August 22, 2005



Uh oh. The sharks are circling. There's blood in the water.

For the first time since the Ray "Atilla" Perkins era, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers do not have a prime-time game.

Training camp attendance was down 40 percent. Tickets are easy to pick up for the first time in a decade.

Now reporters are flying across the country to write about how sucky the coach is doing. That's a problem.

Sure, plenty of guys in town have been doing just that, spilling ample amounts of ink trying to predict the boy-king's downfall.

But when the Los Angeles Times puts a reporter on a plane, pays for him to be in a nice hotel a couple of nights, pays for his high-priced Bern's check and bloated bar tab, pays for his rental car, pays for his long-distance phone calls and his numerous SpectraVision choices on the hotel TV and then ponies up for his Mons Venus bills disguised as massage therapy receipts just so they can poke the team in the eye with a story that has a headline, "Buccaneer Patch Job," that's a very bad sign.

Especially when death metaphors are being bandied about:

The coach who once held the NFL in the palms of his hands now has those hands gripped tightly around the steering wheel of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, doing what he can to regain control of a franchise that has drifted far off course.

Jon Gruden, two seasons removed from pro football's mountaintop, is determined to resurrect a team that has gone 12-20 since throttling the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII on Jan. 26, 2003.

"We're getting through the clouds now," Gruden said. "I see the sunshine out. But it's hard when you don't have the players and the salary cap is knocking on the door every day."

As for the knocking, that has dropped off in a big way. The scowl that launched a thousand ad campaigns the one that earned Gruden the nickname Chucky, after the horror-movie doll is now a justifiable grimace. The Buccaneers have the lowest two-season winning percentage of any team coming off a Super Bowl victory.

Two years ago, Gruden arguably was the most marketable personality in the nation's No. 1 league. He wrote a bestselling book, "Do You Love Football? Winning with Heart, Passion and Not Much Sleep," was a guest on "Late Night with David Letterman," was the subject of a Playboy interview, rang the opening bell on Wall Street, had lucrative endorsement deals with Marriott and Florida Citrus Growers, and commanded a $50,000 fee on the motivational speakers' circuit.

But as the Buccaneers faded, so did demand for their coach. The ads on national TV appeared less frequently, Gruden's sneer less prevalently. He still has a large following, of course, but other NFL players and coaches among them Tom Brady, Donovan McNabb and Bill Parcells are at least as popular, if not more.

"That's what happens if you don't have success," Gruden said. "You have to roll with it. I understand that."

His agent, Bob LaMonte, who represents eight NFL head coaches, says Gruden, 42, remains among the top five most marketable personalities in the league, even if demand for him has cooled a bit.

"There is no death of Chucky," LaMonte said. "Chucky's too young, too dynamic, too good to die. Chucky isn't a 70-year-old man riding off into the sunset."

Posted by Jeff at August 22, 2005 08:13 AM | TrackBack

He can see the sunshine, huh? I hope it's not blinding him too much. I'm starting to worry that the green bay packer fans are going to take over our stadium again!

Posted by: Laura at August 22, 2005 09:49 AM
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