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The Answer Man, Series 7, Volume 5

Posted Apr 9, 2011

The Bucs fans’ man on the inside returns with another handful of user-submitted questions


I may have mentioned this before, but I really like my job.  These written columns are the highlight for me, of course (I'm still getting used to the video gig), but even when the Buccaneers put me on other, less glamorous tasks for a few months this is still where I want to be.

 

In fact, to this point, I've only found one downside to working here, and I can sum it up in 19 words:

 

Employees of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the National Football League and their families are not eligible to win.

 

Currently, you'll find those 19 words constituting Rule 7 in the Twenty Questions draft contest here on Buccaneers.com.  I made that a link for you in case you want to check it out.  Hey, why don't you go send in an entry?  It's fun and easy, you can win tickets, you can prove how clued in you are about this year's draft.  You're welcome to enter up to five times in fact.

 

I'm not.

 

I guess that's okay, really.  I'm the Answer Man, not the Prediction Man.  I'm good at facts, not fortune telling.  Still, it would have been interesting to test my prognosticating ability against the rest of you.  Personally, I think Denver is going to go for Von Miller at #2 (that's essentially Question #2 in the contest) and I think five quarterbacks will go in the first two rounds (that's Question #16).  But what do I know?

 

Well, what I do know is draft history, and what I don't remember I can look up.  So in lieu of getting a shot at the loot from the Twenty Questions contest, I'm going to do a little tangential research involving one of those 20 questions.  I don't think it will really help any of you get the answer right, but hopefully it will at least be interesting.

 

The question in question (man, that was awkward) is #18, which reads:

 

How many of the first 15 picks in the draft will be defensive players?

 

Now, if you've been following the pre-draft coverage and checking out the various mock drafts, you've probably seen that this year's class is considered defensively top-heavy.  Lots of promising pass-rushers and a few very highly-regarded cornerbacks.  Let's pick a mock drafter at random – say, Charles Davis of NFL.com.  He has nine defensive players in the top 15.  His NFL.com colleague, Steve Wyche, has 10.  Pretty safe to say you're not going to get this one right by guessing three or four.

 

There are, however, a lot of factors to consider.  When will a run on offensive tackles start?  Will any of the "second-tier" quarterbacks rise into the top 15?  Even if only one running back goes in the whole first round, will some team before #16 jump?

 

So consider your answer carefully.  In the meantime, the Answer Man is going to consider something else: What are the most lopsided top-15 picks in recent years, both offensively and defensively?  Let's say the last three decades, starting in 1980.  And how did those lopsided early drafts pan out?  That's what I want to know.  To the research…uh…cave, I guess.  Yeah, to the research cave!

 

Okay, I'm back.  You know, the majority of the drafts were pretty balanced between offense and defense in their first 15 picks.  Thirteen of the 31 NFL Drafts since 1980 have split as close as possible, with eight one way and seven the other.  Another nine have been 9-6 splits.  There were just four 10-5 splits and only two 11-4 splits.

 

The widest split either way is 12-3, which has happened one time for each side.  Surprisingly, those drafts occurred back-to-back, in 1983 and 1984.  In 1983, 12 of the first 15 picks were offensive players, and the next year 12 of the first 15 picks were defensive players.  The biggest splits of the past decade happened in 2004, when 10 of the picks were on offense, and 2003, when 10 were on defense.

 

How did those one-sided drafts work out?  Well you may recall that 1983 draft – it's famous for the bonanza of quarterbacks that went in the first round: John Elway, Todd Blackledge, Jim Kelly, Tony Eason, Ken O'Brien and…one other guy.  Some guy late in the round.  Who was that again?  Oh, yeah, Dan Marino.  Only the first four guys listed there count in this analysis; Eason was pick #15.  However, that draft also produced, in the top 15, running backs Eric Dickerson, Curt Warner, Michael Haddix and James Jones, offensive tackles Chris Hinton and Jimbo Covert, guard Bruce Matthews and tight end Tony Hunter.

 

Wow!  What a haul!  Not all of those picks hit, of course.  I honestly didn't remember the name Tony Hunter at all and had to look it up.  Looks like he had a brief but okay career – two years each in Buffalo and L.A. and a total of 134 catches.  But a miss or two here or there doesn't really matter when you've got Elway, Kelly, Dickerson, Warner, Hinton, Covert and Matthews all in the same group.  (By the way, that round also produced Willie Gault, Joey Browner, Gary Anderson, Gill Byrd, Jim Jeffcoat and Darrell Green from picks 16-38).  There's a reason some call it the greatest NFL draft ever.

 

The next year, the pendulum swung to the defense and, even if we can't be quite as enthusiastic as we were with the 1983 draft, there were still some pretty good finds there.  The most notable names are Carl Banks, Bill Maas, Wilber Marshall and Keith Millard (who is now a defensive line coach for the Buccaneers, by the way).  That's a pretty impressive group; on the other hand, the average fan might be hard-pressed to remember Mossy Cade, Jackie Shipp or Ron Faurot, other defenders taken in the top 15 that year.

 

So, there you go.  If you answer a split of 11-4 or higher for question #18 in the Bucs' Twenty Questions draft contest, just be aware that it has only happened four times in the last 31 years.

 

Just trying to help.  Since I can't play.  Sigh.

 

Okay, on to your latest questions.

 

**

 

1. Janet Beal of Orlando, Florida asks:

You answered a question in one of your recent stories about what year the Bucs switched colors from orange to red.  I'm sure most of us already knew that was 1997.  What I'm wondering is, which player split his career most evenly between the two different uniforms?  You know, what guy played the closest number of games as a Buc in both orange and red?

