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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.

FAB 1. Arians’ Mind Games With Hargreaves, McCoy

Bucs center Ryan Jensen recently spoke about the new level of accountability that Bruce Arians has brought to Tampa Bay and indicated that the team is excited about the change.

But the players will soon find out that Arians’ accountability is great – until it comes knocking on their doorstep.

Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was the target of Arians’ latest accountability salvo, not practicing on the first day of OTAs with the Bucs’ new head coach saying that he needs to get his mind right to practice.

When asked to elaborate, Arians told the media to go ask Hargreaves, who was conveniently not available.

Arians wants Hargreaves, an underachieving first-round pick in 2016, to play with an edge this year. As the most veteran cornerback on the roster next to Ryan Smith, who was a fourth-round pick in ’16, Arians needs a great year from Hargreaves, who has battled hamstring and shoulder injuries over the last two seasons.

Hargreaves had his fifth-year option, which is worth over $9 million, picked up by Tampa Bay for 2020, but it is not guaranteed unless he’s injured and can’t pass a physical next year. In other words, if he continues to underachieve, the Bucs can cut Hargreaves next offseason and won’t owe him a penny nor will there be any salary cap ramifications.

The guess here is that Arians and the Bucs don’t want Hargreaves to think that he’s automatically safe for this year and next year, and they don’t want him to assume he’s going to be starter just because he’s a former first-round pick and had that fifth-year option picked up.

This is an old school coaching tactic that the legendary “Three Bills” – Bill Walsh, Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick – have deployed in the past. No one is immune from criticism – not Joe Montana in San Francisco, not Lawrence Taylor in New York and not Tom Brady in New England.

Arians routinely did this in Arizona where he was the head coach from 2013-17, even criticizing team captain Calais Campbell, after a three-sack game in 2015, suggesting he should have had five sacks.

In an unfortunate era in which kids these days are given participation trophies and the thought of winning is diminished in favor of “having fun” in youth sports by not keeping score of games, Arians takes the opposite approach. He is definitely not one to coddle players, and his respect is earned by some and not given out to all.

It’s a different approach, and one that will have to take some adjusting to after a more country club-like environment that was created under former players coach Dirk Koetter.

Bucs head coach Bruce Arians
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The 66-year old Arians is definitely old school in his style of coaching, regularly citing Alabama’s legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant, the man he worked under for two years with the Crimson Tide, as his coaching idol. As Arians has said many times, Bryant would “coach ‘em hard and hug ‘em later.”

The message was not only sent to Hargreaves, but also to the rest of the team. There are no sacred cows at One Buccaneer Place. Just because you were a former first-round pick and have a big contract doesn’t guarantee you anything.

I love it.

This approach by Arians is absolutely needed at One Buc Place, folks.

Just look at Gerald McCoy, a six-time Pro Bowler, who is set to make $13 million this year. If you think Hargreaves is the first player to get criticized by Arians in an attempt to light a fire, you haven’t been paying attention to what’s transpired between McCoy and Arians this offseason.

McCoy, a player that wears flashy clothes to stand out and loves attention and the spotlight, has always been praised by the team and the media for his good deeds and high character, willingness to help teammates, and his play on the field that has resulted in six Pro Bowl berths and over $100 million in salary earned – although he has his detractors within the Tampa Bay fan base that don’t think he shows up enough in the fourth-quarter with game-changing plays, or the fact that his play has not been enough to turn the Bucs into a playoff team.

McCoy has not paid much attention to those voices because McCoy-hating Bucs fans aren’t important to him. I don’t blame him.

McCoy even “silenced” me after I wrote in a previous SR’s Fab 5 stating it was time for McCoy to let Kwon Alexander take over as the leader of the Bucs defense last year by blocking the @PewterReport account on Twitter. In the end, McCoy wasn’t voted as a team captain last year and Alexander was, along with fellow linebacker Lavonte David.

