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The Answer Man, Vol. 19

Posted Dec 3, 2004

The Bucs’ Q&A superhero contemplates a sidekick, then gets down to the business of answering fans’ questions, on topics ranging from TFLs to TOs to Big D days

The Answer Man’s mailbag delivers a weekly dose of (mostly) good-natured abuse and more than my deserved share of compliments. There’s even a few good questions in there from time to time (just kidding!).

But this week’s bag had something new, a concept I hadn’t contemplated until I read the letter sent in by Paul Fisher of Towanda, Kansas. What Paul was offering was something quite simple: Help.

Help for the Answer Man. The poor, overworked Answer Man.

Here, read for yourself what this generous Buc fan from the heartland had to offer:

Oh wise and great Answer Man, have you ever thought about acquiring a sidekick? Answer Boy perhaps? (I have a very impressive resume including a deep feeling of joy when the Chiefs are beaten by the Buccaneers, and the NFL Rulebook just in case your wondering.)

Paul…I’m listening.

Are there others out there like you? This could be a whole Justice League/Superfriends kind of thing. After all, why should I have to answer every question myself? What if there’s something I can’t handle, like queries arriving in a different language? (Se’ solamente un poco Espanol.) What if we have to deliver answers to an underwater sea lab in the Atlantic…won’t we need a water-based hero like Aqua (Answer) Man? What if we need to phrase an answer in the form of an animal or the shape of an ice sculpture? What then, I ask you? Answer Man’s powers have a limit.

You know, on second thought, that’s pretty silly. The tools of Answer Man’s job are really quite simple: a keyboard, the rulebook, the record book, some stat files and access to the coaches and players. That’s about it. I rarely even use my more exotic superpowers, and I don’t think we need some guy with Super Breath or Heat Vision to solve the mystery of a ‘fair-catch kick.’ Plus, if we were to band together, then there would probably be a Legion of Confusion or something we’re supposed to fight. Who needs that?

But a single sidekick? Hmmm. That is intriguing. That could free up the Answer Man to get to more of the Answerlings’ soccer games. And it could allow me to groom an eventual replacement in case I’m eventually called back to my home planet.

I say let’s give it a shot. I’m not promising anything long-term here, Paul, but I’m going to give you a crack at one of the questions I was prepared to answer this week. I’m going to assume you’re reading this week’s column. Check out the first question below and, if you really do want to help, send in the answer through my question submission form. Please also include your e-mail address in the body of your answer, so that we may converse about the answer, if necessary.

This is probably just a one-time thing, but it’s still a lot of responsibility, Paul. Do you really want it? Do you know the type of ascetic life a true Answer Warrior leads? If so, let’s see what you’ve got. A certain Mark Arzillo of Clearwater is counting on you!

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1. Mark Arzillo of Clearwater, Florida asks:

Under what circumstances do you not kick an extra point after scoring a TD? I remember a game (can't recall the exact game) when the Buccaneers scored a TD with no time left on the game clock but they still kicked an extra point. The extra point made no difference in the outcome but they still kicked it. In overtime however if a team makes a TD they do not kick the extra point presumably since it would make no difference. Why would you kick the extra point with 0:00 on the game clock and the extra point not changing the outcome? Someone once told me the extra point was considered part of the same play as the TD and therefore was required but then why not kick it in OT? Thanks Answer Man...

Answer Man: Okay, Mark, as you’ve seen above if you read the intro, your question is being lobbed to a guest Answer Man, the Answer Boy if you will.

Now, don’t worry. I know the answer and you’ll get it, one way or the other. If Paul fails to respond or if I disagree with his answer, I’ll print mine next week. If Paul sends in a good answer I’ll print that next week. Either way, you’ll get an answer, albeit a week late. I hope that’s not an inconvenience.

