I think I've reached the point that many of you reached a year or so ago. A point I didn't see coming after a spectacular 2004 season. I've held on as long as possible. I've waited days, weeks and years for this guy to return. I've penned several articles on a possible resurgence, on a re-dedication to a game, how a new coach would help him, how he brings other skills to the table outside of receiving. The bandwagon is bare, and yet I've stayed on to the point where I may be halfway off, but one foot still lingers on the back bumper. There's nothing better in sports than a full fledged tale of redemption, and I've hung on to the notion that one day Michael Clayton will have his while wearing the pewter and red uniform. But as he enters his 7th NFL season, I've realized that it's time to just jump off the bandwagon and forget this guy existed.
I can vividly remember the 2004 draft. My brother and I were driving from central Florida to south Florida for a buddy's wedding that day. I remember it because not only was it draft day, but there was also a Klitschko heavyweight fight I wanted to see as well as the Sacramento Kings/Dallas Mavericks playoff game, all of which I happily missed to attend said friend's nuptials. As we were making our way down there, the Bucs pick came up and my brother and I turned up the radio to see who the pick was and what it meant for our team. When the pick of Clayton was announced, I was admittedly a bit disappointed. He had the looks of a poor man's Keyshawn (my comparison). He couldn't stretch the field, which is what the Bucs needed, but he could go across the middle. The rest of the offseason I began to talk myself into the pick and by the time the first regular season game came around, I was firmly onboard the hype wagon.
His 2004 season stands as what it is, one of the best seasons by a rookie wide receiver ever. #80 jerseys began popping up everywhere, Clayton was a household name, even when the Bucs weren't. Tampa Bay fans began to see a perennial Pro Bowler who would lead the offense for years to come. But then, a strange thing happened. The list of reasons are long and debatable but the bottom line is Clayton didn't progress. Whether it be injuries, laziness (his own words), a disconnect with then-coach Jon Gruden, or just the fact that maybe he had surpassed his ceiling, he would never come close to those numbers again.
We wrote it off in 2005 as a one year thing. 2006 it became about getting more reps behind the play of re-energized Joey Galloway, 2007 it was the type of offense being run and by 2008 it ws clearly the clash with the head coach. Then 2009 came and we had a healthy player who would be in a new offense with a new coach. He played well in camp and the rave reviews began pouring back in. As skeptical as we all were, we bought back in to the idea that Clayton was a gamechanger. After a (relatively) monster game 1 against Dallas, Morris, as well as most fans seemed to step up for Clayton. Morris went so far as to dare anyone to question Clayton. I went so far as to pen a welcome back Clayton article. Times were good.
Then Game 2 happened, followed by Game 3 and the rest of the 2009 season. None of these games were like the Dallas game. Clayton morphed back into the guy who couldn't catch a cold and couldn't stay on the field. The shine had officially worn off. The fans had deserted the Clayton bandwagon. The good ole days were nothing more than a distant memory that seemed to be fiction rather than fact. The odds were long for a Clayton resurgence and with the drafting of Mike Williams and Regis Benn along with the acquisition of Reggie Brown and the emergence of Sammy Stroughter the odds became more likely that Clayton wouldn't make the roster than be a factor in our offense.
So as we sit firmly entrenched in the 2010 offseason, I think I'm finaly ready to take that leap. As much as I've dogged him both by written and spoken word, it was easy to find myself looking for excuses for him. I wanted to believe that he still had it in him, that ability to make a sensational catch while bowling over 2 defenders. But like anyone who's been burned multiple times by the same person, there's a point where you just have had enough. That time is now with me and Mr. Clayton. Why now? I'm not really sure. I can't come up with a reason other than I have no indication that the 2004 version will ever come back.
So for now Clayton bandwagon and those still hanging on, if there's anyone left, it's time for me to jump off and join the rest of reality. You can consider me as good as done with Clayton. That is, until he wows us all again. Then I'll be right back in the driver's seat.