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The Answer Man, Vol. 7

Posted Sep 17, 2004

The latest dip into the mailbag leads to questions on stadium videoboard etiquette, directional field orientation, quarterback depth charts and more

After accompanying the team to Washington, D.C. and back (on the road, Answer Man carries luggage and tips the bus drivers), I am reminded of this observation from countless road trips: Fans at postgame tailgate parties seem really confused as to the appropriate signal that their team is ‘Number One.’

As our team buses left FedExField (all one word!) on Sunday, certain Redskin fans celebrated their victory by giving us the number-one sign, only in a way I suspect had a secondary meaning. I wondered for the first time: Does this go on outside Raymond James Stadium, too, when opposing teams leave in their buses? Surely not, right? We are far too civilized in Tampa.

Okay, maybe.

Anyway, I think I was the only one who noticed the fingers flying on Sunday. Most of the players, coaches and staffers were engrossed with stat sheets, postgame food or their cell phones. I counted the gestures on my side of the bus, just for fun. Forty-seven. Just another form of harmless fan expression.

And I’ll say this, it was a whole day of fan expression. There were over 90,000 people in the stands for Sunday’s game, the largest crowd ever to see a Buccaneers game. At times it was quite loud, as Raymond James Stadium can often be. Now that form of collaborative expression, when loud enough and at the right time, can actually have an impact on the game, as visiting offenses struggle to stay in unison.

That’s the underlying issue behind the first question from today’s mailbag, sent in by one Peter Paullin (would Berman call him ‘Peter Paullin Mary?’) of nearby Bradenton. Let’s take a look at his topic and a few more.

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1. Peter Paullin of Bradenton, Florida asks:

I have been to quite a few games and I was wondering why doesn't the person or persons operating the Jumbotron put "DE-FENSE" on the board more often or on every down the defense happens to be on the field. If the fans are supposed to be the 12th man on the field, I would assume you would want that to show up every time the defense is on the field to hopefully distract the other team’s offense. I think the Bucs defense feeds off of that.

Answer Man: Well, Peter, the reason the masters of the BucVision videoboard system don’t do too much of that stuff is, well, it works.

The NFL is very strict about any video or audio effects that are designed specifically to increase crowd noise. Remember those old ‘Noise-meters’ you would sometimes see on Jumbotrons around the league? The ‘needle’ would jump as the crowd made more and more noise, trying to get into the red? Don’t see that anymore (and Answer Man says, hallelujah! That was cheesy.).

For some reason, the Bucs are still allowed to use the ‘DE-FENSE’ display and the ‘Tampa! Bay!’ display, but probably only because it is grandfathered in. As your question suggests, that is a display that draws a response from the crowd. Note, however, that the Bucs are NOT allowed to use it at any point after the offensive team has broken the huddle. That would be an enormous no-no in the league’s eyes.

Obviously, some stadiums are louder than others. Those 90,000 fans at FedExField last week were pretty dang noisy. The fact that this noise can adversely affect the other team’s offense is considered part of the game. However, the NFL does not consider artificial attempts by the league to pump up that noise to be part of the game.

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2. Karen MacSweeney of Brooksville, Florida:

Where can I access the intro movie for the team played each week on the site?

Answer Man: Why, right here, of course.

That’s the Buccaneers.com Flash Movie archive. It even has links to all the Movies from 2002 and 2003, as well. Remember the Cheeseheads getting mowed down by the flying grater? Remember the Panthers driving into their own Halloween house of horrors? Remember Jon Gruden sailing back into Tampa with the Lombardi Trophy held high?

They’re all there. If you miss the movie on any given week, just remember you can always find them in the archive.

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3. Scott Shaffer, of Palm Harbor asks:

Why does Raymond James Stadium face North\South, exposing the fans in the East side to the sun? Wouldn't an East\West orientation ease the sun exposure?

Answer Man: Yep, and put the sun right in the eyes of the punt returner as he’s trying to field a kick.

Actually, in the case of Raymond James Stadium, that’s somewhat irrelevant. In the stadium’s location between Dale Mabry Highway and Himes Avenue, it would only fit the way it was built. The structure’s footprint is much longer than it is wide, so it had to be oriented parallel to those roads.

Still, you will most often see football fields oriented north/south or on an angle between north/south and east/west. For instance, in Kansas City the stadium is basically in the middle of a giant parking lot (along with the Royals’ Kaufmann Stadium) and is round, so it conceivably could have had its field oriented in any direction. The field was put down with one end zone facing southeast and the other northwest.

Chicago’s Soldier Field is oriented north/south, as is Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver. Qualcomm Stadium, where the Bucs won Super Bowl XXXVII, does appear to be oriented east/west, but Heinz Field in Pittsburgh is due north and south. Gillette Stadium, another new field like Heinz, is just a bit of the north/south axis.

This is admittedly not a thorough or scientific study. The examples above were chosen at random. Still, I did not eliminate any stadiums that didn’t fit the theory. And I note that I can look out my office window and see the sports fields at Jefferson High School, where the football field is oriented to the north and south.

