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Bucs will let others gamble

Someday, perhaps, Tony Dungy will take a chance, too.

Someday, perhaps, he will stand in front of the cameras, and he will talk about risk vs. reward, and about second chances, and about belief in a player despite past transgressions.

Someday, perhaps. But not now.

In the NFL, trouble knows how to travel. It gravitates from franchise to franchise, next chance after second chance, spin cycle after spin cycle. No matter what the problems have been, if a player is big enough to carry his rap sheet, or fast enough to run from it, there always seems to be a place for him.

Lawrence Phillips is a 49er. Alonzo Spellman is a Cowboy. Kerry Collins is a Giant. Rashaan Salaam is a Raider. Cecil Collins is a Dolphin. So are Robert Baker, Tony Martin and Charles Manson.

Okay, we're kidding about the last one. But, really, shouldn't we be kidding about them all?

This is the philosophy. Coaches want to win .


. now. And so they spin it in their own heads. Don't they owe it to the rest of their players to take a chance? Don't they owe it to the fans? So they talk to the player, and they hear what they want to hear, and they decide that this time is going to be different. Which, as we know, it rarely is.

So does it ever happen here? Does Dungy, who stresses character more than most coaches, give in to the temptation?

Answer: Maybe.

"It would be rare for me," Dungy said. "Our general answer would be no. Our philosophy is that unless it was someone I had inside information or personal feedback, we're going to try to stay away from most of the players who have those kind of problems. You're playing the percentages, and most of the time, the percentages say you lose."

Still, teams keep hoping. Maybe the player will grow up. If not, maybe he will at least not blow up. New NFL slogan: Just because a player is wanted doesn't mean he isn't wanted.

The Cowboys needed a pass rusher, because Leon Lett is in trouble again, so they import Spellman. The Dolphins need a receiver, so they sign Martin and hope he has a good defense attorney. The 49ers need a running back, so they sign Phillips.

Would the Bucs have been interested? Say the injured running back was Warrick Dunn, not Garrison Hearst. Would the Bucs have given Phillips his latest chance?

"No," GM Rich McKay said. "Look at where we've been, and where we're going. Chemistry is going to remain a big focus for us. When we looked back at the problems this franchise has had, we found two things. We weren't solid enough in the draft, and we didn't put a big enough emphasis on character. We want to bring in the right guys and breed the right atmosphere."

That starts with Dungy, who doesn't believe in allowing bad seeds in his garden. For instance, when Randy Moss was taken by the Vikings a year ago, Dungy said he wouldn't have drafted him. For the time being, that has worked out for Minnesota.

"If we had the 49ers situation, we probably would have checked out Lawrence Phillips," Dungy said. "I would have been interested in talking to him and people who had been around him, and making a decision from there. You have to be convinced by the person, not by how badly you need to fill a position."

Someday, maybe, he takes a chance. Someday, he looks into a player's eyes and sees something that makes a risk worthwhile. Face it, he's been so reluctant so far, he has bought himself the benefit of the doubt.

Occasionally, it works out. If you remember, there was a time the Bucs seemed to be making a risky choice in Warren Sapp. For the most part, however, teams are handling snakes. Most of the time, they end up with bite marks.

Still, it seems to be happening more and more. Teams take a chance by giving one. Which led Bucs director of player personnel Jerry Angelo to look at a list of reclaimed problem players the other day. He came to one, sighed and shook his head.

"Before I signed this guy," Angelo said, "I'd play with 10 and lose."