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As owner, Glazer is paying off

I still do not get a warm and fuzzy glow from the general direction of Malcolm Glazer's office. Furthermore, I have decided, I do not care.

He does not live in Tampa Bay. So what? He did not grow up here. Who cares? Unless you are a football player, or a coach or a general manager, working for him would leave you a little nervous. How many of us do?

This is the bottom line about Malcolm Glazer. We still don't know if he is a great guy. But isn't the guy starting to look like a great owner?

It has been a difficult battle for the Glazers, turning around public opinion. To many, he remains the out-of-towner, the man who played rough with the politicians, the man who was willing to move the Bucs. To many, he seems cold, calculating, more comfortable in the shadows than in public.

But with every check the guy writes _ and it's time for him to reorder from his bank _ the more Tampa Bay should be grateful for the day he bought the team. And yes, I am as surprised to be writing that sentence as you are to be reading it.

Tony Dungy: staying. Rich McKay: staying. Warren Sapp: staying. Bert Emanuel: coming. Derrick Brooks: staying. Trent Dilfer, John Lynch, Karl Williams, Jorge Diaz: all staying.

The common thread here is that none of these people, save the free agent Emanuel, had an expired contract. None of the players was leaving immediately. None of the millions of dollars' worth of signing bonuses had to be given unless an owner cared about a little thing like, say, winning.

In a time of relocation and stadium demands and free-for-all greed, it takes a lot for an owner to impress us. Glazer has. He was smart enough to recognize that Dungy may be the most popular man in the area code, a great guy who is molding what seems a great team. He was smart enough to see how McKay, the latest extension, can manipulate a draft, trading down for this player, up for that one. He has been smart enough to stay away from what he isn't smart about: the hands-on running of a team.

It isn't hard to imagine how the Culverhouse regime, where the coat of arms included a cash register, would have handled this. The players would not have had an offer until the last minute, and when they left, we would have heard how it was the system that made them good players to begin with. Emanuel wouldn't have received a phone call, because this was a receiver-deep draft, after all. And Dungy and McKay eventually would have found new area codes.

What we are seeing is not good ownership. This is, so far, great ownership with uncommon foresight. This is providing a franchise with the opportunity to make a run at a championship. And if it still bothers voters they built a stadium for Glazer, they should at least acknowledge he is pouring money back into the team.

Such acceptance has come grudgingly around here. The grand majority of sports owners are politicians at heart, hand shakers and backslappers who know how to say the right thing and where to line up for the photo. Most of the time, it is as phony as Hank Stram's hair, but it is the game. Glazer is not like that. There is a distance to him, something that makes you give him a wide berth rather than embrace him.

Still, you get the feeling he wants to be liked. Who doesn't? Every now and again over the past year, someone or the other in the Bucs organization has suggested a feel-good, isn't-he-the-kind-of-guy-you'd-like-to-

share-a-milk-shake-with sort of column about Malcolm.

The thing is, I'm still not sure he is. I'm not sure he has to be.

Glazer has to learn about the public eye. I still wish that instead of seeing him pose with a check to the Boys & Girls Clubs, we would see him with the kids. I wish he didn't make the office workers so nervous. I wish he didn't run up the score on ticket prices.

The bottom line on Glazer: If the Bucs do not succeed next year, it will not be because of money. How amazing is that to say?

And this: If owners worked under contract, I'd offer Glazer an extension, too.