Now on to the questions I am taking a crack at this week…

**

2. Craig Fulton of Wolfville, Nova Scotia asks:

Answerer of all things Pigskin. I am hoping you can answer me as to why the Tackle for Loss (TFL) is not a more observed stat with respect to defensive players. A TFL seems to me to be just as important in bringing the run game to a stop as a sack is in hampering the pass game. And yet the TFL is not even listed as one of the NFL.com player stats. Why is this? Also who IS the season leader in TFLs? How about career leader?

Answer Man: First off, let me say that your (as it turns out) province abbreviation had me scratching my head for a few minutes. NS? NS? What state is that? Then Nova Scotia came to me, obviously, and I did an internet search just to make sure there was a Wolfville, Nova Scotia. So, just as we printed the vitals of the very Canadian-sounding Ontario, California the other day, here are a few things I’ve just learned about your little burg, Craig: It used to be named Mud Creek, it is near the Bay of Fundy and in the 1970s it was declared a nuclear-free zone. One assumes that means ‘nuclear-energy-free’ zone, or there must be some bizarre properties of physics in your town.

Anyhoo…your question is quite a good one, in the Answer Man’s humble opinion (ITAMHO?). I’m not sure why the tackle for loss is so undervalued, but I think I can tell you why it gets no glory compared to the glamorous sack.

You see, sacks are an officially-kept league statistic (as of 1982, at least) and tackles are not, though NFL.com does run them for players now. Tackles for loss are a subset of tackles (as are sacks, incidentally, but let’s not make this too confusing) and they are kept just as informally.

Because it is exceedingly difficult to instantly determine who was responsible for each of the hundred-plus tackles in a game, no one feels confident enough in it to make them an official statistic.

In fact, teams in the NFL decide on their own which origin they want to use for their tackle charts – what is generated in the press box or what is generated by the coaches the next day when they’re watching film. The advantages and disadvantages of each side are obvious. The stat-keepers in the press box are ostensibly objective in their reporting but limited by usually only getting one quick look at a play. The coaches can run the film back repeatedly to see which player(s) actually made the tackle, but the public has to take their word for it that they are not ‘pumping up’ the players’ stats. The stats you see on NFL.com, by the way, are generated from the press box numbers.

The Buccaneers, who use coaches’ statistics for defense under the sound theory that they are more accurate, do keep tackles for loss on their defensive chart. And you’re right, Craig, they can be very big plays. Second-and-13 by virtue of a back getting trapped behind the line is as good as second-and-13 thanks to a sack.

The Answer Man also thinks that a TFL is perceived to be easier to get than a sack. After all, there is going to be a tackle of some kind on just about every running play. There is no guarantee of a sack on a given pass play, or even in an entire game.

As for your questions about the single-season and career leaders, I assume you mean in relation to the Buccaneers. And there’s only so much I can tell you, even then. Since many defensive stats are unofficial and arbitrarily chosen, the Bucs’ tackle charts through the years have not always kept the same categories. In addition, tackles for loss are not kept in a player’s career stat table in the media guide.

I can tell you who the Bucs’ leader this year is: cornerback Ronde Barber. Barber is so good at reacting to an outside run coming in his direction that he has made seven tackles for loss this year (not including his two sacks). Linebacker Ian Gold is second with four. Looking back over the last 10 seasons, for which I have the Bucs’ defensive charts, the highest total I found was nine, by Derrick Brooks in 1999 and Warren Sapp in 1996.

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3. Brett Szematowicz of Houston, Texas asks:

While listening to the game on NFL Field Pass both teams obviously called some time outs. The referee calls out whether it is a "Full time out" or a "30-second time out." Does each team get a certain amount of either full or 30-second timeouts? Or do the refs decide based on the game situation?

Answer Man: I know that terminology makes it sound like the system in basketball where teams get a certain number of full and 30-second timeouts in a game. But it’s not. In football, it is all decided by one very powerful entity: Television.

In any given half of network-televised football, there are 10 scheduled breaks in the broadcast, worked in whenever the action allows (whenever possible, the network tries to make it five breaks per quarter).

