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The Answer Man, Series 6, Vol. 1

Posted Feb 12, 2010

The Buc fans' resident inside expert returns after a long absence to address such issues as the schedule rotation, backward passes, overtime rules, Hall of Fame candidacies, the still painful Bert Emanuel Rule and much more

You know, I have an editor.

I bring that up for two reasons. One, it's a sneaky attempt to pass the blame for the inevitable typos you're going to run across here and there in my columns. Obviously, I'd like there to be none of those, but when you regularly ramble on for 10,000 words, one or two of them is bound to be garbled. But since I have an editor? Yeah, it's her fault if one gets through. Repeat: It's her fault.

My second reason is more merciful than mercenary, however. In skimming back over some of the old columns in my archive recently - my attempt to get back into the groove - I was reminded that most of my entries had really long intros. And many of them had nothing to do with any questions you sent in.

The first one I picked out at random, for instance, was a 1,400 meandering through some of the more notable rules changes in NFL history, prompted by another league crackdown on end zone celebrations in the summer of 2006. Joey Galloway had made a lighthearted quip about the issue at a downtown Tampa luncheon and that got me thinking on the issue, which isn't necessarily a good thing. Seventeen paragraphs and 16 additional bullet points later, and I hadn't answered a single question yet.

So - and maybe it's already a little late to say this - I decided I would save my editor's eyes just this once and, on my first real column after a three-year hiatus, skip the rambling intro and get right to the questions.

Then Jay of Tampa, Florida sent in a question, and that plan was scuttled. Well, I mean, it still worked out for me because I didn't have to spend any time on a lengthy intro, but my editor didn't get her break after all. You see, in what is a very complimentary "Welcome Back," Jay seems to have channeled my own aimless verbosity, with a dash of humorous stream-of-consciousness mixed in. To wit:

Jay of Tampa, Florida asks:

When I was looking at the Buccaneer website and read that the Answer Man was coming back I thought, "It's probably somebody else who is just going to answer questions and not the real Answer Man." I was thinking the column would not be as good without the real thing. In fact that would be like having someone else new to play Batman like, well, Christian Bale. Okay, bad example. Christian Bale was fantastic as the new Batman but I wasn't looking forward to reading a column from another Answer Man. When I began reading the first couple sentences I knew the real Answer Man was back. No one has that style, that humor and that rambling on which we all love. I have really missed reading the Answer Man and my only request is more columns if you have time. Maybe even breaking up your column to one or two questions at a time so we can read the questions and answers more often. A year ago I was wondering about a couple things and thought, "I wish the Answer Man was here so I could ask him." Since you're back, here are my questions..."

Okay, I cut that off at that point because I am actually going to answer Jay's questions below, but we have a few things to take care of first. Before I move on, let me say thanks to you Jay. I think you give me far too much credit, especially on the humor part of it, but I'm glad there are people out there who are going to enjoy this question-and-answer process now that it's back. Could I do a bunch of mini-columns instead, as you suggest? Worth a thought. Worth a thought.

Okay, after that grossly self-congratulatory little bit, let me point out that not everybody was overwhelmed by the prospects of my return. In fact, I dare say there was some questioning of my credentials.

Such as:

- The Real Answer Man, Tampa, Florida asks:

Answer Man, why do you claim to have all the answers?

Answer Man: Actually, I only claim to have the answers to the questions in these columns. And since I'm the one who chooses which questions will be included, I can keep my success rate pretty high. Also, as I've said before, I don't claim that I have the answers as soon as I read the questions, but I can often find someone who does in order to relay the info.

Or this one:

- Answer Guy of Uranus asks:

Why were you away so long Answer Man?

Answer Man: Hey, the economy's been tough. It's not like an "Answer Man" columnist is exactly a necessary resource for most organizations. I tried my hand at a few other professions but never found anything that suited me quite like this one. Cross your fingers that I can stay in the budget.

But especially this one:

Ray of Norfolk, Virginia asks:

Why does your Jan. 25, 2010 column read like it's from the 90's? You answered a question about trading for Galloway saying it's too soon to tell! We already released Galloway and a bunch of other old players. UPDATE!

Answer Man: Oh, I loved this one. If you remember the column to which Ray refers, it was the story in which I announced my return and began the process of soliciting questions. I tried to explain the ins and outs of the process, and the types of questions I would be able to answer. Since I wasn't going to assume that all of the readers out there were familiar with my old column, I thought I would give some examples from years past. There are more than 60 old entries in my archive, so I just clicked on a few of them at random and grabbed a question or two that looked interesting. One was, as Ray points out, a lengthy analysis of the best and worst trades in team history. This particular one was from after the 2005 season, so it was indeed well before Galloway finished one of the best three-year runs for a receiver in team history and, a little later, was released.

Um, so the question wasn't included as a fresh source of information but as an example of what you can expect to find in these columns, Norfolk Ray. Sorry about the confusion. But now that I'm back in the here and now, I'll try to, as you say, UPDATE!

