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Holcomb haunts former team

Tampa Bay has been the cradle of quarterbacks for the NFL. Steve Young, Doug Williams and Vinny Testaverde went on to Pro Bowl careers after leaving the Bucs.

Dare we add Kelly Holcomb to the list?

Holcomb spent parts of two seasons in Tampa Bay as a free agent from Middle Tennessee State and was released four times until he found himself out of football after being released in training camp in '96.

Before Sunday, Holcomb had not thrown a pass in a regular-season NFL game.

But he nearly pulled off one of the league's biggest upsets Sunday for the Colts.

Holcomb entered the game with 4:46 left in the first quarter after starter Paul Justin sustained a dislocated middle finger on his left hand after being hit by linebacker Rufus Porter.

His first attempt was incomplete to Marvin Harrison. But Holcomb warmed up to complete 19-of-30 for 181 yards and lead the Colts to 18 unanswered points and nearly their first victory.

"I'm so happy for him," Bucs quarterback Trent Dilfer said. "I feel so bad they lost for him. Obviously, I'm glad we won. I saw Kelly went to the World League, played really well there and it hurt him with us. Because when he got here, he was physically and mentally drained. He had a horrible training camp. It really wasn't his fault. But you always saw something with Kelly. He had the physical gifts and he had the poise and the confidence in himself.

"When he went into the game, I looked at Scott Milanovich and I told him, you and I know he's going to play well."

Milanovich, the second-year backup from Maryland, beat out Holcomb for the third quarterback spot in training camp in '96 after Holcomb's return from a season with the Barcelona Dragons in the World League.

Holcomb stayed patient until he finally was signed by the Colts late last season. He was activated from their practice squad Dec. 12.

"The guy made plays for them today," linebacker Hardy Nickerson said. "He was able to hit the short routes. He wasn't trying to make the big play, although he threw a couple bombs. But for the most part, he was satisfied with hitting the running back on check downs and picking up 4 or 5 yards."

Holcomb said he thought he did a good job.

"I felt bad for Paul, but I was glad to get in there and show people what I can do," Holcomb said. "I have a lot of confidence in myself.

"I'm pleased with my performance. I did some good things and I did some bad things. But I don't feel good because we lost."

Unfortunately, it was Holcomb's fumble on the Bucs' 5 during a botched play-action fake in the fourth quarter that may have cost the Colts a victory.

Tony Dungy, the Bucs coach who cut Holcomb, said:

"Kelly Holcomb was a guy that was with us for a year and I was very proud of him, the way he played under adverse circumstances. He did a tremendous job. And when Kelly was with us, we liked him. He's a very poised guy and we knew he could come in and play well. I didn't get to see him after the game, but I told Paul Justin to tell him I was very proud of the way he played, I know he wanted to play well against us and he did."

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