The crushing let-down feeling of last season's end has given way to a percolating sense of optimism going into this upcoming season. It's not Richter-scale enthusiasm but bit by bit each month of the off-season has brought glimmers of hope to those of us crushed by last year's seeming rise at the start to watching our guys getting creamed every game by season's end. Morris's firing, while viewed as inevitable and necessary, was still a stomp on the heart to those of us that rooted for him to prove his naysayers wrong. In the end the naysayers were right. And that's where the seeds of hope were planted.
I've been impressed thus far by the new coaching staff assembled. I think Schiano has a gut-level understanding of what it takes to build a team. I like his emphasis on details and fundamentals. The free agent acquisitions were just what the doctor ordered for our impotent offense. I was a big Millard fan and I thought he would transform our defensive line but injuries and lack of talented depth behind key starters derailed his career in Tampa. Again, these new coaches on defense seem just like what these young guys need. Change in coach's name only? Only time will tell. But as the summer doldrums roll in and we have two months of football purgatory I can't help but getting the sense that hype or not things will be different this year. That a new era may be starting.
I'm a Tampa area native since 1956 but I moved away just when the Bucs came to town. I didn't follow that closely until Dungy came in. I think it was 1997 and they came out of the gates at 4-0. It seemed like the classic Cinderella story, rags to riches. Dungy and Kiffin put together a defense that could dominate most every game by 2000. But, that inability to put a decent offense on the field doomed him. The Glazers paid a high ransom in the middle of the night to bring Gruden the offensive genius here. But, in one season it paid off with a SB win. That ransom ultimately led to the conditions that slowly hollowed the team. That and poor draft strategies. The gut-wrenching collapse of Dec. 2008 was best symbolized in the Oakland game when Derrick Brooks, grimacing in pain and clutching at his hamstrings, unsuccessfully chased a runner to the goal line as our playoff hopes ran away from him.
Enter the Morris era. Shock and awe took on a whole new meaning out of the context of war. Who was this dude? And what are his qualifications? By season's end, like many others, I was ready for a 'real' head coach. But, an eternal optimist when it comes to this team (perhaps a carryover from the Cinderellaesque rise of the Dungy years) I concluded he needed more time to prove himself. I discounted the soft schedule arguments of 2010 as just the sour grapes of his detractors. I thought in 2011 we were mining for gold after the 2010 performance. Unfortunately, pyrite, fools gold, sparkles and looks like the real thing.
Enter the Schiano era. It started with OTA's. The stories about Schiano's ways. The 'new look' of practices. Players buying in. That recent video on the Bucs official site, with it's pulsating beat and slogan of a new year rising drew me in. Ronde's recent appearance on the NFL channel and his youth like enthusiasm for how Schiano is putting his brand on the team pulled me further from my objectivity. I know the challenges this team and it's new coaching staff face. But, part of fandom is being sucked in. Believing even when you know the odds of success and the historical trends are against you. It's somewhere between Pollyanna and Chicken Little that I have found myself. At this juncture, I guess that should be expected. But, when I watch that Bucs promo video and that beat kicks in and builds I'm drawn back into the hype that was dead just a few short months ago. Long live the hype!