(How mad is Ray going to be when I answer a question about the so-called "Bert Emanuel Rule" from 1999 below?! Tee-hee!)

And, finally, one from the reader I often referred to as my nemesis, because like all nemeses he, you know, provided the exact thing that I needed (interesting and frequent questions) to stay on the job. Dastardly!

Richard of Dallas, Texas says:

I don't have a question - just a heartfelt welcome back from your old "nemesis" formerly known as "Richard from Bethlehem, PA." I look forward to the rejuvenation of what was one of the best parts of Buccaneers.com.

Well, let's hope so! Let's see how I do. On to your questions!

**

1. Jay of Tampa, Florida asks:

If a player in the NFL is on a team and is hurt on the last game of the season and his team wins the Super Bowl, does he get a ring? Second, if a player is hurt halfway through the season does he continue to get paid his full salary throughout the season? Last of all, if a player is hurt during a preseason game and is out for the season and he is a rookie off the street or a 10-year veteran what does he get paid if anything for the year? I asked several questions on the same topic so you can ramble in the same direction. Welcome back Answer Man, you have made my offseason.

Answer Man: Okay, Jay gets the first question (or set of questions) because he buttered me up the most. In the future, though, I also enjoy the artfully-crafted putdown, so don't feel like you have to be nice all the time.

Let's take them one at a time. If a player in the NFL is on a team and is hurt on the last game of the season and his team wins the Super Bowl, does he get a ring?

Yes. A good example is Anthony McFarland from the Buccaneers' 2002 Super Bowl-winning team. "Booger," as he was willingly known, started the first eight games of the season before fracturing his right forearm at Carolina on October 27 during that memorable comeback and 12-9 victory. He missed four games while recovering from that mishap before returning to start two more. Then, in a win at Detroit on December 15, McFarland fractured his right foot and was placed on injured reserve, ending his season. Chartric Darby stepped in and did an outstanding job at nose tackle, but the team knew that McFarland had contributed heavily in the efforts to get to the postseason. He certainly deserved a ring, and he got one. The main thing to understand is that there isn't a set number of rings that are given out. Obviously every active player and coach on the team gets one, but the team then decides who else gets one, such as players who were traded or released, injured players, staff members, et cetera.

Second, if a player is hurt halfway through the season does he continue to get paid his full salary throughout the season?

For the most part, yes. I assume you again are referring to players who get hurt and are moved to injured reserve. Not only do you continue to draw your salary while on injured reserve (which also continues to count against the salary cap) but you also continue to accumulate service credit towards free agency. Essentially, the system is set up to protect players from losing their salaries due to injury. Now, both sides - player and team - can choose to reach an injury settlement rather than the injured reserve list. In this case, some sum that is more than zero but less than what the total salary would be is agreed upon and the player is released, making him free to sign with another team and even play again that season if he returns to health in time.

Last of all, if a player is hurt during a preseason game and is out for the season and he is a rookie off the street or a 10-year veteran what does he get paid if anything for the year?

The same rules I just outlined above apply whether the injury occurs during the preseason, at midseason or in December. However, it is fair to say that more preseason injuries result in injury settlements than do those later in the year. That is often the case with a player who was a long shot to make the active roster. An established veteran, on the other hand, is more likely to find himself on injured reserve for the year. One, releasing him could have a tough impact on the salary cap. And two, the team has a better feel for what that player can do and whether he will be able to make the roster again the following season. A good example from this past year is punter Josh Bidwell, who went on injured reserve during the preseason but plans to return and claim his job again in 2010 now that he has recovered from his hip surgery.

**

2. Keenan of Valrico, Florida asks:

Aren't we supposed to be going to St. Louis and San Fran is supposed to be coming here in 2010? Last time I checked, when we played the NFC West we had the Rams and Cardinals at home and the 49ers and Seahawks on the road. Is the NFL changing up its scheduling format?

Answer Man: That is an excellent question, Keenan. Do I say that because, just a few weeks ago, I was wondering the exact same thing myself? Well, duh, of course that's why I say that.

Let me flesh out the question for those of you who might not know exactly what Keenan is talking about.

When the NFL realigned into eight four-team divisions in 2002, it also changed its scheduling format and the basic philosophy behind it. Prior to 2002, much of the year-by-year scheduling was based on "strength of schedule." That is, how well you did in one season had a lot to do with who you were matched up with the following season. One problem with that approach was that it tended to create gaps where certain teams didn't play each other for a long, long time. As an example, the Bucs went 17 years, from 1977 to 1994, without playing the Seattle Seahawks, and that was Tampa Bay's 1976 expansion twin! Tampa Bay didn't play Dallas for a solid decade, and that was an NFC team - should've come up in the rotation at some point. And the weirdest anomaly on the Bucs' all-time schedule: No trips ever to Buffalo.

