Bucs: A Welcome Respite From That Other World

Sometimes you just have to throw yourself a change-up. Alter the dynamics. Get out of the office.

Especially if your place of business is the office of current events, which is shorthand for everything that goes wrong.

So, enough for now of the plight of Lebanon, the grief of Baghdad and the mortality of Castro. Out, damn spotlight on neocons and Nancy Pelosi. A break from partisan polemics on stem-cell research and a minimum-wage hike.

A TV timeout from Vipir and Doppler and Vixen and Dominatrix.

A hold, however brief, on ranting, raving or just musing about impact fees, insurance premiums, the condo market, Katherine Harris, the mayor’s salary, campaign cheap shots, Gulf drilling, a spate of homicides and Xbox killers with unhappy upbringings. And a temporary embargo on pondering the empathetic rationale for chasing and killing someone who threatened to kill you and the judicial frustration of searching for a sufficiently clueless jury pool to accommodate the trial of a monster.

So it’s off to Disney’s Wide World of Sports to abuse a press credential and take in a Bucs’ pre-season practice. On the lam from that other world. Some observations:

*Oops. Orlando in early August is a Bessemer blast. However, the main grandstand, which holds about 3,000 fans, is covered and there are plenty of tents for media and VIPs. But no one has ever called the shady parts of the Sahara comfortable.

*The packed grandstand is a study in red. As in Buc-jersey red . The most popular: Brooks and Alstott. Also sighted: a couple of Lynches and one Jurevicius. But no Sapps or K. Johnsons.

*Familiar face: Tom Izzo , the Michigan State basketball coach was on hand as an invitee of Jon Gruden. Likely enough, an indoor sport never looked so good.

*Practices as precision pieces: They run on Mussolini time. The scoreboard countdowns keep everyone apprised. Whistles and horns, like something from Pavlov’s playbook, direct players to their various stations. It’s perversely appealing to see millionaires at the beck-and-call of air horns.

*Impressive: The sheer number of very large people. That said, 370-pound Toniu Fonoti still stands out. Probably popular too. On the field, he’s the next best thing to cloud cover.

* Hydration helpers: Gatorade is everywhere. Even in the press tent. No cramping over a laptop.

*Scrimmage: Some things apparent even to the non-sports scribe. Cadillac Williams is noticeably and notably quick and slippery. Good eyes, fast feet, excellent balance. Fun to watch if you’re not an overmatched defender.

*Now hear this: Gruden knows he has no depth behind starting QB Chris Simms. As a result, he’s paying a lot of attention to promising rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski . Most of that attention comes in the form of raspy yelling. And the language is a lot saltier than “Jiminy Christmas.” But he needs this guy to be good. In a hurry.

*The couple: Among the fans this day is a 60-ish couple from Auburndale, Don and Debbie Quantermus. It’s their annual visit. They’re in the special needs section. Debbie is in a wheelchair, clutching a football that was autographed last year by Ike Hilliard. Her left side is paralyzed from a stroke.

“I enjoy being here,” says Debbie, “although Don still has to explain what’s going on. Being this close makes it personal. We watch all the games on TV. But when I’m here, it’s a reminder that I’m not confined. That’s important.”

When asked for a prediction for the upcoming season, Debbie defers to Don, a Walgreen’s manager. “I’d say 11-5 or better, if everybody stays healthy.”

*The VIP: Sipping an orange juice, munching a granola bar and enjoying an unobstructed, shady view of the scrimmage is Fred Mills. The Orlando resident is a friend of Bucs’ receivers coach Richard Mann and is a scout for the Saskatchewan Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League. Back in the 1960s he had been a wide receiver at the University of New Mexico.

He likes the Bucs’ corps of receivers. He’s been especially impressed with the early work of veteran David Boston and the rookie from Notre Dame, Maurice Stovall.

“Boston still looks explosive,” observed Mills, “and Stovall has good hands and runs good routes.”

His prediction: “I see this team going deeper into the playoffs – if the quarterbacking holds up.”

*The mascot: That would be 48-year-old Mike Parisi, a short, stocky, heavy equipment operator for the Port Richey public works department. When in character, the native New Yorker goes by the name “Bone Shaker.” And he’s in character – and costume. From his modified Hell’s Angel helmet with a bone on top to long skeleton earrings to loops of beads in the shape of skulls to lots of red and white and black war paint. Kind of a poor man’s “Big Nasty.” He’s a Bucs’ fan to his marrow and a season-ticket holder. He’s been showing up to games as “Bone Shaker” for the last five years.

“It’s a fun way to cheer,” he says in a still-vintage, Queens accent. “And I think it’s fun for the crowd too. It’s how I show my full support.

“But it’s not for everybody,” he concedes. “You do hear all kinds of stuff, and not all of it is complimentary. But most of it is.”

*The cheerleaders: Let’s be honest. Who cares what they have to say? They are cheer providers.

*The talk show host: Dan Sileo does a morning drive-time, talk-radio show on WDAE, 620-AM in Tampa and is also heard (740) in Orlando. He’s a former lineman for the University of Miami and the Bucs. He’s a ratings’ magnet in his time slot and is here with his remote set up for the duration of camp.

“Any time you get out of your comfort zone, in my case the studio, it changes things,” he explains. “The biggest challenge is timing. This morning I missed my 15-second cue (for commercial break). Things are a lot looser on remote, but people are also more forgiving.”

That’s because those listeners know they’re getting some first-hand, insider stuff from someone who has played the game.

“How could I talk about it – and criticize it – unless I was here seeing for myself?” he asks rhetorically. “Training camp is where you make your credibility. Practices are closed when the season begins.”

Some early Sileo takes:

^”(Top draft pick) Davin Joseph doesn’t look very agile. Doesn’t appear to have the good feet.”

^”Maurice Stovall looks like a steal in the third round (of the draft). He reminds me of (former Miami teammate) Michael Irvin.”

^”It’s apparent Cadillac Williams understands the offense more. I think he needs 400 touches (carries and receptions). You don’t want him on the bench chewing ice on third down.”

^”In this league, you make money with your ability, and you earn it with your effort. Look at Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. They don’t take snaps off.”

*Media and Gruden: The still boyish-looking, 43-year-old head coach is especially adept at rhetorically feeding the press. He’s hardly sound-bite challenged.

He has off-the-shelf material that can be inserted anywhere (“We’re very pleased with some aspects, but we have a long way to go” and can punctuate remarks with deprecating humor (“I think Fonoti’s head weighs 185 pounds”) which helps when the Q & A is as predictable as the heat index.

Direct media questions deal almost exclusively with individuals. How’s Davin Joseph doing? What’s with all the yelling at Gradkowski? What about Fonoti? Is the tailored (reduced) practice schedule for Joey Galloway still working?

Gruden knows his comments can also be read by players. He responds accordingly.

^”Davin Joseph is working harder, getting better.”

^”We’re pleased with Gradkowski. As a passer and as a manager of our running game. But he does need a kick in the butt sometimes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.