TAMPA — One play in, and he was everyone's darling.
One play in, and someday looked as if it may arrive sooner than anyone thought.
One play in, and you could hear the sound of a quarterback controversy in the distance.
So much for waiting, and so much for next season. For one play, Mike Glennon owned the hearts of Bucs fans. For one play, he was the answer to all questions.
On the first snap of his career, Glennon stood at his own goal, and he faded to the right, and he double clutched. For a second, you weren't quite sure what he was going to do. Then, with a defender holding his leg, Glennon threw a quick, hard fastball, and by the time Tom Crabtree caught the ball and headed downfield, the sort-of crowd was prepared to anoint a boy king.
One play in, and he had a 61-yard completion.
One play, and he was the Rifleman.
One play, and which way, exactly, is it to becoming a cult legend?
After that, things went less swimmingly Thursday for the rookie in a 44-16 loss to Baltimore in the preseason opener. Still, it is going to be amusing to see how quickly the local fans call for Glennon, and how passionately the caller on Line 2 will praise his arm, and how emphatically the emailer will be as he prepares a list of reasons this season should be turned over to Glennon. Given the current state of Josh Freeman's popularity, expect them to be loud as they express themselves.
Oh, if you are realistic — and what use is realism in play-pretend football? — then, no, Glennon still isn't a challenger for the Bucs' quarterback job. Certainly not now, and certainly not yet. This is Freeman's huddle, and as long as the season has a heartbeat, it will remain so.
But that's the thing about Tampa Bay. It tends to fall in love with a new quarterback fairly quickly, especially when it is less than satisfied with the incumbent. Fans so desperately want an alternative that they cling to the first bit of success they see.
Remember Scott Milanovich? He lit up Pittsburgh's backup players in a preseason game, and after that, some fans thought he didn't play in the regular season only because then-coach Tony Dungy had something against him. Remember Jerry Golsteyn? He was a nice guy who won the starting job, but later, coach John McKay said his wife was nice, too, but she couldn't play quarterback, either. Remember Randy Hedberg from Minot State? Given the chance, he showed fans Why Not.
Remember Bruce Gradkowski? Remember Rob Johnson? Remember Chris Chandler?
Ah, yes. Yesterday's heartthrobs.
So don't overstate the debut of Glennon, the gangly quarterback from N.C. State. It was a nice way for a career to start, and it was certainly enough to make you want to see more. There was the 34-yard pass-interference call. There was a 41-yard completion at the end of the half. The kid showed a big-time arm. He led the Bucs to 13 of their 16 points.
On the other hand, there were moments when Glennon looked very much like a rookie, times when he struggled to find the proper rhythm in the pocket. He threw an interception. He looked like a kid with a bit of promise but also one who needs a lot of polish.
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With Glennon, here are the real questions you should be asking. Can he be a backup? If there is a need for it, can he improve enough to provide short-term relief for the Bucs? If Freeman is injured, can Glennon get them through a game or three? Can he keep the offense from having to tiptoe around the quarterback position?
At first glance, the answer to them all is: maybe.
Frankly, Freeman wasn't that bad himself on his second drive Thursday night. He took the Bucs 56 yards on 11 plays, including two third downs, for a go-ahead field goal. If Vincent Jackson hadn't bobbled the ball going out of bounds, then he would have the Bucs set up on a first and goal at the Ravens 5. Freeman was 4-of-6 on that drive.
But that's the thing about the preseason. Quarterbacks such as Freeman are never going to prove anything. Only rookies, with the gift of small expectations, do.
Stay tuned. There is enough voltage in Glennon's right arm to make him an intriguing project. He needs to smooth out his rough edges, and he needs to age about three years in the next three weeks. But, yeah, he has a chance.
No, it isn't exactly cult status.
One night in, however, and it's a start.