McCoy and I have had our run-ins in over the years, but I respect him as a player and a person whether he believes it or not. He’s been a helluva Buccaneer.

Bucs LB Lavonte David and DT Gerald McCoy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

But this is the first time that McCoy has ever heard any real criticism from inside One Buccaneer Place, and from someone that is supposed to be important to him – his own new head coach. The criticism and lack of love he’s felt from Arians has definitely lit a fire under McCoy – just take a look at McCoy’s Instagram tirade directed at his new head coach without naming him – and that’s exactly what Arians wants.

If McCoy is going to play for the Bucs in 2019 Arians wants an edgy McCoy – one that is pissed off, feels angry and disrespected and has something to prove. Keep in mind that everything Arians said about McCoy in Arizona at the NFL Owners Meeting is true.

“He is on our team,” said Arians. “He plays three-technique and we have a three technique that penetrates. He did it as well – whenever that was – four years ago … Would I like to see him more disruptive? Yeah. We can use him. If he is here, he is going to be used a bunch. It is just a matter of what happens.

“He is not as disruptive as he was four year ago, but he is still tough. He is still a good player. If he is there, he is there. He is our starting three-technique. There is no doubt about that.”

All of that is true. At age 30 last year, McCoy produced six sacks, which was the same number he had in 2017 but fewer than he had in years past.

Sometimes the truth hurts.

And what’s also true is that the 31-year old McCoy is no longer worth $13 million per season based on that level of production.

“The financial is a big part of it,” Arians said. “I have got to evaluate him. [The] guy is up in age. It is different. Now it is usually the age where they get paid the most. And production and price don’t match. So we have to find that out. It is very hard because we can’t get in pads, but you can still see it. And you can still see his enthusiasm for the game.

Bucs DT Gerald McCoy
Bucs DT Gerald McCoy – Photo by: Zach Beeker

“If he still has all that, then I am fine. As a coach, I coach who I got. I coach the guys that are there. Now if guys don’t show up, then don’t ask me about them. I ain’t talking about them. I talk about the guys that show up. We will see how that goes.”

It’s one thing for McCoy to brush off comments from angry Buccaneers fans on Twitter or WDAE 95.3 afternoon radio host Ian Beckles, who has been one of his harshest critics. It’s another thing to try to shrug off criticism from McCoy’s own head coach.

This is all calculated, folks.

If McCoy returns to play a 10th season in Tampa Bay, Arians wants him to play on edge – and for Hargreaves to play that way, too. And if McCoy winds up being cut or traded and doesn’t play for Tampa Bay, then oh well.

Arians has sent the message that there are no untouchable players in the building when it comes to the kind of accountability he’s bringing.

Arians always says it’s not personal when it comes to him chewing out a player on the field or in the meeting room or chastising a player in the media, that it’s about their football – not them as a person. That’s a lesson the Bucs are currently learning about their new head coach, and McCoy and Hargreaves are exhibits A and B in this case study.

Arians is famous for telling the players that this is their team – not his. Yet it’s all a mind game, as Arians is actually in full control – pulling the strings to extract the best performance possible from them.

You see Arians isn’t lying to his players, or ripping his players without a reason. He’s a maestro, conducting an orchestra.

The players are the ones that have the instruments and are responsible for making the music on the field. As a coach, Arians doesn’t play a single note – only being responsible for making sure the music sound good and making sure the instruments are played correctly and at the right time.

Speaking of music, there was not a single note of music played at Bucs practice on Tuesday, and – surprise! – the energy level on the field was just fine. There was not one rap or rock song played, and the players didn’t miss a beat.

Mike Tomlin, Monte Kiffin and John Lynch – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Mike Tomlin, Monte Kiffin and John Lynch – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

No one is off limits to Arians’ “coach ‘em hard, and hug ‘em later” strategy. And if you think this is no way to treat a “great player” and a “good guy” like McCoy, this isn’t the first time this has happened in Tampa Bay.

