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CadillacPower24_2006

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: October 17, 2006, 10:19:23 AM

It's a regrettable reality, a lamentable loss of excitement, that we just don't seem to get many late, game-winning touchdowns in the NFL anymore.

Here's what we get, or at least got on Sunday afternoon: Seattle's Josh Brown and New Orleans' John Carney converted field goals on the final plays of their contests to make winners of their respective teams. Rob Bironas of Tennessee nailed a 3-pointer with a little more than five minutes remaining to help Titans rookie quarterback Vince Young record his first career victory. The Miami Dolphins rallied almost all the way back from a 20-3 deficit, but kicker Olindo Mare was wide right on a 51-yard attempt with 33 seconds remaining, and coach Nick Saban's frustrations were extended at least another week.

OK, so it's not as if the sport has devolved into the most literal version of football imaginable, or that we are destined at some point to suffer though soccer-style shootouts to settle tight games. It's just that on some weekends, it appears that way, and this was one of them.

There was, however, one last-minute, game-winning touchdown on Sunday, and the controversial but still-exhilarating 8-yard score by Tampa Bay wide receiver Michael Clayton with 35 seconds remaining was notable for several reasons. Not the least of which was that it moved the Bucs off the shneid.

Goose egg, be gone.

Watching the replay of rubber-countenanced Bucs coach Jon Gruden, as he suddenly remembered how to contort his mug into a smile, was almost worth the trouble of staying up late to watch the day's highlights. But seeing the look on Clayton's face when game officials overturned their original call of an incomplete pass, with equal parts joy and relief playing out under his helmet as he celebrated on the sideline, was far more enjoyable.

Clayton, you see, is a really good kid who over the past two seasons has experienced a Job-like stretch of bad times. The former LSU star, a first-round choice in the 2004 draft, caught 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns in his rookie year, making him one of just seven wide receivers since 1970 to register 1,000 yards as a rookie. And then, in the 18 games following his brilliant rookie season, Clayton totaled only 42 receptions for 489 yards and no -- as in zero -- touchdowns.

That is, until there were 35 seconds remaining on Sunday and, with the Bucs trailing the Bengals 13-7, he grabbed the 8-yard slant to the left from rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and extended himself just over the plane of the goal line. Clayton had to wait for the replay official in the booth to decide whether the pass should be reviewed. But, hey, when you've been waiting since the 2004 season finale to get into the end zone, the few minutes it took referee Mike Carey to peer into the on-field monitor and rule a touchdown must seem like a nanosecond.

And what did Clayton tell reporters after the game?

"It felt great, because this team has just been through so much," he said. Not exactly a guy who relies on the perpendicular pronoun very often, Clayton would have been forgiven had he substituted the word "I" for "this team."

But he didn't, so a little history on the travails of Michael Clayton ever since that sterling rookie campaign:

Let's see, there was the arthroscopic surgery on his left knee following the 2004 season. And then shoulder, right knee and turf toe problems in 2005. Procedures to repair the knee and shoulder in the spring of this year. And whispers that he wasn't working hard enough, that he was lax in his conditioning and had taken too much for granted after the success in his debut year in the league. When Clayton reported for Tampa Bay's offseason program earlier this year, Gruden made him sign a contract, holding him accountable for his conditioning.

His hard work aside, and notwithstanding the loss of 10-12 pounds so he could regain some quickness, Clayton struggled through a few more nagging injuries, and entered Sunday's game against the Bengals with just 10 catches for 117 yards. On Sunday, he snagged six balls, his most since he registered a half-dozen against Buffalo on Sept. 18, 2005. He notched 55 receiving yards and, of course, the game-winning touchdown.

Couldn't have happened to a better guy.

Gradkowski said his first NFL victory, a comeback win fashioned on grit and tenacity, was "one to write home about." Whether the sixth-round draft choice commits his memoirs from Sunday to writing, whether he even clips the Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times stories from the sports pages on Monday and pastes them in a scrapbook, remains to be seen.

But this much we know: Clayton will reduce his emotions from Sunday to syllables. We know that because, this summer, we sat with Clayton at training camp in Orlando, Fla., and chatted at length about the daily journal that he has maintained since his days as an LSU star.

The discipline of recording something into his journal every day is not an act of self-aggrandizement for the third-year receiver. Instead, it is a mini-biography being authored for his daughter, Madison, who lives with her mother in Louisiana. There was a time when, because of a relationship terminated, Clayton fretted over how often he would see his daughter, and if she would remember him. He no longer has those concerns, but in speaking of Madison this summer, tears welled up in Clayton's eyes.

He very much wants his daughter to know him, not so much as a football player, but as a man. And so the journal entries are pretty wide-ranging. Still, we're guessing that Clayton hasn't finished many entries lately by drawing a smiley face at the end. The touchdown on Sunday, though, should elicit good feelings. And when Madison, at some point down the road, reviews her daddy's journal, the entry for Oct. 15, 2006, should make her smile the same way it did Michael Clayton on Sunday afternoon.

Last week, a depressed and frustrated Clayton acknowledged to a local reporter: "Sometimes you ask yourself what's your future in this league."

On Sunday, maybe he provided himself and Bucs officials some answers. So here's hoping that on the occasion of his last-minute, game-winning touchdown, a rarity in the league these days, Clayton penned a meaningful memory for Madison into his journal.

And here's hoping he left space for a few more just like it.

DanTurksGhost

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#1 : October 17, 2006, 10:24:46 AM

Posted here:

http://bbs.pewterreport.com/index.php?topic=739.0

BTW, you may wish to check forum rules about posting copyrighted articles in their entirety. I've not read them lately, but I think it is forbidden.

CadillacPower24_2006

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#2 : October 17, 2006, 10:25:38 AM

my bad, didn't see it

keeponbucn

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#3 : October 17, 2006, 11:05:48 AM

Posted here:

http://bbs.pewterreport.com/index.php?topic=739.0

BTW, you may wish to check forum rules about posting copyrighted articles in their entirety. I've not read them lately, but I think it is forbidden.


huh? I'll have to check that out......
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