The new system in 2002 replaced that strength of schedule emphasis with one on making sure every team played every other team within a reasonable span of time. In fact, the first run of the new system laid out the basic schedule for the next eight years (2002-09) and in those eight years every team would play one home game and one away game against every other team in the league. The Bucs finally made their first trip to Buffalo just this past September.

With the current format, only two games on the schedule each year are determined by a team's record from the previous year. In addition to playing one's six division games, each team plays all the team from a specific NFC division and a specific AFC division (rotated each year). That eats up 14 games, and the final two for any team are against the teams that finished in the same place in the standings in the two divisions from its own conference that it is not matched up with this year. For example, after finishing third in the NFC South in 2008, the Bucs played all the NFC East teams in 2009 plus the third-place teams in the NFC West (Seattle) and the NFC North (Green Bay).

(If you're still wondering why my columns are always way too long, notice that I haven't even started answering Keenan's question yet.) Okay, the basic question here is this: Is the NFL sticking with the same format it used from 2002-09, or is it changing it?

The answer is: Not exactly either. The NFL is using the same basic system in 2010 that it used from 2002-09. However, it is not simply beginning the exact same rotation over again.

In 2002, the Bucs played all the teams in the NFC North division. They then played the NFC East and the NFC West the next two years before returning to the North in their rotation in 2005. After playing home games against Green Bay and Minnesota and road games at Chicago and Detroit in 2002, the Bucs switched and played the Bears and Lions at home and traveled to Green Bay and Minneapolis in '05. They switched back when the rotation came up again in 2008. On the AFC side, the rotation worked out even better because there were four other divisions to play over an eight-year span. The Bucs cycled through the AFC North, South, West and East (in that order) exactly twice and played each of those 16 teams once each at home and on the road.

The NFL kept with the same format in 2010 but has so far not laid out another full eight-year rotation plan. In fact, there has been no announcement yet if the same system will be used in 2011. At the moment, consider it a one-year plan. And while part of the rotation of the last eight years remains in place - the Bucs continue their previous cycles in both conferences to end up with the AFC North and NFC West on the docket in 2010 - the home and away portion of the set-up are basically starting anew. Way back in 2004, the Bucs played San Francisco and Seattle at home and traveled to Arizona and St. Louis. That meant when the AFC West came back around in 2007, it was time to welcome Arizona and St. Louis to Raymond James Stadium and travel twice to the West Coast.

In 2010, as Keenan points out, the rotation starts over with a new pattern, bringing St. Louis and Seattle to town and sending the Bucs to Arizona and San Francisco. I dare to say Keenan sounds a little bummed out by that. You know who else is bummed out by not going to St. Louis? The Answer Man. As I may have pointed out in the past, while football and specifically the Buccaneers are my one and true love, my favorite baseball team is the steeped-in-history St. Louis Cardinals.

**

3. Aaron Moody of Orlando, Florida asks:

When are we going to hear from Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris about their thoughts on the season and the "state of the franchise" like years past? Or are we? Thanks.

Answer Man: We are. And thanks to you too.

The fine folks here at Buccaneers.com tell me that both Dominik and Morris will be sitting down exclusively with Buccaneers.com for a pair of "Behind the Flag" segments. Each will answer an extensive list of questions regarding where the team stands now and where it is headed. Dominik is scheduled to go first, and I'm told the video of his interview will be posted in the middle of next week. Morris is likely to sit down for his interview after he returns from the NFL Scouting Combine a little later this month.

However, I think you're referring to those general media interviews that the head coach and general manager often do in the weeks leading up to free agency. As a matter of fact, Dominik is going to discuss some of those free agency issues with the local media on Friday afternoon. Buccaneers.com, I'm told, will follow with a written report of that discussion.

So, good timing on your question, Aaron.

**

4. Bruce M. of Colorado Springs, Colorado asks:

I have a question regarding league rules. I have seen many times when a QB drops back to pass and gets hit, the ball comes loose and the referees review the play to determine fumble or pass. Many times it's ruled an incomplete pass and the ball returns to the original line of scrimmage. On many of those occasions, the ball actually landed a yard or two behind the QB (especially on plays involving the "tuck rule"). My question... why isn't this considered a backward pass or "lateral" and a free ball?

Answer Man: Ah, the NFL rule book. Sigh. The bane of my existence and yet I need it as surely as I need my laptop, my editor or any tool in my trade. That book is one thing I did not miss during my three years away.

Actually, I believe I can answer this question in layman's terms before we crack open the rulebook and get an official ruling. I believe you are describing a play in which a quarterback is hit as he's attempting to throw, causing the ball to come loose and the officials to determine whether it was a throw or a fumble. And in the specific case of your question, the ball lands somewhere behind where it was released.

Why isn't that a lateral and thus a fumble and a free ball in every case? Because the quarterback was attempting to throw a forward pass. It was the hit by the defender that caused his arm or even his body to turn and force the pass in the wrong direction. The most eye-catching example of this is when a hit by the defender dislodges the ball at the back of the quarterback's forward arm movement, leading to a situation the officials refer to as "empty hand." The ball is in his hand as he begins his throwing motion, and the throwing motion is completed while the ball flies backward; this is still an attempted pass by NFL rules.