When a team calls a timeout, the networks usually use it as an opportunity to take one of those 10 breaks. However, if the telecast has already run all the breaks it needs to in a half, then the broadcast does not break away for a commercial during a timeout. If that’s the scenario, the referees will announce that it is a 30-second timeout so that the two teams know they have a more limited amount of time before action resumes. Once any timeout in a half is declared a 30-second timeout, they all will be.

The referees don’t have to keep track of how many commercial breaks have been taken – they have enough on their minds. When a timeout is called, the ref simply looks over to the ‘Orange Sleeve’ on the sideline for a signal. This network rep is so named because he wears a very bright orange sleeve on one arm, naturally. There is also a Green Hat, but let’s not get into that.

If the Orange Sleeve crosses his arms over his chest, the ref knows that a commercial break is needed. If the Orange Sleeve drops his orange arm down and twirls it, that means keep the action moving.

**

4. Melanie Egan of Orlando, Florida:

I have two questions about important flag responsibilities with the Bucs? How do you get to be one of those pirate boys that run around with the flags after a score??? And who are all those people who carry the American and Buc flags onto the field prior to the start of the game, and then wave flags in the stands after a touchdown???

Answer Man: Even if you hadn’t said so, we would have known these were important questions Melanie, because each one was followed with three question marks. That means you really, really need to know, right???

The young men who carry around the flags are technically part of the cheerleading crew, and many of them are college kids from the University of South Florida. At the moment, the team has all the pirate flag bearers it needs for 2004, but there is turnover at that job from season to season. If you are interested in getting your name in, or somebody else’s name, contact Cheerleading Coordinator Sandy Charboneau at One Buc Place and she’ll put your name on a list for next year. The organizational meeting will be in the spring. Call (813) 870-2700 and ask for Sandy.

Many of the people who pull out the big Buc and American flags before the game come from MacDill Air Force Base, as do the people who run the pirate ship on game day. Again, those crews are set for 2004, but there will be people needing replacement next year, almost certainly. In this case, contact Killeen Mullen at One Buc Place to get your name on a list. Same number.

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5. Lisa of Venice, Florida asks:

I had asked approximately 5 years ago via email and tried to call....to get an answer for this one...maybe you can help. Has anyone, and CAN anyone get married on the 50 yard line...and if it can be done...how would you set that up? And how much would it cost? THANKS!! GO BUCS!!!!!!!

Answer Man: Five years ago? Gee, I sure hope we’re not talking about the same wedding now. That’s a long time to stay engaged just to get this little answer.

Anyway, I gather your question to mean one of two things: 1) Can we get married on the 50-yard line on a game day?; or 2) Can we get married on the 50-yard line on some other day.

The answer to number one is no. The Bucs would not schedule a wedding on the field at any time before, during or after a game.

The answer to number two is perhaps. Events at the stadium are run by Aramark and portions of it are available for rent. The pirate ship, for instance, has been rented out for parties in the past. Can you rent the field for a wedding? Well, it sounds reasonable, but you’d have to ask that of Aramark, in addition to the price. Their phone number is (813) 875-7755.

And if it does work out, the Answer Man has a suggestion: On the day of the wedding, sneak into the Bucs’ locker room and see if you can find an old set of shoulder pads that was left behind. Put it on under your gown and bingo: Something old and something borrowed. Your halfway there.

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6. Rick Mowry of Winter Springs, Florida asks:

Oh learned one, since some of us do not have access to your infinite knowledge ('cough'...ahem.. i.e. "The Book of Records") When the Bucs squashed the 49ers in the first half, a measly 26 yards total! What are some of the all time records for defense in total domination? Was that one of them? We know we can be learned ones if we try, but you know how it is with us mere mortals, why study if somebody else has done the hard work for us!! hah, hah, hah. (But then why pay the dollars for the book too!!) We are just like birds...cheap...cheap...cheap.