When Mike Tomlin arrived from the University of Cincinnati in 2001 to replace Herman Edwards as the Bucs secondary coach, he gave Pro Bowler John Lynch a list with dozens of ways for him to become a better safety, which immediately pissed off Lynch.

Tomlin also said that he loved Ronde Barber, but that he was trying to replace him all the time, especially the older he got into his 30s. Tomlin wanted Lynch and Barber on edge, and achieved that.

Lynch made two more Pro Bowls at age 30 and 31 under Tomlin, and is there any coincidence that Barber led the league with a career-high and team-record 10 interceptions in Tomlin’s first year in Tampa Bay in 2001? Or that the franchise’s signature play – a 92-yard interception return for a touchdown at Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game – came the following year?

Who was Tomlin’s offensive coordinator when he won his Super Bowl in Pittsburgh?

Why Arians, of course.

And keep in mind that Jon Gruden walked into One Buccaneer Place in 2002 and said that Monte Kiffin had a good, but not great defense, and that great defenses score touchdowns. Gruden, who had an entirely new offensive coaching staff and a revamped offensive unit to break in, challenged the Bucs defense to score nine defensive touchdowns in 2002, knowing that it would take a while for his offense to come together during the season and that Tampa Bay would need some scoring help from the defense.

Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves III – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The defense was irked, yet responded to Gruden’s challenge and rose to the occasion with five defensive TDs during the regular season. Barber added one more against the Eagles to get the Bucs to the Super Bowl where linebacker Derrick Brooks and cornerback Dwight Smith added a total of three more to beat the Raiders and hit Gruden’s goal of nine.

Arians wants to push Hargreaves towards greatness or push him to the bench. At the end of the day, how Hargreaves responds will be up to him.

That’s what accountability is all about, and that’s what Arians is teaching these Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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Dman

So a couple guys that are under performing their contracts are the target of “mind games”?

How about, ‘Arians seems to play no favorites. Veterans, rookies, free agents, they all have to perform.’

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Buc stops here

McCoy is another Bucs player with limited time left. He was drafted in 2010 and this is his 9th season. Warren Sapp lasted 12 years but after year 7 he had 5 sacks or fewer every year except his 11 year (with the Raiders) where he got 10 sacks for one more monster year. Otherwise he was between 2 and 5 sacks per year. So with McCoy the clock is ticking – what he does with it is up to him, and at least Arians is trying to make him see that. The whole diagnostic on page 2 is nice,… Read more »

Pete Wood

I don’t see this as mind games. Sounds more like “a new level of accountability.”
Hargreaves has consistently underperformed. Nothing has motivated him. IF he’d been a mid level pick, he’d be cut by now. I have no problem with benching Hargreaves during practice. Nothing else has worked.

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surferdudes

If B.A.’s Jedi mind tricks are going to work, eventually he’s going to have to cut someones head off with a light saber! Calling guys out will only work if they see there’s a price to pay. Players will need to be benched, and cut to get their full attention. Want to send a real message? Roll some heads! McCoy, JPP, and VH111 come to mind.

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SenileSenior

Funny how you made similar allusions to those Jameis made when he compared BA to a puppet master pulling all the strings. Bruce Arians is the one person calling the shots. In BA I trust. People refer to Scotty Miller as Hump’s replacement, but he is more like DJax with his size, 5-11, 175 to 5-10, 175. He and Perriman can get down field with blazing speed. We lost some proven experience (along with a bad attitude) with the departure of Jackson. We compensated ourselves with additional younger speed on offense. This complements the newly added speed on defense as… Read more »

BigSombrero

Bruce Arians is putting his stamp on the team. Donovan Smith = NO MIND GAMES, medium sized new contract. Caleb Benenoch = NO MIND GAMES, new position. Demar Dotson = NO MIND GAMES, extended for one year. Peyton Barber = NO MIND GAMES, no long term deal. Gerald McCoy gets the mind games from Bruce? LMAO. It is like a personal prayer has been answered. I have hated McCoy’s feckless reign as leader of the defense so long, this is the perfect scenario…torture! He’s under contract and can’t do shit to stop the criticism except improve his game, which is… Read more »

