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Meanwhile, it's back to work for deposed King

Published Sep. 9, 2005

You are Shaun King, and you are angry.

No, you are not "a bit disappointed" or "a little let down" or any of the other things you have been coached to say in public. You are full-blown, yell-at-the-moon, kick-the-couch ticked. Why wouldn't you be?

Today has been taken away, and tomorrow is being threatened. You are no longer the No. 1 quarterback of the Bucs. When you consider the way the team casts long, loving looks toward Ryan Leaf, you might wonder if you are still No. 2. You are being squeezed from above by one millionaire and below by another.

You are Shaun King, and you are yesterday's hero.

What happened? Why did it happen so fast? Fifteen minutes ago, it seemed, you were the King of Tampa Bay, the favorite son who turned Sundays into a hero's homecoming.

No one ever enjoyed being a quarterback more than you. There for a while, there was not a hand in the stadium that did not want to pat your back. You were the local kid who made good, the one with the knack for the game. Maybe you thought it would last forever. Maybe you relaxed.

Then you woke up one day, and you were no longer an answer. You were a question.

You are Shaun King, and you are confused.

Were you really that bad last year? Didn't the team win 10 games? Didn't it make the playoffs? Has everyone at the office forgotten about that? Have they forgotten the way you carved up the Rams? The Vikings?

Okay, okay. You didn't play that well all of the time. But for goodness sake, it was your first year as a starter. What did everyone expect? You played for an offensive coordinator the team couldn't wait to fire in a system you felt constrained you. What were you supposed to do? Break the handcuffs? Change the plays?

You are Shaun King. And a million thoughts such as these have to be going through your head.

Your team doubts you. It doesn't say it out loud, but its actions scream it. This off-season, the Bucs have spent $38-million to upgrade at quarterback. A team doesn't do that if it is happy with what it has.

If you overachieved as a rookie, however, it is clear the team figures you underachieved in your second year. If you are honest, you will admit there were games (Detroit, Chicago, Green Bay) where you seemed to disappear. There were others (Washington, the Jets, Philadelphia) where you could have played better. That's six of the team's seven losses. Overall, you completed 54 percent of your passes. Your rating was 75.7.

The up-and-down nature of your play became more obvious when the team noticed your work habits could be better, too. You should know better. There will always be quarterbacks who are bigger, who have better arms. They should not beat you at the blue-collar part of the game. To be outworked is unforgivable.

You are Shaun King, and you have to wonder how this plays out.

As a quarterback, one of your assets has been your confidence. Even now, part of you screams that this is still your team, that when the competition begins, you'll prove that you're better than Brad Johnson and Leaf. If the team wants to bring in Troy Aikman and draft Drew Brees, you'll beat them out, too.

That isn't realistic, of course. No NFL team starts a training camp with everyone at the same starting line. The Bucs wouldn't have paid Johnson the kind of money they did if he wasn't going to start. If he's upright, Johnson is the guy.

As for Leaf, who knows? The Bucs say they hope he can be exactly the kind of quarterback they've always cut, the one who has succeeded elsewhere. If so, that means that one of you eventually will replace Johnson, and the other will be Trent Green.

So where does that leave you? Slap between the millionaires, trying to overtake one without being overtaken by the other. Back on the bench, wrestling for the clipboard.

You are Shaun King, and you need to deal with it.

There will be those who will tell you that none of this is your fault, of course. You are a backup quarterback, and as a result your popularity has soared again. There will be those who will blame management and coaches, players and media. The temptation will be to believe them.

Remember, those aren't the people who shoved large stacks of money to the new guys. Your team sees problems in your approach. Maybe you need to see them too. This is not about feelings. This is not about loyalty or fairness or who did what for whom and when. This is about winning.

You need to realize that. You need to realize that history says that Johnson will get hurt and that Leaf will implode. You need to realize there will be another chance.

Oh, the bench is going to drive you crazy. You know what Smokey Robinson sang? A taste of honey is worse than none at all. You've operated your own team. You've been celebrated in your own town. It isn't going to be fun to see someone else do it.

Still, if you ever want to sit on the throne again, there is only one solution.

You are Shaun King, and it is time to get to work.