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Dilfer passes elite QB test

There are economic indicators and there are popularity indicators, and there's no doubting Trent Dilfer's GNP _ gross national popularity _ is on the upswing.

With the NFL Quarterback Challenge serving as a backdrop Saturday, Dilfer showed he is not only Tampa Bay's favorite quarterback, but also one of the NFL's most-respected passers.

Dilfer was wildly cheered when he was introduced at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex, and seconds later came the introduction of Green Bay's Brett Favre, the league's two-time most valuable player. In what may have been a first, Favre lost the straw vote as a round of boos filled the air.

Dilfer laughed as Favre spurred on the catcalls.

"I definitely had the hometown crowd today," said Dilfer, who finished sixth in the event but came within one throw of possibly winning. "It was nice to have. I'm happy they came out. I wish I could have finished a little higher than sixth, but, oh well."

No matter where Dilfer finished, he earned a place among the league's best. He became the first Bucs quarterback to participate in the showcase event in nine years and only the second player from Tampa Bay.

With a Pro Bowl season and a playoff victory, Dilfer arrived before the competition even started. CBS analyst and former Giants quarterback Phil Simms, on hand to help broadcast the event, agreed.

"Everybody quit judging him so harshly," Simms said when asked what Dilfer did to become one of the league's elite. "He was young and one thing comes with youth as a quarterback: stupidity and bad mistakes. It's a constant. A young quarterback is going to make mistakes, but we can't seem to handle that anymore, the fans and the press.

"Trent learned under fire and he brought it around last year. He understands. He started saying, "This thing is pretty important to do, because it does make a difference to the team.'

"

The famed NFL Quarterback Club came together at Disney for a week of activities, and for the first time the collection of signal-callers could express admiration for Dilfer's performance instead of just giving him a friendly pat on the back. Dilfer said the gathering was no different than any other, but a good season means you can show up with a little more bounce in your step.

"That's what we all strive for," said Baltimore quarterback Jim Harbaugh, a resident of Lake Nona, who won the contest. "You want to to do well. You want to have that kind of season, you know, him having a Pro Bowl season and getting a taste of the playoffs.

"He's on a good team and he's got a lot to smile about. I'm really happy for him because he's a good guy."

Dilfer had every reason to stick out his chest, but he insisted he is not going to let his rising prestige change him.

"I try to make sure successes and failures don't change me," Dilfer said. "I come to these and I'm just me. I want to have a good time and hopefully enjoy the experience.

"It's really the only time during the year we (the quarterbacks) all get together, talk, tell stories and enjoy each other as a group.".

The experience almost turned into a victorious one for Dilfer. Although he failed to win any of the four individual tests, he was second entering the final segment: read and recognition.

Throwing at targets that were attached to moving golf carts, Dilfer missed on his first throw, but produced 57 points with his next two. A score of 20 or more points on his final throw temporarily would have moved Dilfer into first place and ensured him of the runner-up spot. But the ball sailed high and hit the top of the target.

"I'm a little disappointed in the read and recognition because I kind of felt that's where my strength would be," Dilfer said. "I kind of got in the dumps when I missed that first one and felt like I had to start hitting the bull's-eyes and throwing it too hard.

"I knew coming in I probably couldn't win any of the events except this last one, but I could do really well in all of them. I felt I did a good job in three of the four."

Of course, the competition hardly reflects who is the league's best quarterback. Even Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen, who served as commissioner of the event, conceded the contest is more fun than anything else. Still, Dilfer's continuing progress has caught the eye of the former Washington Redskins quarterback.

The only question: Will Dilfer's stock continue to rise?

"He has the talent to do it, no question," Jurgensen said. "It's just up to him and how badly he wants it."

NFL Quarterback Challenge

Saturday's NFL Quarterback Challenge was recorded by CBS (Ch. 10) to be televised at a later date:

Player, team Points

1. Jim Harbaugh, Baltimore 238

2. Drew Bledsoe, New England 207

3. Scott Mitchell, Detroit 205

4. Brett Favre, Green Bay 197

5. Elvis Grbac, Kansas City 193

6. Trent Dilfer, Tampa Bay 188

7. Gus Frerotte, Washington 179

Kordell Stewart, Pittsburgh 179

9. Steve Young, San Francisco 140

10. Kerry Collins, Carolina 132

11. Steve McNair, Tennessee 118

12. Danny Kanell, N.Y. Giants 105

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