Answer Man: I don’t know exactly what you’re insinuating their, Rick-o, but I don’t think I like it. Yes, I do on occasion refer to the Buccaneers’ record book to answer these questions, but what I didn’t mention before is that I have the entire thing committed to memory. That’s right: With my superhuman memory, I have burned that, the NFL Record & Fact Book and the NFL rulebook, line by line, into the synapses of my Answer Brain.

You know, cuz chicks dig that.

So, let’s see, searching the frontal lobe…yes, there it is. Believe it or not, those 26 yards allowed in the first half to San Fran did not represent a franchise record, nor did the mere six net passing yards allowed. In fact, neither total was even in the top four in the Bucs’ book, and for that you can blame Joe Jurevicius.

‘Huh?’ you say.

Here’s the scene in the press box on that Sunday afternoon two weeks ago: The Bucs have the ball with less than a minute to play and the team’s P.R. staff is poised with a very cool note as soon as the half ends. With only 12 yards allowed, the Buccaneers’ defense would be setting a new team record for a single half.

Then Joe goes and gets open down the middle and Brian Griese hits him as the receiver splits two defenders. What really hurt was when Joe was able to bash through those two 49ers to just get into the front of the end zone. Had he been tackled at the one, the Bucs probably would have used the rest of the time in the half to punch it in.

Instead, there was time left in the half for the Bucs to kick off and the 49ers got the ball back with time for one more play. They had no intention of trying to drive into scoring range in the last 17 seconds, so they simply handed the ball off to RB Maurice Hicks. The Bucs were obviously playing D with a big cushion on that snap, so Hicks ran for 14 meaningless yards and the half came to an end.

So, to recap, 12 yards would have been a team record; 26 wasn’t even in the top four.

The fewest yards every allowed in a half by Tampa Bay came in that great 12-9 win at Carolina two years ago. The Bucs allowed only 15 yards before halftime in that game, including a team-record -6 passing yards. Yes, negative six. In other games, the Bucs have allowed 16, 23 and 24 yards in a half.

We hope you meant Buccaneer records, Rick, because I won’t be able to help you with league records. The NFL’s list of records, which is in that Record & Fact Book…I mean, my head…does not include half-game records.

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7. Richard Cook of Basildon, England asks:

Would a team be able to trade draft picks with acquired picks from an other team?

e.g. Tampa trades SD 3rd and 6th round draft picks with NYG 3rd and 6th round draft picks

Answer Man: Absolutely, Richard.

You can trade any of your draft picks, including ones that you have previously acquired from other teams. I know it was just an example, but I’m not sure why you would want to make the deal you mentioned above. It seems like one team would get the worse end of both halves of that trade.

But here are a few examples for you that really happened in Buccaneer history:

  • In February of 1998, the Bucs traded RB Errict Rhett to Baltimore in exchange for the Ravens’ third-round pick in the 1999 draft. However, a few months later, during the ’98 draft, the Bucs shipped that ’99 third-rounder back to Baltimore for their ’98 fourth-rounder, which they used on C Todd Washington.
  • Also during that ’98 draft, the Bucs jumped when San Diego called offering its first-round pick in 2000 for their second-round pick in ’98. However, a few weeks before they could actually use that pick, they paired it with their own 2000 first-rounder and sent it off to the New York Jets in exchange for WR Keyshawn Johnson.
  • A decade earlier, during the first part of the 1988 draft, the Bucs traded down in the second round, sending their second-rounder to Philadelphia for a second and a fourth. They then used Philly’s second-rounder to move down again, trading with San Francisco and picking up another fourth-rounder. By the way, the Bucs second and two fourths in those deals were eventually used on RB Lars Tate, DT Robert Goff and P Monte Robbins.

The examples go on and on, Richard. Not only are multiple trades of a single pick allowed, they are quite common. For instance, the pick that the Bucs used on WR Mark Jones in the seventh round last year belonged to four different teams at some point, starting with Washington and passing through hands in New Orleans and Dallas before ending up in Tampa Bay’s control.