Li-Ti-Rilla

I gotta say, I hate how you guys and and most Buc fans paint out GMC to be this, wasted project and failure. Gerald has given us everything in his tank, through coaching changes, scheme changes and periods of almost NO HELP at all. It’s the Bucs fault for not surrounding him with talent for the better years of his career. “The fact that his play has not been enough to turn the Bucs into a playoff team.” What kind of statement is this?! There’s is literally only one DT in the league who is capable of changing a complete… Read more »

BigSombrero

A lot of people think if VH3 was a mid level pick, he would already be cut. Not true.

If he was a mid level pick, we would be happy that we got him there. The problem is he is a top ten pick and supposed to be a cornerstone at that draft position. He is far from cornerstone. He’s part of the reason the Bucs have drafted 4 corners early in the last 2 years.

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EricNV

I was sad to hear about Big Dog Steve Duemig’s passing. I used to listen religiously when I was living in Tampa, and even spoke with him live on his show once. RIP Big Dog.

Concerning Arians, the accountability couldn’t be more welcome. I’m not going to be the least bit surprised when he cuts 1-2 players this summer who you wouldn’t necessarily think would be cut to send a message to the team, and I’m sure those cuts will be well deserved.

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BigSombrero

MCCOY EXCUSE CANNON : PREPARE TO FIRE!! “Gerald has given us everything in his tank, through coaching changes, scheme changes and periods of almost NO HELP at all.” NO HELP???????? IF YOU CAN’T REMEMBER WHO HE HAS PLAYED WITH… You aren’t a Bucs fan. He has played with Lavonte David the whole time and Kwon Alexander half the time. On the line he has played with Clinton Mcdonald(Superbowl winner), Michael Bennett(Superbowl winner), Michael Johnson(multi playoffs), JPP(SuperBowl winner), Beau Allen(Superbowl winner), Vinny Curry(Superbowl Winner), Swaggy Baker (Playoff winner), and Vita Vea last year. Also he had Revis(Superbowl winner), Grimes(Playoff winner), Dashon… Read more »

What the Buc

Demanding accountability and ones best is not a mind game. VH3 is a slacker and GM is just not a leader.

IMO VH3 is a bust as first round talent, he’s never play up to that level more like a late pick. He not worth 9 million today maybe half that.

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D-Rome

I agree with you Li-Ti-Rilla. People around here like to act as if Gerald McCoy failed the Bucs. The opposite is true. The Bucs failed him. Prior to JPP the Bucs have only had one guy that was worth a damn on the defensive line and that was Michael Bennett. The team let him go after he had his best season because they thought Da’Quon Bowers was a 10 sack guy. I get it, Sapp set the bar for DT play but he didn’t do it all by himself. When Sapp had 16.5 sacks in 2000 he also had DE… Read more »

Spitfire

Nobody’s acting like Sapp lead every year, but he was a special player that McCoy unfortunately gets compared to unfairly because no one was like Sapp. He had DEs getting double digit sacks as well and you know why? Because QB’s had to move out because Sapp was in their face so as much as Sapp was helped by good DEs it was the DEs that benefited so much from Sapp.

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Spitfire

I think this whole attitude with BA is great. He didn’t come out of retirement to just hold everyone’s hand. He is gonna lay down the law and and anyone who can’t get in line will be on the bench or gone which is fine because you know what? There are lots of guys out there that are hungry to take someone’s spot and get a chance. Even Watfords attitude of “I take people’s jobs” is just the way it is and there is lots of talent out there that if given that opportunity and comes in hungry they will… Read more »

BUC-ASS-BOB

McCoy just waiting to get cut both of them do not care what BA says or does not say they have dreams to get to other teams so they can play in a playoff game which is not going to happen here.

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BucRy

I just want this drama to end..is it possible that we cut McCoy and bring in Suh instead?