Okay, now to the official rulebook. And you know what, as much as I have complained in the past about the convoluted and sometimes inscrutable language in that tome, in this case I think the stated rule is actually clearer than my supposedly "layman" version above (despite the commas run amok).

Rule 8, Section 1, Article 1:

When a player is in control of the ball and attempting to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of the his hand starts a forward pass.

(a) If the passer is attempting to throw a forward pass, but contact by an opponent materially affects him, causing the ball to go backward, it is a forward pass, regardless of where the ball strikes the ground, a player, an official, or anything else.

(b) If, after an intentional forward movement of his hand, the passer loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body, it is a forward pass. If the player loses possession after he has tucked the ball into his body, it is a fumble.

(c) If the passer loses possession of the ball while attempting to recock his arm, it is a fumble.

That part (b) addresses your note about the "tuck rule," Bruce. Obviously made famous by the 2001 AFC Championship Game between New England and Oakland, the so-called tuck rule was instituted in 1999, probably to little fanfare. It wasn't until it was actually called on a grand stage that many fans (and probably players and coaches) became aware of it. It's fair to say that, even now that such awareness has been spread, the rule has its critics.

Essentially, the tuck rule allows the quarterback, when realizing he's about to get hit, to change his throwing motion midstream to a tuck while still having the protection of the incomplete pass rule if he were to lose control of it. As part (c) makes clear, if he successfully tucks it and then is trying to cock his arm again, he now can be called for a fumble if the ball is knocked loose.

**

5. Bobby Garcia of El Paso, Texas asks:

Who is the greatest QB in Buccaneers history? And don't tell me Doug Williams. I just want to know????

Answer Man: You just want to know???? You're not sure if you want to know or not? Well, then, I'm not sure if I feel like answering or not.

Kidding aside, this one is edging close to that category of question I can't really address. You know, "Who are the Bucs going to draft this year? Do you think we should keep or cut Player X? What's your home address and what sort of security system do you have?"

On one hand, the Answer Man isn't interested in stepping on the toes of any former Buccaneer quarterback by ranking one over the other. On the other hand, I'm intrigued by the way this question is composed. "And don't tell me Doug Williams?" Well, why not? I guess it's obvious that Williams wouldn't be your choice, but don't you have to concede that he's at least in the argument, if not one of the favorites?

I mean, we are talking about the quarterback with the third-most passing yards and second-most passing touchdowns in franchise history. We're also talking about a QB who won ballgames, going 33-33-1 in an era in which the Bucs lost tons of games immediately before and after his tenure. And we're talking about a player who has been widely recognized as a selfless leader for a team that shocked the NFL world by advancing to the NFC Championship Game two years removed from a 26-game losing streak. The Bucs were 2-26 in the two years before Williams was drafted; they made the playoffs in three of the next five years, all with Williams at the helm.

I'm not sure I'm going to go so far as to provide a definitive answer - or, rather, my specific opinion of how the best QBs in team history should be ranked - but I'll lay out the debate for all of us.

In some ways, it comes down to what metric you want to use to rank these guys. What's most important to you in a quarterback? Is it winning games? In that case, you'd have to consider Williams, Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson right off the bat. Dilfer won more games than any other starting quarterback in team history, going 38-38, plus 1-1 in the playoffs. He also leads the pack in games started, which counts for something. Williams is next with those 33 wins, plus a 1-3 mark in the playoffs. Johnson is third with 26 wins, but gets extra credit for being the only one of the three over .500 (26-23) and for also being 3-1 in the playoffs. And, of course, Johnson won bigger than the rest, taking his team to the Super Bowl title in 2002.

Do you want raw numbers? Vinny Testaverde leaps into the debate as the Bucs' all-time leader in attempts, completions, yards and touchdown passes. Of course, Testaverde also leads, by a very healthy margin, in interceptions thrown, while Dilfer nearly caught him in all the other categories and threw 32 fewer picks. Testaverde was also 24-48 as a starter and, like Dilfer, he was eventually allowed to leave as a free agent without any resistance. It should be noted that both passers went on to impressive achievements after leaving the team, Testaverde by rising all the way to seventh place on the NFL's all-time passing yardage chart and Dilfer by winning a Super Bowl as the starter for the Baltimore Ravens. As far as passing yards in Buc history, it goes Testaverde, Dilfer, Williams, Johnson and DeBerg. Touchdowns: Testaverde, Williams, Dilfer, Johnson, DeBerg.

Do you prefer the rate statistics, such as passer rating and completion percentage? Here, Johnson shines again, with a passer rating of 83.2 that is far better than that of Testaverde, Dilfer or Williams (64.4, 69.4 and 66.2, respectively) on a comparable number of passes. I put in that last caveat because both Jeff Garcia and Brian Griese have better career passer ratings for the Bucs than any of those four, but neither started nearly as many games or threw even half as many passes overall. Johnson easily leads those four at the top in completion percentage, at 61.8%, and is the only one of the four with more touchdowns thrown than interceptions (64-41).

