Friday, January 4, 2008

Endgame: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The NFL Playoffs are at hand. As such, Alex and Zac will be revisiting all twelve playoff teams, the characters that have made it to the final chapter in this season's story, and digging deeper to find out just who they've become having arrived at this point. Today, Zac takes a look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

I come to the conclusion that, men loving according to their own will and fearing according to that of the prince, a wise prince should establish himself on that which is in his own control and not in that of others.
- Machiavelli

If the Buccaneers were a song:

Joe Budden – “5th Gear”



Nobody does desperation like Joe Budden.

If the Buccaneers were a political figure:

Kim Jong-il




The politics of fear go a long way toward creating the illusion of control

If the Buccaneers were a vacation locale:

Gatorland

A long time ago, this seemed really cool. The fact that it’s still around today really just creeps people out, though.

Who are the Buccaneers?

Graduating college is a bitch. You’re 22, you have no damn clue what you’re going to do with your life, and somehow everyone expects you to pull it together because you’ve got a piece of paper calling you a prodigy. And as bad as things are when you graduate, they get worse in the next few years, when suddenly everything seems built to make you feel old. You go back to visit friends in college, and you don’t get them anymore. All of their rituals remind you of what you’re not, and all of your changes remind them of what they’re nervous about becoming. As someone living through the experience, I can honestly say that it feels like swimming out into the middle of the ocean: Too far to find the land you left, and no safe harbor in sight. As someone living through the experience, I’ve come to understand the Buccaneers.

Every friend you have that says they expected the Bucs to be playing January football is a liar. For me, it went beyond doubt; at first I HATED this team. That douchebag Jon Gruden and his quick fix Jeff Garcia were an example of everything that was wrong with the sport, reeking of easy solutions and safe veteran choices over innovative risks. Then they stifled the offensive showcase of the Saints…and they out-uglied the Titans…and they just kept beating teams. While everyone expected this team to play like a bunch of old men fading away, they forgot to take one important thing into account: These are old guys who know what it means to be great, and that kind of greatness is hard to let go. So, feeling the hot breath of retirement on their necks, Joey Galloway ran faster, Derek Brooks hit harder, and Jeff Garcia turned on the veteran know-how, and the rest of the team just seemed to play along, perhaps understanding that the clinging to relevance of these old men was directly tied to their own relevance in the league.

It didn’t hurt that they had a coach who decided that he was not going to go quietly. I don’t like Jon Gruden, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t find a way to make his team in his own image. Gruden realized early on that he had arrived at his last opportunity to salvage his reputation as a wunderkind coach, and he began operating for self-preservation at a level even he hadn't reached before. Sacrificing one-time protégé Chris Simms for the veteran Garcia, and out crafting his way through each game, he has his boys playing cutthroat football, as though everyone understands that if they’re not helping the Gruden family stay gainfully provided for, they’re expendable. It’s the kind of fear that makes players go beyond their usual capabilities just to ensure that they aren’t the weak link. Wonder why this team has the best pass defense in the league? Would you want to be the guy who gives up a big play knowing that the boss has an axe and a penchant for detaching loose ends quickly? Thought not.

Whether or not this holds in the playoffs is anybody’s guess. This team is banged up, but it’s also a veteran squad that knows how to deal with injuries. Add to that the fact that a lot of these guys have won here before and you have an interesting wrinkle in an NFC bracket where that isn’t the case for a lot of teams. If the Bucs play with the same last gasp intensity that has driven them this far, manufacturing points in any way possible, they’ll stun teams that are only playing to live up to expectations. Otherwise, they’ll fade away having proven everyone right about their weak divisional schedule. As for me, I just want to see just how far the fear of irrelevance can take this squad, and that’s a personal connection I thought I’d never feel for a squad helmed by someone I dislike so strongly.

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