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seat26

I hate to make projections before the first snap is taken, and I am sure that White will be very good. But this was a very curious draft. Bucs always focus like a laser on a player, and sometimes that comes back to bite them. I know White will get lots of tackles and a few sacks and disrupt plenty. But will he change the win/loss ratio? I doubt it. Bucs gambled on Smith and Hargraves. I think they should have gambled on Alexander and Humphries instead. And taking 3 defensive backs in the 2nd and 3rd rounds? I guess… Read more »

Alldaway 2.0

If I had to guess, Murphy-Bunting, Edwards, Dean, Whitehead, Davis and MJ Stewart will all play a role in this defense in 2019.

In my opinion McCoy is a very good player but he is not a great player. Everyone knows this except McCoy. Time will tell if he humbles himself and pushes for greatness.

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Ron Potter

I don’t think “mind games” is the best way to describe what BA is doing with VH3 and GMC but I get what you’re saying, Scott. They obviously both suffer from a weak mentality sometimes and that was festered under Koetter’s regime. BA has watched game tape AND practice tape. So his strategy with both these players are based in what he’s seen and heard in the locker room, on the game-day field and on the practice field. Seems obvious that for both to remain a Buccaneer that they will need attitude adjustments that BA desires from them. McCoy’s situation… Read more »

skipper

@ Bigsombrero
McCoy is a six time pro bowler and all pro. Bash him all you want but people who know football you look like a fool.

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bucballer

As Buc fans, I don’t think anybody is questioning whether or not he is a good football player. For ten years he has been a solid player and citizen. I think the question is about value in terms of recent performance, age versus his salary. At 13 million and over 30 is he a good value? With the Bucs lacking cap space is he willing to renogotiate to a more cap friendly number… say 6-8 mil? We all appreciate his service to the Bucs but this is a business. He’s made over 100 mil with the Bucs… Father Time waits… Read more »

drdneast

All BA is doing is finding out who the millionaires on this team who are content to lose as long as they keep getting their weekly check.
McCoy was the team captain for the defense for I don’t know how many years but I never heard him extolling his team mates to play better, harder or smarter.

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seat26

McCoy is a great player, and now we have no choice to keep him. We can’t field a front with starter quality players without him. Now Bucs will have to cut elsewhere to afford him and he sounds a little disgruntled. Bucs made a mistake by not taking a Lineman early.

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GrayBalls


Just a reminder, Hargreaves was taken at 11, not top-ten as you stated. We were, however, scheduled to pick at 9. So I guess I see where your confusion comes from

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seat26

Hargraves is not at camp, so clearly he thinks he is entitled to a starting position without earning it. After missing all of last year, You would think he would want to show the Bucs made a good Investment.

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compewterpirate

A very nice tribute to the ‘Big Dog’, Steve Duemig. I was sorry to hear of his untimely passing. I lived in Tampa Bay for more than 10 years, including during the Bucs and Lightning’s championship winning years and was a regular listener to sports radio. Love him or hate him you couldn’t ignore the ‘Big Dog’ and as you say, some of his epic rants at the outset of his show were truly memorable. A larger than life personality, whose radio show was always compelling listening. My favorite segment of Steve’s show was indeed Wednesday’s ‘Buccaneer Blitz’ and I… Read more »

scubog

I always admired Steve Duemig for his stance that folks who live here should be rooting for the hometown teams and not continue to cling onto their former allegiances. I found it heartwarming that he was so proud of his daughter’s accomplishments. His honoring of Chris Thomas showed Steve’s loyalty to friends. His knowledge of all sports was simply amazing. I miss listening to his take on virtually any subject. He had credibility that few others possess. I also thought he was a bit of a bully and never liked that he could not rationally deal with being challenged without… Read more »

