They have not won in more than a month. Twice in six games, they have been accused of loafing, once by their head coach. Home games are almost always blacked out, and more and more, you get the feeling that road games are being tuned out.
So how do you like your Bucs now?
Over 10 weeks, they have one of the worst offenses in the league, which is troubling because they also have one of the worst defenses. They still spend less than most teams in the NFL. Also, the defensive huddle breaks with Aqib, Albert and Tanard.
And let's ask again. Do you like this team?
That was one of the goals of the new regime, remember? The Bucs wanted to be embraceable again. They not only wanted to win, they wanted to admired, the way they were in the old days. They wanted kids to wear their jerseys, adults to wear their caps. They wanted to win back the hearts of Tampa Bay.
It was that way in the old days, remember? The Bucs would play on Sunday, and Warrick Dunn would give away a house on Tuesday, and Derrick Brooks would mentor kids on Wednesday, and Mike Alstott would make an appearance for charity on Thursday, and John Lynch would visit his foundation on Friday. They were not only fine football players, they were fine people, and even in weeks they didn't win, the community still cared.
Do you like them? Do you think they are fun? Do they entertain you? Do their results affect your mood? Here's a question: When referring to the Bucs, do you use the words "we'' or "us?''
Three years into the current Bucs era and there still seems to be a disconnect between team and community. It is as if the Bucs and their fans are still at arm's length, still trying to figure each other out.
Start with losing, because in professional sports, that's the easiest thing to dislike. The Bucs haven't won a playoff game since 2002, and sadly, they don't look close to getting back to a postseason anytime soon. This year, there have been many more times when they have looked like the 3-13 team of 2009 rather than the 10-6 team of 2010.
Much of that has come down on the head coach. Still, give Raheem Morris credit for this much: The schedule is harder. That said, a head coach is the last person who should bring it up. In the NFL, no one grades on a curve.
Remember how Morris bristled last year when anyone mentioned the Bucs weren't beating winning teams? If the schedule is a reason for the current underachievement, then logic says it was the reason for the overachievement of last year, and suddenly, the Bucs have devalued the success of 2010.
Besides, you may remember this: The Bucs beat San Francisco by 21 points last year. They lost by 45 this year. That doesn't have a thing to do with the schedule.
Of course, fans might like the team better if they could follow it more closely. Again, I understand why owners grasp the blackout rule so firmly. If I were an owner, I wouldn't want to give away my product either. That said, the blackouts, and the ongoing rhetoric, isn't helping team win back fans.
Then there is the roster, where most players haven't been around long enough for fans to develop an emotional investment. Ask yourself this: Except for Ronde Barber's, and maybe Josh Freeman's, whose jersey would you purchase for your kid?
Aqib Talib's? Albert Haynesworth's? Tanard Jackson's? Yeah, yeah. Talib's trial isn't until next year, and the team is more talented with him. Haynesworth is still more of a Band-Aid than a blueprint, and no, no one really considers him a mentor. (Let's hope). Jackson was an upgrade.
Still, I have to tell you, it was puzzling that Jackson not only was active his first game, but started. And he not only started, but was introduced. And he was not only introduced, but was introduced last and carried the team flag as he entered the field. It was a hero's return to the field, not the return of a guy who had let down his team by being suspended for drugs.
Just wondering, but was there a point when discussing these players that the Bucs wondered about their team image? Even a little?
You know what people like? They like effort. They like achievement. They like discipline. They like players who stand for more than games on Sunday. They like the impression that today is going to be better than yesterday, and tomorrow is going to be better than that.
They like young players, as long as they are improving. They like toughness, as long as it can be counted on. They like character, as long as it is genuine. They like home games, as long as they aren't based in London.
Also, they like owners who want to win as badly as they do.
Yes, it comes back to the Glazers. Why wouldn't it? There have been too many years of low payroll for anyone to believe it's a coincidence. There is nothing wrong with building through the draft, but when the drafts were as bad as they were in the Bruce Allen years, there are too many holes to fill without signing the right free agent or two.
So how do you rekindle a relationship with fans? First, you win. We all agree on that.
After that, the standards should be raised when it comes to character. No one expects Boy Scouts in shoulder pads, but it's time to reduce the size of the off-field headlines on this team.
After that, cut a loafer. Cut two. Cut as many as it takes until effort is no longer an issue. And the front office should stop acting as if they shouldn't be questioned. For crying out loud, the president gets questioned.
Also, stop talking about the schedule. If you want easier opponents, go coach in the Big East.
As for the Glazers, it is time to be more visible (and more audible) in the community. Convince people you have a blueprint to win. Convince people it ticks you off as much as it ticks them off. Oh, and spend a little money, won't you?
This is what the Bucs needed to realize. As tough as the economy is, there are other reasons the stands are no longer stuffed. If you want a community to embrace you, then embrace it.
The Bucs need to be good. They need to be efficient. They need to be entertaining.
For the good of Tampa Bay, they need to be likeable.
Judging from this year, they have work to do.