Awards? Dilfer, Johnson and Garcia are the only Buccaneer quarterbacks to make the Pro Bowl, with one each. No Tampa Bay quarterback has ever been named an all-pro.

In the end, Testaverde, Dilfer and Williams ended their Buc careers with quite similar stats, and all went on to better things later in their careers (Williams was memorably the MVP of Super Bowl XXII with the Washington Redskins). Williams led three teams to the playoffs, Dilfer one and a half (he was the starter for 10 games in 1999 but Shaun King was at the helm down the stretch and in the playoffs), Testaverde none. Testaverde's numbers are hurt by a high number of interceptions, Williams' by a low rate of completions. To me, don't the playoff appearances and the well-earned reputation as a leader bring Williams to the front of that group? If so, his top competition appears to be Johnson, who holds the team's single-season record for passing yards and the top two single-season touchdown pass marks. And Johnson, of course, won a Super Bowl.

Now, you decide.

**

6. Brad of Loveland, Colorado asks:

Have the Bucs ever worn their alternate black jerseys? And if they haven't maybe you know why they haven't. I just think that would be a great new look.

Answer Man: I think I answered this one several times in my earlier runs with this column, but as I said in my reintroduction a few weeks ago, I don't really expect anyone to go searching through the archives for a specific answer. We might as well address this one again, and then in future weeks I can just refer people back to this entry when it comes up again.

The reason the Bucs haven't worn their alternate black jersey, Brad, is because they don't have an alternate black jersey.

But wait, you say, I've seen fans wearing those black jerseys on several occasions. What gives? Hey, it's just some enterprising merchandisers, putting out a variation that they think might sell. It's not based on anything the Buccaneers have ever actually worn or have planned on wearing. Alternate jerseys with radically different color schemes are not nearly as common in the NFL as they are in some other sports, such as baseball or hockey. The Cowboys, for instance, have that alternate jersey with the stars on the shoulders, but it's not like it departs at all from the usual white, blue and silver color scheme.

Actually, with the exception of throwback jerseys, the NFL didn't allow teams to have a third jersey (beyond the usual white-based and primary-color-based options) until 2002. At first teams could only wear that third jersey once per season; now they can do it twice a year and as often as they like in the playoffs.

Will the Bucs ever wear black jerseys, such as the one the Baltimore Ravens introduced in 2004? Well, you can never say never. So far, the team has not created that third alternate jersey, and it did bring back Throwback jerseys for the first time just last season. That was certainly popular, and will almost certainly be seen again.

**

7. Samvit of Pinellas Park, Florida asks:

Why doesn't the NFL play overtime like regular quarters instead of waiting for the first score? The first score method makes it obvious (field goals) who will win/lose.

Answer Man: Why doesn't the NFL change the overtime rule? Because so far not enough NFL decision-makers are convinced it needs changing.

It's as simple as that, really. While it seems like the ongoing public debate about the NFL's sudden-death system has gained in volume in recent years - and the New Orleans-Minnesota NFC Championship Game will certainly add fuel to the fire - the NFL isn't necessarily convinced that the system is broken. After all, you say the first-score method makes it obvious who will win, but why is that so? Why shouldn't a team be able to count on its special teams and defense to keep the opposition from taking the first possession of overtime into scoring range?

Since 1974, when overtime was adopted for the regular season in the NFL, there have been 325 games go to an extra period. Of those games, 52.0% were won by the team that won the coin toss. Is that a significant enough of an apparent advantage to the toss-winning team to say that the system doesn't work? What if you also know that in 72.3% of those 325 games, both teams have had at least one possession?

The main arguments for the current system appear to be that is simple, (sometimes) quick, decisive and not too far removed from the way the game is played for the first four quarters, as opposed to the NCAA system. And that it does not, contrary to some public opinion, turn the final decision into a coin flip. It's easy to become convinced of that after watching the Saints taking the opening possession for the game-winning field goal against Brett Favre and the Vikings just a few weeks ago. However, in the 2007 NFC Championship Game just two years earlier, Favre's Green Bay Packers went into overtime with the New York Giants and won the toss, only to lose the game. Favre's pass on the second play of overtime was intercepted by Corey Webster, setting up Lawrence Tynes' game-winning field goal.


Let's say for the sake of argument, however, that the NFL's overtime system does need to be changed (and truth be told, despite the argument above, the Answer Man is starting to agree with you on that point, Samvit). Then how do you change it?

