There’s no proof of this, but I’m guessing when the surgeons got inside Chris Simms’ body and removed his ruptured spleen, they were left awe struck by the size of his heart.

It’s a big one. I’m sure.

It’s a bruised one. I’m convinced.

It’s one to admire. I’m confident to say.

After being battered and bludgeoned, and did I mentioned booed by fans who must have traded their brain cells for enough money to pay for season tickets, all Simms did was fight on in what must have been immeasurable pain.

Look, we’re not going to forget the initial interception to start the game, one that put the Bucs in a bear trap. And we’re not going to overlook a number of other questionable reads he may have missed and chances he may have misfired on.

But before you beat him up for that third-and-five Hail Mary that wasn’t so full of grace, remember how he might have been feeling at the time and acknowledge what it likely took to get that dang thing up in the air for that long in the first place.

The score won’t change. The Bucs were beaten 26-24 and Simms has now dropped four consecutive games as a starter.

But while he lost Sunday’s game, he should have, in the very least, won the respect of his teammates, his peers across the league, his coaches and the sprinkling of fans that actually recognized that the young man was playing with a hemorrhaging internal organ.
Bravery is measured not by what you do against a tough opponent, but by what you do against an opponent you can’t defeat.

And when last I checked, we’re 0-and-a gazllion against a hemorrhaging organ.

When you hear teammates say he didn’t seem himself in the huddle or that they saw a glaze in his eyes, you have to show some love to Simms for willing his body beyond limits to which most of us would have succumbed.

Even after surgery, he wanted to talk football.

“He’s crushed emotionally right now that he’s not going to be able to continue to play,” coach Jon Gruden said at his Monday news conference. “And that’s what he’s talking about, missing (Joey) Galloway on a ‘go’ route, disappointed we didn’t win the game. He’s obviously very frustrated and very disappointed that physically he can’t play.

“He wants to play this week, but he won’t, and he won’t play next week. We’re just going to take a good look at this rehab, this recovery period, and do what our doctors deem is the right thing to do. He’s a young quarterback. He’s got an injury here that’s serious, that he’s going to recover from, and how quickly he recovers remains to be seen. All we can do now is support him and move on with this season.”

Ah, moving on, now that’s a whole different issue.

As if their spiraling collapse needed any further momentum, the Bucs and Simms have two bigger questions. What’s the immediate future? What’s the long-term future?

If the initial priority is Simms’ health, as the team insists it is, then he should not put on a pair of pads for the rest of the season.

Shut it down. Chill it out.

At 26, you have to figure that Simms will recover physically but why risk getting that on a fast track.

Patience has to be the virtue here and the Bucs have to take the initiative and declare that Simms can spend the rest of the 2006 campaign enjoying his time with his new daughter. Of course, there’s a business element to the game that the Bucs can’t ignore either.  

After signing a one-year deal this offseason, Simms becomes a free agent at the end of 2006. Will the Bucs want him back? Has he played his last game in a Bucs uniform? Equally important, where to now?

The yahoos who were calling for Bruce Gradkowski get their wish until some other option comes on board. It doesn’t take a Duke grad to tell you that as talented as Gradkowski is, he remains a rookie with zero starts and not much better odds of taking the Bucs to the playoffs.

Do you see that schedule?

But what Gradkowski lacks in experience, he certainly makes up for in charisma and confidence.

“I definitely feel like I’m ready,” Gradkowski said. “I know Coach Gruden wouldn’t have thrown me out there if he didn’t think I was ready. I’ve been preparing for this. Coach didn’t bring me in here to be a clipboard holder my whole career. This just came a little faster than prepared, but I’m going to work hard. I’m going to make this happen, and we’ll see.”

And then there’s talk about the acquisition of a veteran backup.

At this point, shouldn’t the personnel department be held accountable for failing to secure a veteran backup during the season?

Shouldn’t general manager Bruce Allen simply say, “My bad!”

Trade? Who in their right mind, after seeing how starters go down in this league, is going to trade away a quality backup to help the Bucs out?

The Bears – for Brian Griese? The Jaguars – for David Garrard? The Dolphins – for Joey Harrington?

Not likely! Not unless the Bucs throw in a high draft pick or a impact player.

Maybe – and you’ll be surprised to hear this – the Bucs can turn to the Raiders for help. Parting ways with Marquis Tuiasosopo, whom Gruden and Allen drafted back in the day when both were with Oakland, is no biggie for them since their season is in the tank, too.

Until then, the marquee says the Gradkowski premier is slated for Oct.8 in New Orleans. The rookie with the sparkly feet and spirited approach to quarterbacking is in the leading role.

“I’m just going to take things as they come and make smart decisions and rely on the guys around me,” he said. “I’m a rookie, but I’m going to play my game. There are great athletes on this team, great weapons – Cadillac, all the receivers who have been doing a great job. So we’re going to get things rolling.”

If he does, Simms may have all the time in the world to rehab.

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