What does that tell you?

Does this mean the Bucs would be better off if Bruce Allen had shaken a few more hands and Jon Gruden had kissed a few more babies? I'm not saying that. In the NFL, mostly what matters are the scoreboard and the standings.

But, yeah, the relationship between a franchise and its community matters, too. Fans want more from their football team than victories. They want citizens. They want neighbors. They want players worth the admiration of their kids.

So what went wrong?

Without trying to kick the departed, perhaps part of it was that Gruden and Allen came from the Raiders, where everything up to and including lunch is done behind shadows and smoke in a locked room where all conversations are in code.

Perhaps another part was the constant influx of used quarterbacks and recycled receivers. The Bucs became a patchwork team, never building any real momentum as a franchise, and between you and me, it's hard to follow a team that is running in place.

Tampa Bay always has been a place that prefers to grow its own stars. Some cities don't seem to mind mercenaries, but Tampa Bay has always preferred players such as Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp, Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn, John Lynch and Ronde Barber. Around here, those have always been the brand names that made fans care the most.

Perhaps it was the shape-and-spin approach to information that made the franchise less trustworthy. To this day, no one knows why the Bucs insisted Chris Simms was healthy when he was not. To this day, no one knows why the Bucs waited until the last minute to release Simeon Rice. To this day, no one knows why Allen was so quick to dismiss police charges against receiver David Boston. No one knows why so many players left without as much as a goodbye, or why so many front-office workers couldn't wait to get out of town.

Along the way, something besides games was lost. Credibility was sacrificed, too. No business, especially one that sells its uniform shirts to the public, can afford that.

The good news is the Bucs seem to realize it. New coach Raheem Morris and new general manager Mark Dominik have spent a lot of time reaching out to the public in their speaking engagements.

"Not only do we know that we need to win back the community," Dominik said, "it's part of what we want to do."

True, much of that public has not forgiven them for releasing Brooks. And true, they re-signed tight end Jerramy Stevens and his troubled history. Still, did you catch the news the other day about receiver Anthony Mix? As soon as Mix was indicted on charges related to having sex with an underage minor, the Bucs cut him immediately. Would that have happened in the old days? Maybe, maybe not.

Consider it a start. There is no quick fix to a damaged relationship. These things take time.

So what do the Bucs need to do? They need to stand for the right things. They need to care about character. They need to build momentum through the progress of young players. They need to care about a community that cares about them.

Along the way, they also need to win. They need success on the field and off it.

Somehow, it doesn't seem like too much to ask.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers must rebuild fans' trust 05/11/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 20, 2009 4:46pm]
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