**

Adam Fournier of Gainesville, Florida asks:

Oh Wise Answer Man, I've got a rather unusual question for you. Suppose a running back has possession of the ball, has made it past most of his defenders, and is now in the open field, with only a safety or two to beat. Would it be legal for the running back to throw the ball up in the air to distract the defenders' attention, then catch it again once he is past them? So, in essence, could he intentionally fumble it to himself? Or would it be considered a forward lateral? I'm countin' on you buddy! PS What does the almighty AM want for Christmas???

Answer Man: Adam, the Answer Man would like Sirius satellite radio installed in the AnswerMobile, in order to listen to any NFL game he wants, any time. I know that sounds like a product plug, but it’s truly what I want. The Answer Man is not getting kickbacks of any kind.

If that’s too expensive (cheapskate), I could use a watch, or the new U2 album, or a subscription to The Sporting News or a new pair of tights (pewter, 28 waist). So that’s plenty of options, right Adam? Send your gift to One Buccaneer Place, Tampa, FL 33607.

As for your scenario, the back would have to make the toss in a manner that wasn’t obviously on purpose. Intentionally throwing the ball forward to yourself, or to anybody else, from beyond the line of scrimmage is an illegal forward pass. The penalty for such an action is a loss of down and five yards from the spot of the throw.

Obviously, if a runner loses control of the ball and it flies up in the air, that’s a fumble and the same player can recover that fumble, in the air or on the ground, and continue to advance it. However, if he fumbles the ball intentionally – and it sounds like that’s what you want him to do – then that is also classified as a forward pass, as per rule 8-1, supplemental note 5.

This is the kind of thing you do when you’re playing with your brothers and sisters in the backyard. It doesn’t fly in the NFL.

(Which I could listen to all season on Sirius. I’m just saying.)

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Eric Garde of Denver, Colorado:

Hey answer man, I was just wondering, has any team in the NFL ever recovered the ball on a kickoff (that wasn't an onside)? If so what/which player(s) on what team(s) did it and when? thank you so much, you're awesome answer man

Answer Man: I would have quietly let your question slip into the nether regions of my in-box, Eric, if I hadn’t promised at the end of last week’s column that I would address it.

See, I know this has happened, probably many times, but I can’t turn up a good example. I remember the Detroit Lions doing it to the Bucs in the early to mid-90s, using a pooch kickoff, but I couldn’t find the evidence.

That is, I assume you mean a non-onside kickoff that is recovered by the kicking team without the receiving team touching it. The other sort of play, where the ball is muffed by the opponent or fumbled after some return, is not that uncommon. The Bucs recovered a fumbled kickoff early in the Oakland game this year, for instance. Last year, on December 28, Broncos receiver Adrian Madise, who you may recall was a Buc for a short period of time this year, fumbled a kickoff and Green Bay’s Marcus Wilkins recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown.

Probably the most likely way that a kicking team would recover the ball without the opposition touching it would be with the aforementioned ‘pooch’ strategy. The kicker tries to pop the ball up about 25 yards downfield, over the heads of the first line of the receiving team but before the next group. The cover men then try to race to the spot before the receiving team members can get there. Since the ball is live for either team once it has crossed 10 yards, the kicking team can catch it and take possession just like the receiving team. Of course, that’s a tough thing to accomplish, and failing with that gambit is going to give your opposition really good field position. So it’s a rare tactic.

One other reason why the pooch kickoff is not a great strategy: Any member of the receiving team can actually call for a fair catch. Once that has occurred, the kicking team’s cover men have to give him room to catch the ball.

(And before you ask, you cannot simply call for a fair catch on an onside kick attempt. Why? Because the first thing the kicker does is hit the ball into the ground. Once the ball has touched the ground, you can’t fair catch it.)

The failed pooch kick actually happened last year in the Bucs-Falcons game on December 20. After Atlanta batted down a two-point attempt that would have tied the game at 30-30 in the closing seconds, the Bucs lined up for an onside kick. Martin Gramatica tried the pooch, but return man Allen Rossum caught it easily.

