After I retired from the NFL in 2005, then-Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden once told me that he had too many “playas” and not enough “players” like me on his Tampa Bay team. By Gruden's definition, a "player" is a guy that loves playing the game of football and is passionate about it. A "playa" is a guy that just loves being an NFL player and the fame and notoriety that comes with it.
In this day of NFL, players are covered head to toe with tattoos, saggin’ skinny jeans, bling-bling, Twitter and Facebook pages and swag. You can always find them in the clubs and the local hot spots. There are a whole lot of “playas” out there. But where are the "PLAYERS?"
Sunday’s performance by Tampa Bay in the Buccaneers’ 27-20 loss to Detroit was more like a music video for “Stuck on You,” the ballad by Lionel Richie. The Bucs “playas” were stuck.
Tampa Bay’s wide receivers were stuck on the Detroit defensive backs and couldn’t get open. The Bucs defensive linemen were stuck on the Lions offensive linemen and couldn’t break free to get much pressure or quarterback sacks against Detroit QB Matthew Stafford. The Bucs' running game was stuck, too, and limited LaGarrette Blount to only five carries for 15 yards.
The only good thing about Sunday’s music video theme of being “Stuck on You” was the fact that the Bucs offensive line was stuck on the Lions’ vaunted defensive line led by Ndamukong Suh and allowed QB Josh Freeman tons of time in the pocket – only Freeman’s wide receivers couldn’t get unstuck and he suffered a couple sacks as a result. Freeman's first and only touchdown of the game came with under two minutes remaining in the contest.
Football is about winning the one-on-one battles. On Sunday in the 2011 season opener, finding a Buccaneer who won a one on one battle was hard to find.
Head Coach Raheem Morris publicly challenged the wide receiver corps to win their one-on-one battles during the preseason. Across the board all these Bucs “playas” need to step it up and realize that last season’s surprise Cinderella team status is over and teams are now targeting these Bucs with a bull’s eye on their heads.
Guess what, Bucs? Teams are actually revving up and getting pumped up to play against you. You see, the better a team, the more effort opposing teams play with against that team.
You would think that all teams play with 100 percent effort for every game, but they don’t. You would think that all players play with 100 percent effort for every one-on-one battle no matter who the opposing player is, but they don’t.
Maybe these young Bucs thought that they were as great as everyone was saying they were and simply facing the lowly Detroit Lions was going to be a cakewalk. But I can assure you that the Lions didn’t take the Bucs for granted and were prepared 100 percent to win last Sunday’s game. You could see it in the precision on offense and the solid tackling on defense.
A funny thing happens once all the talk is over and it’s actually game time. It’s time to play. After a long season of high projections by the experts, pats on the back, and toasts all around, the Bucs now are faced with a daunting reality whose outcome isn’t looking too promising given Sunday’s “Stuck On You” performance.
After an unprecedented easy summer training camp mandated by the new NFL-NFL Players Association collective bargaining agreement, maybe the Bucs are realizing that they should’ve made training camp a bit harder. The times I attended the Bucs’ one-a-day, full-padded training camp instead of the usual two-a-day NFL training camp practices that I endured as a Buccaneer; it was like watching a spring practice and not a dreaded NFL training camp. With such a young team, I think more preparation through grueling training camps are needed for these young Bucs to help turn these “playas” into “players” in the future.
At halftime of the Bucs vs. Lions game, I attempted to leave the VIP suite area and go outside with my young, 11-year old son, Mayan Ahanotu, who aspires to be the next Freeman. There at the door we were met with a tenacious squadron of security at Raymond James Stadium, who drilled us and put us through hell mistakenly thinking that we actually had come from outside instead of attempting to walk outside. The Raymond James Stadium security blasted us about the stadium’s no re-entry policy.
After several minutes of that confrontation, we eventually got the security to understand that we had not come from outside and returned to our seats in the Pewter Report suite. Unfortunately, that confrontation was the most tenacious exhibit I witnessed at last Sunday’s Bucs vs. Lions game. It was much more intense than watching the Bucs players seemingly married to the Lions player in front of them – stuck on them for four quarters of a rather boring NFL season opener.
So here the Buccaneers are at 0-1, and this is where we find them facing reality. When reality strikes you in the face either panic sets in or you can dig in and fight. Morris said his young team “blinked” versus the Lions.
Let’s hope these young Bucs are digging in this week. Let’s hope that these young Bucs are strapping it up and will fight this week.
Let’s hope these young “playas” start becoming “players” and start backing up all the brash talk and win their one-on-one battles. Let’s hope that the Bucs theme song changes from Lionel Richie’s “Stuck on You” to rapper Eminem’s hardcore hit, “Drop The Bomb.”
If not we will all be cradled to sleep by the soothing tones of Mr. Richie for the entire 2011 NFL season.
Chidi Ahanotu was an NFL defensive end for 12 seasons, including eight with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1993-2000). Ahanotu is the fifth all-time leading sacker in Buccaneers history with 34.5 QB captures. His career-high 10 sacks in 1997 helped the Bucs make the playoffs for the first time in 13 years and led to him being Tampa Bay's franchise player in 1998.
Aside from being a columnist for PewterReport.com, Ahanotu is the owner of Cigars of Soho, which is located at 212 S. Armenia Ave. in Tampa, Fla. To visit the Cigars of Soho Facebook page, click here. Cigars of Soho is open until midnight every night.
Cigars of Soho is the only South Tampa cigar lounge open after dinner to enjoy a nice cigar. Wednesday night is poker night at 9:00 p.m., and the lounge has NFL games on high definition TV on Sunday and Monday nights.