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O, curses again

Published Aug. 28, 2005

Today's forecast:

Loss of two.

Once more, into the ugly. There will be 4-yard passes. There will be 2-yard runs. Third down will show up, and it will be accompanied by 9 yards. Later, there will be punting.

Today, the Bucs offensive players return to the field.

And there they don't go again.

By now, you know them by sight and by blight. For 28 seasons, your eyes have ached to watch the Bucs' offensive players run in circles like the tiny players on an electric football board.

You have seen coaches who do not have maps and who will not ask directions. You have seen quarterbacks who cannot aim, linemen who cannot block and runners who cannot run. You have seen cobwebs on the goal posts and rust on the scoreboard. If you sit in the end zone, you have seen it all from a distance.

For the Bucs, it has always been thus. When it comes to offense, there are teams that fly and teams that march, teams that run and teams that roll. Then there is Tampa Bay, the parked car of the NFL.

No matter the coach, no matter the quarterback, no matter the season, it does not change. Offensive wizards do not make a difference, nor do Heisman Trophy winners or high-priced free agents.

Always, the Bucs play offense as if they were on a treadmill. Always, the path to the end zone seems to be up a hill, across broken glass and lighted by a bad moon. Also, there are black cats and broken mirrors.

Around here, offense has been some frustrating notion, a promise brought about by Sam and Mikey and Les and Clyde (the Four Horsemen). It has been a blend of Doug and Steve and Trent, who left to find success, and Alvin and Bert and Keyshawn, who never lived up to their advertising. There was Bo Jackson, who didn't bother.

Today, as you curse this offense, it is permissible to wonder:

Did someone really curse this offense?

Watch a team operate in the darkness for 28 seasons, and you start to wonder if something a little spookier than bad play-calling is going on. A hex. A whammy. A jinx. After all, the supernatural is the world beyond belief, and the Bucs offense is bad beyond belief. How can you not link the two?

This is not the first time it has been suggested that the Bucs were cursed. Originally, they tried to pin this on Doug Williams, the ex-quarterback now working in the team's front office. But the truth is the Bucs were bad on offense before Williams showed up, and they haven't healed since he returned. Obviously, it is time to widen the search.

So you wonder: Could Raymond James Stadium, and Tampa Stadium before it, be built on some sort of sacred burial ground? Did De Soto swipe doomed treasure? Do the Bucs dress in King Tut's tomb and go to the game in James Dean's Porsche? Is that ship in the end zone really the Black Pearl? As for those mysterious crop circles, are they supposed to look like a football field?

Just to be certain, I called Rodney Kite-Powell, the curator for the Tampa Bay History Center. He says there have been no archaeological finds to indicate a curse. On the other hand, he concedes the stadium land originally was pine trees and swampland.

"It was barren," he said. "Devoid of life."

Aha. What does that tell you?

Kite-Powell laughed. Then he talked for a while about Drew Field, the airport that existed not far from the stadium during World War II. It was a miserable facility. The story goes that Walter Winchell, the old radio correspondent, once said that if parents had a son serving in the Pacific, they should write him. If they had a son at Drew, however, they should pray.

In other words, this is ground where horses do not run and where birds do not fly. Also, where Bucs do not score.

This is Tampa Bay's affliction, the wart on its nose. Around here, the offense always has been too painful to see. The Bucs were shut out in the first game of their history, and in the second. They managed three field goals in the third. In all, they were shut out 11 times in their first 26 games (all defeats).

Over the years, the offense has resisted all cures. Joe Gibbs was the team's first offensive coordinator, and the offense was bad. Ray Perkins was once offensive coordinator for Don Coryell's amazing San Diego teams, and the Bucs offense was bad. Sam Wyche and his fastbreak Bengals kept the NFL Competition Committee up late, and his Bucs offense was bad.

Then came Jon Gruden, the offensive whiz kid of the league, the creator of mismatches. Gruden won a Super Bowl, but he has not cured the offense. No one has had this tough a time with a ring since Frodo.

Remember how frustrating last year's offense was with the turnovers and the penalties and the stalling at all the wrong times? Around here, those games are the good old days. Seriously. It was the most yards the Bucs have ever gained, and the 10th-place finish in the league tied for the team's best finish.

Did you see how bad the new offense, the Over-the-Hill-and-Far-Away Gang, looked in last weekend's opener? The players looked slow. They looked old. They looked like Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau hobbling after Ann-Margret in Grumpier Old Men.

In other words, they looked like every other Bucs offense over the past three decades.

Today, it continues. Once again, the Bucs offense will struggle and strain like a chipmunk giving birth to an elephant. Once more, it will hope for that rare, elusive game where it looks efficient, effective.

Around here, that's the real curse. People always hope for something better.

If only for a spell.