(All that pontificating was to distract you from the fact that I didn’t actually give you a specific example. Sorry, Eric. If I happen upon a good example, I’ll print it in a future column.)

**

A few quickies...

Richard Pace of Hurst, Texas asks:

Who was the running back selected #1 from USC who was drafted ahead of Tony Dorsett who later passed away from illness.

Answer Man: That would be Ricky Bell, who played five seasons in Tampa and is the fifth-leading rusher in team history. Bell was a beloved figure in Tampa, a charitable man who touched a lot of lives. He was stricken with a rare skin and muscle disease, the complications of which cost him his life in 1984, at the age of 29.

Bell’s 3,057 yards and 16 touchdowns as a Buccaneer were highlighted by a fantastic 1979 season in which he rushed for 1,263 yards (third-highest in Tampa Bay history) and seven touchdowns while averaging 4.5 yards per carry. The Bucs made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history that season and won their initial playoff game against Philadelphia, 24-17, behind Bell’s career day: 37 carries for 142 yards and two touchdowns.

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John B. O’Brien of Allenstown, New Hampshire:

Now that Jamel White is gone to Baltimore, who presently is the back up to Michael Pittman at RB?

Answer Man: Pittman’s primary backup is first-year man Earnest Graham, who has looked good in limited opportunities. He gave Pittman a spell in the Carolina game, for instance, and picked up nine tough yards up the middle on two consecutive runs. The Bucs also recently signed RB Ian Smart to the active roster from the practice squad. And, of course, FB Mike Alstott is always an option to take some snaps at tailback.

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And we’ll finish, as usual, with some repeats. We’ve already answered these questions, but we’ll let you know where to find them in the Answer Man Archive.

Jeremy Jacobi of Iowa City, Iowa asks:

My friends and I were talking about the "player standing out of bounds while touching the ball on a kick-off rule" and someone brought up that there was another weird rule that all the players and coaches know but is never talked about. I can't remember all the details but if you can decipher it you would be THE MAN!! Something about if your team is receiving a punt or kick-off at the closing seconds of a half and time expires during the return, you have the option to kick a field goal at the end of the play with no time on the clock? "a free kick" in other words! has this ever been done? or did I get the question wrong?

Answer Man: That would be a ‘fair catch kick,’ the specifics of which we all learned together in Volume 13. But it’s cool that you and your buddies were discussing one of our topics.

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Bob of Tampa, Florida asks:

I've always wondered why I see players talking on the phone on the sidelines after scoring a touchdown. Who are they talking to and what are they talking about?

Answer Man: Covered this in Volume 15. The basic gist of it: They are talking to coaches in the booth upstairs who are either congratulating them or telling them something they need to do better.

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Steve Brazel of Olympia, Washington asks:

Please answer man answer me! I have been trying to get you to answer me for 2 years. Is Chris Simms or Brian Griese starting next year and what is going to happen to Brad Johnson. Is he going to retire or go to a different team and start there. Thanks for answering my question.

Answer Man: Basically, I printed this question because of the claim in the second sentence. Two years? I’ve only been doing this column for four months. Did you know about the Answer Man’s rather secretive existence before the rest of the world?

Anyway, I can’t really answer that. I refer you to the disclaimer at the bottom of the page you used to submit this question:

“Please note: Players and coaches are free to answer their questions as they see fit, but the Answer Man is here to offer factual information. I will not be sharing opinions on why the team signed or released a certain player, or predictions on how well a specific player may do this season, or any other topic that is basically a matter of opinion.”

So let’s just wait and see.

**

Alright, that’s it for this week...maybe my longest column yet. But you all deserved it. I didn’t get to one question I was hoping to include, so Seth of St. Paul, bear with me. I’ll try to get an answer for your question about musicians on the Bucs’ roster by next week. Take care, all.