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4. Kathy of Tampa, Florida asks: I was surprised Sunday to learn that Coach Gruden selected [Brian] Griese over [Chris] Simms as the backup QB. Did he give any explanation as to his choice? Also, is this permanent for the season?

Answer Man: Kathy, let me start with the last question first, as I think it will make sense in this order.

No, this decision is not permanent. In fact, it’s instructive to note that the Buccaneers continue to list Griese and Simms together in the number-two spot on the depth chart, rather than putting one second and one third. Coach Gruden said near the end of the preseason that the order would be evaluated on a week-to-week basis.

It’s also important to note what this decision means. Putting Griese second and Simms third, or vice versa, is not an indication of which quarterback would become the starter if Brad Johnson was out for an extended period. In the case of the opener, it meant that Griese would be coming into that game if Johnson came out. Would the long-term replacement be Griese or Simms? Frankly, I don’t know and I don’t believe Coach Gruden would announce that until he had thoroughly analyzed the situation.

Coach Gruden spoke about the decision to make Simms the inactive third quarterback with the FOX broadcasting crew the night before the game. Here are two reasons he shared with Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and company: 1) Griese is right-handed, Simms left-handed, so making the play-calling transition would be smoother in the middle of the game from Johnson to Griese; 2) Griese, obviously, has more NFL game experience.

One other thing: An inactive third quarterback can come into the game. If he does enter the game before the third period is over, neither of the other two quarterbacks are allowed to play again.

To sum up: Whether you’re a fan of Brian Griese or Chris Simms as the Bucs’ number-two quarterback, don’t get too wrapped up in the week-to-week backup decisions. They may change during the season and they don’t necessarily reflect who the long-term replacement would be.

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5. James of Tampa, Florida asks:

My question has to do with contracts and the salary cap. What happens to the players’ salary and signing bonus they received when they are cut from the team? As in (TE) Nate Lawrie (6th Round '04 Draft) who was cut 8/31, does the contract he signed before camp still count against the Bucs’ cap limit. If not, exactly when does it start to count against the Bucs’ cap? Does it apply to all new signees like Tim Brown or Joey Galloway?

Answer Man: Well, any cap-related question is always going to be a little confusing, James (that’s why experts on the subject have been given the technical-sounding name capologists), but I’ll do the best I can.

The salary cap figure is an annual figure. That means that it is in effect during the entire league year (March to March). On any given day, the cumulative total of the players under contract – the full value of their contract, not just what they’ve been paid at that point – has to be at or under that cap. During the offseason, it is the top 51 salaried players on your roster that count to the cap; during the season, it is everybody, including the men on injured reserve and the practice squad.

Salaries and bonuses can affect the cap in different ways. Most NFL salaries are not guaranteed, so when a player is cut, he will not be paid that salary (or the remainder of it) and the team’s salary cap figure is duly adjusted.

The signing bonus, on the other hand, is already in the player’s pocket and will definitely be counted against the cap. However, the cap effect of a bonus is always prorated over the life of a contract; that is, if you get a $5 million bonus on a five-year contract, you’ll get the money right then but the cap hit will be $1 million for each of the next five years. When a player is released with years remaining on his contract, the cap hit for the bonus accelerates to that day. That is, with the example above, if you were in the second year of that five-year contract and you got cut, the cap hit from the bonus for that year and the next three years would all suddenly hit the cap at the same time.

And that’s why it can often be difficult for a team to cut a high-priced player. A team can actually make its cap situation worse by releasing a player. You might clear that player’s salary from that year from your books, but add as much or more in accelerated cap hit.

Late-round rookies like Lawrie generally do not have hefty contracts, at least relatively speaking, so releasing them does little either way to the team’s overall cap room. You’re still going to have 53 players, one way or another, and any player signed to take his place will probably have at least as much of a cap hit.

(Note: In our next column we’ll answer a related question from one Carol Luke of Apollo Beach, Florida regarding the penalties a team faces for going over the cap.)

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6. Karla & Kayla of Bradenton, Florida asks: Which player has been with the team the longest?

-- and --

Matt Alves of Austin, Texas asks: Dear Answer Man, I was just wondering what year it was that the Bucs changed their logo, and who on the current roster played in the old creamsicle colors?

Answer Man: Karla, Kayla, Matt…mind if I answer these related questions together? (Really, there’s not much you can do about it if you do mind, but I like to be polite.)

The Buccaneers changed to their current uniform colors and logos in 1997. In a dramatic unveiling at the Tampa Convention Center, the Bucs assumed their tougher, more aggressive look to unanimous approval.

The team has been riding high ever since, making the playoffs in five of the seven seasons it has worn pewter and red.

Only three players on the current roster remain from the last team that wore orange in Tampa, and even that isn’t worded completely accurately. LB Derrick Brooks joined the team in 1995 and played two years before the switch, and FB Mike Alstott came aboard in 1996 and wore orange for a year. TE Dave Moore was with the team from 1992-2001 but spent the past two years in Buffalo before returning this season. So Moore is the current player with the most ‘orange seasons’ in the bank.