If the NFL wants to avoid going to a system that feels too different from the way the rest of the game is played, like the NCAA approach, and it still prefers the sudden death idea to an entire extra quarter, then there are a couple of options. Such as:

- Six points to win. With this scenario, it's still potentially sudden death, it's just that a team has to score at least six points to win. Thus, if the coin toss-winning team takes the opening possession into opposing territory, it wouldn't have such an easy decision to make, or such an easy task to win the game. That team must drive all the way for the touchdown - a much more difficult task - in order to win on its first drive, or it can choose to kick a field goal and get halfway to the win. Then, that team would have to keep the opposing team from scoring a touchdown before it could get another field goal on the board. It would be hard to argue that the kicking team didn't have a chance to win the game if it can't stop the opposition from driving all the way for a touchdown.

- Each team gets a possession. As simple as it sounds. If the team with the first possession scores on that opening drive, the other team gets one possession to either tie or win the game. If the team with the first possession doesn't score on that drive, or if the game is tied after each team has one possession, then the game reverts to overtime.

- Choose the ball or field position. Here's a more radical idea, and frankly I can't imagine the NFL adopting it because it feels too gimmicky. Still, it does seem as if it would at least be fair. In this scenario, the team that wins the coin toss would get to name a yard line on the field. The other team would then get the choice of taking the ball at that yard line or playing defense. For instance, if the first team said the 40-yard line (always assuming the yard line that is on the side of the field of the team taking possession), the second team is almost certain to take the ball. But what if the first team says the 15 yard line, or the 10? At some point, won't the second team feel safer playing defense and forcing the first team to sustain a long drive.

­- Name That Tune style. This is almost the same as the idea above, but with a twist. In this system, one team names a yard line at which they would be willing to take possession of the ball, say the 20. The other team could then say they'd be willing to start at the 15, and so on. At some point, one of the teams would say, 'Okay, you can have the ball at that yard line.'

I'm sure there are some other ideas out there as well, Samvit. Whether or not the NFL will ever see the need to adopt one of them remains to be seen.

**

8. Lawson Jaffe of Tampa, Florida asks:

What more can Ronde Barber do as a player? How many years does he have left in the tank, and is he a future Hall of Famer?

Answer Man: What more can Ronde Barber do, or what more does he need to do? I think you're asking the latter question, as in, 'What more does Ronde Barber need to do to convince those who will eventually make the decision that he is worthy of the Hall of Fame?'

If it's the former question, however, there's no reason to believe that Barber is near being done. Yes, his twin brother, Tiki, retired a few years ago, but the Bucs' Barber clearly still has a passion for the game. Even when the team released many of his veteran teammates and imported a new defensive scheme under Jim Bates last offseason - one, by the way, it was assumed by many would not fit Barber's skills - he still worked extremely hard and had another outstanding season in 2009.

Then, too, there is the matter of Barber's remarkable durability. Barber played in only one game as a rookie in 1997, but that was a coaches' decision as the young player worked on grasping the team's defensive scheme. He got into the mix in 1998, however, and has since played in every single game for 12 straight seasons. That is an extraordinarily rare occurrence, and it suggests that Barber remains in peak physical condition at the age of 34.

Just in regards to the Buccaneers, Barber is clearly the top cornerback in team history. He holds the franchise record for interceptions with 37, six more than second-place man Donnie Abraham. He has scored an incredible 14 career touchdowns, by far the best in team history and among the NFL's all-time leaders for defensive players. He also ranks second in team history in tackles, tied for eighth in sacks (!!!!) and second in both games played and games started. Barber's five Pro Bowl visits are three more than every other cornerback in team history has combined (one each for Abraham and Wayne Haddix), and he's the only Buc corner ever to win first-team AP All-Pro honors (three times, in fact, and second-team twice). Barber's 10 interceptions in 2001 are the most in a single season by a Buccaneer, and he owns two of the three three-interception games in Buc annals.

Is that enough to make Barber a Hall of Famer? Well, he was recently named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000s, which means he has succeeded in convincing voters that he is among the best of his generation (the same voters that chose that team choose the Hall of Fame class each year). That should certainly put Barber on the short list. Does it get him into the Hall?

There are 21 defensive backs in the Hall of Fame at this point, with Dick LeBeau the most recent addition just this past year. (LeBeau had both an outstanding playing career, with 62 career interceptions, and a noteworthy coaching career to entice the voters.) Of those 21, seven are listed as safeties. Some of the remaining 14, such as Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott, played both safety and cornerback in their careers but must still be considered among the corners.

Here are the 14 primary cornerbacks in the Hall of Fame (some of whom also played safety): Herb Adderley, Lem Barney, Mel Blount, Willie Brown, Darrell Green, Mike Haynes, Jimmy Johnson, Dick (Night Train) Lane, Dick LeBeau, Ronnie Lott, Mel Renfro, Emmitt Thomas, Roger Wehrli and Rod Woodson. Of those 14, Wehrli, Haynes and Adderley had the lowest interception totals, with 40, 46 and 48 respectively. All of those totals seem within Barber's reach if he plays several more years, and the 40 of Wehrli seems almost like a given. Of those 14, only Woodson had more interception return touchdowns than Barber's seven, and that was only one way in which Barber scored.