Captain Sly

Scott, I will agree with you these players need to be held accountable but these “mind games” don’t work. You compared Arians to Parcells, well maybe you forgot when Parcells took over the 5-11 Cowboys in 02’ trying these same tactics and failing to change the losing culture there. After his mind tricks failed on Quincy Carter he started bringing in some of his old players and I mean Old like Testeverde and Drew Bledsoe from his time in NE & NY and that didn’t work because they kept losing. Parcells was used to winning but his old school tactics… Read more »

BUC-ASS-BOB

I believe both of those players should have been in Camp that said Arians should keep his mouth shut both McCoy and Hargreaves could start on as many as 30 NFL teams it makes him look bad bringing himself down to their level keep those conversations quiet another red flag on Arians

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BUC-ASS-BOB

Both those players are disrespecting him in front of the whole team a smart coach doesn’t mouth off to the Press they take care of it quietly behind the scenes but as the pewter boys are going to figure out in time this is not a smart coach

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ranman

Scott, nice write up on Big Dog. That show led me to being a subscriber to your mag back in the day. I was talking to someone recently about draft day and having your draft edition mag on the table studying it as the rounds ticked off.

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NCBuc

I have always been a Bucs fan (original ticket holder from 1976 – 1998). I moved to N. C. 21 years ago but could never wrap my head or soul around the Carolina Panthers. Does that make me a bad hometown person?

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flarick

Now, I’m not one of those “McCoy haters” as one of this websites competitors refers to us, but I think it’s time for Gerald McCoy to head on down the road to greener pastures. While McCoy is a fine player, with an awesome first step, and a great human being, what has he done for the Bucs? As I’ve pointed out before, since McCoy arrived in 2010 the Bucs are a combined 52-92. While football is a team game and a team’s fortunes good or bad cannot be ascribed to the efforts of one player, McCoy is the one constant… Read more »

BigSombrero

@Skipper How many pro bowls for Paul Gruber? He was drafted 4th overall and played in Tampa for 12 years. 3rd most starts in team history at 183. NO PRO BOWLS. How many pro bowls for Lee Roy Selmon? Six. Considered the greatest Bucs player by many. Derrick Brooks has 11 pro bowls and Sapp 7. Those are two players that didn’t need to make excuses or go off in the media/twitter/instagram. Gerald McCoy’s pro bowls really don’t mean much to me. It’s determined by fan voting with up to ten entries per fan. Popularity contest with limited choices. He’s… Read more »

BucFan circa76

The only point I want to add on the endless McCoy banter is that only he and the Bucs know whether a pay cut has been requested. I feel it WAS requested and then abruptly denied by McCoy, thus adding to the ill feelings (aka “pissing match”) between the two sides. Nice write-up and memories on Big Dog. I started listening back in the Wyche era and he wasnt a Sam Wyche fan anymore than he was a Dilfer admirer. I agree Scott that he had a soft side – if you listened to him as long and often as… Read more »

scubog

@NCBuc: The question you pose is another perspective on fan loyalties for Bucs fans who relocated. It’s one of my pet peeves. In my view, when a person makes the decision to make a permanent move, like you did to NC, you should try to become a fan of your new “home” team. If that relocation was a temporary one, that’s a different situation. In 1967 I came here from the Pittsburgh area to go to college at UT. Those were the pre-Buccaneer days. The local team was the Dolphins. I was mostly a UT football fan, but gradually became… Read more »

NCBuc

Scubog, I see your argument, but with NFL football on Directv, I have the luxury of watching the old home team every week with other friends who are Bucs fans. Sorry, I’ll never be wed to the “stinkin’ Panthers. Go Bucs!

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Johnny Cannons

One of my favorite Fab5s thus far. Reasoned analysis and a compelling personal glimpse into the sports media business as well. Well done. There’s a long and strange story about how I became a Bucs fan 25 or so years ago despite having never lived in Tampa. If I stuck to Big Dog’s mantra, I’d be at best a Broncos fan and at worst a fair weather team-jumper, having lived in five different states and spending half of my adult life overseas. So while the ‘hometown first’ mantra is admirable, I take it with a grain of salt. Last I… Read more »