Tackle statistics, being unofficial, are not listed for the HOFCBs, so it's difficult to compare Barber's totals in that regard. One can only hope that Hall of Fame voters are aware of the completeness of Barber's game, for which his nearly 1,200 tackles so far are a good indication.

And then there is this: Barber is the only cornerback in NFL history with at least 20 interceptions and 20 sacks in his career. Considering that he added two more sacks this year to get to 25, it's not out of the question that Barber could get to the 30/30 club. So far, that club has exactly one member: safety Rodney Harrison, a strong bet for the Hall in his own right.

Finally, if the voters are looking for a player who routinely impacted games in big ways, it would be hard to overlook Barber's touchdowns and timely big plays. The best example, of course, is his dramatic 92-yard interception return for a touchdown in the 2002 NFC Championship Game, which sent the Bucs to their first Super Bowl.

Am I biased? I'm sure I am. But the description above sounds like a Hall of Famer to me.

While we're at it, Dan O. of Old Bridge, New Jersey asks:

Is Derrick Brooks a Hall of Famer???

Answer Man: I'm not going to spend as much time on this one, because I don't think, in the end, there's going to be much debate on Brooks when he becomes Hall of Fame eligible.

This alone is probably enough: Brooks' 11 Pro Bowl selections is second all-time among NFL linebackers to Junior Seau's 12. Think Seau's headed to the Hall? Uh, yeah, me too. Moreover, Brooks is one of only four players in NFL history who has been to 10 consecutive Pro Bowls, won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award and won a Super Bowl. The other three: Mike Singletary, Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White. Guess what they all have in common. Yup, a bronze bust.

Just to drive the point home, let's compare Brooks with some notable Hall of Fame linebackers, leaving out the studs from long ago like Ray Nitschke, as some of these honors are difficult to compare over different eras. We'll list three categories: Pro Bowls (PB), first or second-team AP All-Pro Honors (AP) and NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards (POY).

  • Derrick Brooks: 11 PB, 8 AP, 1 POY
  • Lawrence Taylor: 10 PB, 10 AP, 3 POY
  • Mike Singletary: 10 PB, 9 AP, 2 POY
  • Jack Lambert: 9 PB, 8 AP, 2 POY
  • Jack Ham: 8 PB, 8 AP, 0 POY
  • Dick Butkus: 8 PB, 8 AP, 2 POY
  • Ted Hendricks: 8 PB, 9 AP, 0 POY
  • Harry Carson: 9 PB, 6 AP, 0 POY
  • Rickey Jackson: 6 PB, 6 AP, 0 POY

Where does Brooks rank on this list? It doesn't even matter, really. Just that he clearly belongs on it is enough.

Could we go on? Oh yes, for quite some time. We haven't even mentioned Brooks' NFL Man of the Year Award. But it doesn't seem necessary, given the company Brooks obviously keeps with the above accomplishments.

**

9. Paul of Austin, Texas asks:

1999 NFC championship game, Bucs vs. Rams..........can you explain the "Bert Emanuel rule" ........ 10 years later and I'm still losing sleep.

Answer Man: Ten years?! You might need professional sleep therapy. And send the bill to Bill Carollo. (That would be the referee from who hit the Bucs with an instant replay surprise late in that unforgettable game.)

To set the scene, Paul is referring to the Buccaneers' 11-6 loss in St. Louis in the game that propelled the Rams to Super Bowl XXXIV and the eventual title. In that game, Tampa Bay's amazing defense had held the Rams - who came into the game average about 31 points per outing - to five points through 55 game minutes, two of them off a safety. Unfortunately, Kurt Warner threw a pinpoint 30-yard lob against a blitz and just over the seeking fingers of cornerback Brian Kelly to Ricky #!%*!! Proehl to put the Rams on top by five. After the two-point conversion failed, the Bucs got the ball back at their own 23 with 4:44 left and one last chance to drive for the win.

Two huge third-down conversions, including a 22-yard catch-and-run by Karl Williams on third-and-six from near midfield, got the ball down to the St. Louis 22 with 1:25 left. A mini-disaster struck on the next play when Grant Wistrom sacked Shaun King for a loss of 13. However, the Bucs appeared to get it back to the 22 on the next play via a diving catch by wide receiver Bert Emanuel.

That's when things turned bad for the Buccaneers. Because the game was inside two minutes, any replay challenge had to come from the booth upstairs, and indeed the replay official felt one was in order because it appeared that the ball might have hit the ground.

Here's the two things you need to know, Paul, and any others still agonized but also confused by that day's horrible turn of events: 1) No new rule was put into place after that game, and 2) by the existing rules that should have been called a catch.

The nose of the football did indeed make contact with the ground on the play as Emanuel landed from his dive. However, at the time it was firmly clamped between Emanuel's two hands and it did not so much as wobble in his grasp when it hit the turf. Still, Carollo overturned the catch

During the offseason of 2000 that followed, the NFL decided it was necessary to clarify the rules defining a legal catch, in large part because of the overturned play in that game. Again, no rules were changed, but the league made a point of issuing a clarification along with the rule modifications it did make that year. Specifically, the clarification was: "A receiver has to have possession of the ball and control of the ball. Then, if his knee hits the ground and the ball hits the ground, as long as he maintained control of the ball, it's a catch."

It is no coincidence that this became known as the Bert Emanuel Rule almost immediately. Clearly, that was Exhibit A of how the rule had previously been misinterpreted. Had the ruling been correct, the Bucs would have had a third-and-10 from the Rams' 22 with 47 seconds left. Would they have been able to punch it in from there? Who knows, and you won't hear Answer Man saying that call cost the Bucs the game. However, it's fair to say that third-and-23 from the 35 was a much tougher situation. One incompletion and one pass that was essentially a Hail Mary later, and the game was over.

Oh, one other thing. After the play was originally ruled a catch, the Bucs burned their last time out with 47 seconds left, thinking they were setting up for a third-and-10 play. Then came the replay review and, immediately after the play was overturned, the ball was re-spotted at the 35 and the play clock was wound. That certainly didn't help matters.

**

All right, let's finish this up with a handful of quickies. These are questions that don't really require the sort of elaborate write-ups you just slogged through. In the coming weeks, this will also include questions that have already been answered in previous columns.

10. Victor of Wimauma, Florida asks:

Who was MVP of the Super Bowl?

Answer Man: Since this was sent in before the Saints-Colts game that was just played, I'm assuming that Victor is referring to the Bucs' win in Super Bowl XXXVII. The answer in that case is safety Dexter Jackson, whose two first-half interceptions were instrumental in helping the Buccaneers build a 27-3 lead by halftime.

**

11. Phillip Thomas of Jonesville, South Carolina asks:

Do the Bucs allow tryouts?

Answer Man: I assume you mean open tryouts, and the answer is no. All players who try out for the team are specifically invited for a tryout.

**

12. Nick Night of St. Petersburg asks:

Who is the all-time leading rusher for the Bucs?

Answer Man: Nick Night. Cool name. Sounds like a superhero alter ego. Can I use that one?

Anyway, the answer is James Wilder, who rushed for 5,957 yards from 1981-89. Mike Alstott might have caught him, but his late-career neck injuries cost him several seasons and left him at 5,088 yards. Warrick Dunn is third at 4,986.

**

13. J.R. Hunter of Sheridan, Wyoming asks:

I'm looking to make a big trip down to Tampa with my father in 2010 to watch the Bucs beat the Rams (my fathers team). When I get there what do I need to do to be able to hang out on the ship for a while (Buccaneers Cove)? Do I need to buy special tickets? Do I need some sort of pass?

Answer Man: You do not need any special pass or ticket to hang out in Buccaneers Cove at any point on game day. That area is open and accessible to all ticketholders. However, the ship itself is occupied by a crew on game day that fires the cannons and so forth. It is not open for fans to come aboard on game day. If you're interested in a tour of the stadium on a day when no game is scheduled, which would include a chance to climb aboard the pirate ship, click here for more information.

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14. Lee of Clearwater, Florida asks:

Who was the Buccaneers' first quarterback?

Answer Man: I guess the best way to answer that would be to name the starter at the beginning of the franchise's first season, and that was Steve Spurrier. Spurrier started the first six regular-season games of 1976 and 12 of the 14 games that season overall. Parnell Dickinson also threw five passes in the season opener against Houston that year, and the immortal Larry Lawrence was also on the roster though he did not see action in the first game.

**

Pedro Deoliveira of Sao Paulo, Brazil asks:

Will the Buccaneers ever stop sucking?

Answer Man: Yep.

(Yes, I'm being purposely flippant, but I also have no doubt that's true, assuming that by "sucking" Pedro means the 3-13 record of last season and the four-game slide to finish 2008. The Bucs had "sucked" their way to a 7-33 record from 1976-78 before winning the NFC Central and advancing to the conference title game in 1979. The Bucs had endured 14 straight losing seasons before they broke out with a hugely successful season in 1997. Tampa Bay's two most recent division titles came after seasons of 5-11 and 4-12, respectively. NFL teams in general, and the Bucs specifically, have repeatedly shown the ability to turn losing seasons into winning ones rather quickly. If you believe in the team's leadership - and I do - there's no reason to be pessimistic about the future. In my opinion, the Bucs have already stopped "sucking," but I understand you probably want to see that reflected in wins and losses.)

Okay, that's finally it for today. I hope you found my comeback column informative and didn't get too bored along the way. Please forgive me if you sent in a good question and didn't find the answer here. I literally have hundreds of e-mails still to go through from the original group of submissions. I'll try to get to as many of them as I can in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, if you've thought of something new, or feel you need to respond to any of the discussions above, click here and send me your thoughts.

Talk to you again in a couple weeks (unless I take Jay's advice and come out with some mini-columns instead)!