 

Answer Man: I really like your question, Janet, and I'll get to it in a second, but first a comment on your opening statement.  You're right, of course: I'd imagine most Buc fans could name the year the team adopted its current red and pewter uniforms and new logo.  Perhaps more importantly, it is a pretty easy fact to look up online.

 

I do sometimes wonder if I should bother with questions like that, but that was in my last column, which was a little short, and the mailbag was nearly empty, so I figured, what the heck?  Maybe the person who submitted the question would get a kick out of asking and being answered by an otherwordly superhero like me.  Ahem.

 

Anyway, I'm glad I did because it apparently prompted your topic, which hadn't occurred to me before.  What a cool thought.  Somewhere out there, perhaps, is a former Buccaneer (or maybe a couple) who played the exact same amount of games in the old Bucco Bruce uniforms and the attire of a new era.

 

If that player exists, who would it be?  I mentioned in a recent column that, with questions like these, if I don't immediately know the answer I like to take an educated guess before I start my research.  In this case, I made two quick stabs at it, and I'll share them with you before moving on, since I wasn't right in either case.  My first one was kinda close: Trent Dilfer.  The second wasn't really close at all: John Lynch.  You'll have to keep reading to find out the answer…and by the way, it was only one player.

 

First, a note.  I did NOT include the two Throwback games that were just played in 2009 and 2010.  On one hand, that would seem pretty immaterial, since none of the players on the '09 or '10 rosters had been around since the days of orange (though Ronde Barber only missed by one year).  On the other hand, if you include those games, you could easily end up with a few very fluky answers to the original question.  For instance, if a player was just on the Bucs' roster for two games in 2009, and one of them happened to be the Throwback win over Green Bay, then he might end up with one game each in red and orange and would technically be the perfect answer to your query, Janet.

 

(Okay, a brief interruption…I couldn't help myself and I decided to go check the participation charts from the last two years.  There's nobody who fell into that exact situation I described above, but safety Vince Anderson did play in three games in 2010, and one of them was the Throwback game.  That 1-to-2 split would be the second closest to even if I included it with my findings below.  But I'm not going to, and that's my final answer.)

 

(Alright, one more brief interruption…If I DID include the Throwback games, there would actually be players from the last two years who had more games in orange than two of the players on the list below.  Obviously, a bunch of guys like Josh Freeman and Ronde Barber and Sammie Stroughter have now played TWO games in orange, whereas Kevin Dogins and Reggie Rusk – who played in both uniforms – had only one outing in orange.  Funny.  Okay, back to the show.)

 

Given that parameter, it's easy to see that the list of possible candidates who played regular-season games for the Buccaneers in both orange and red uniforms is much more limited than I originally thought when I first read Janet's question.  Think about it, we're essentially talking about a pool of players limited to anybody who was on the 1996 team who was still on the team in 1997.  At most, that's going to be about 50 players; more practically, given the inevitable roster turnover every season, it's going to be more like 30 or 40 players.

 

In case you're thinking this, yes, there could also be a player who played in 1996 or before, then left to play for another team, then returned to the Buccaneers in 1998 or later.  Now, Tampa Bay has certainly had players leave and then return, even some quite prominent ones like Steve DeBerg, Dave Moore, Warrick Dunn, Jeff Gooch, Brian Griese and Dexter Jackson (the safety, not the receiver).  Hoooowever, as it turns out there is only one player in franchise annals who played during the orange era, left before the switchover, then later returned to play in red.  Can you guess who it was?  Check out the table below.

 

So, yeah, seven normal paragraphs and two goofy interruptions later, I'm finally going to answer Janet's question.  The player who most evenly split his playing career as a Buccaneer between the original orange uniforms and the updated red-and-pewter togs is….

 

Jerry Ellison!

 

The former running back, who ranks 33rd in team history with 358 career rushing yards, timed it perfectly.  He played for the Buccaneers from 1995 through 1998 – two years on each side of the split – and never missed a game during that four-year span.  That leads to 32 games played in orange, 32 in red.  (Again, regular-season only.)

 

Here's the list of all 38 players in franchise history who played at least one regular-season game before the uniform switch and at least one after, ranked by how much of a disparity there is between the two numbers.

 

Player

Seasons

Orange

Red

Difference

Jerry Ellison

1995-98

32

32

0

 

Chidi Ahanotu

1993-2000; '04

61

60

(1)

 

Tyrone Legette

1996-97

15

16

1

 

Brad Culpepper

1994-99

45

48

3

 

Reggie Rusk

1996-97

1

4

3

 

Trent Dilfer

1994-99

37

42

5

 

Tommy Barnhardt

1996-98

16

22

6

 

Tony Bouie

1995-98

25

32

7

 

Jason Maniecki

1996-98

5

13

8

 

Melvin Johnson

1995-97

27

16

(11)

 

Robb Thomas

1996-98

12

23

11

 

Jim Pyne

1994-97

27

15

(12)

 

Kevin Dogins

1996-2000

1

17

16

 

Mark Royals

1990-91; '99-2001

32

48

16

 

Regan Upshaw

1996-99

16

32

16

 

Hardy Nickerson

1993-99

62

42

(20)

 

Jason Odom

1996-2000

12

34

22

 

Kenny Gant

1995-97

32

9

(23)

 

Jackie Harris

1994-97

38

12

(26)

 

Jorge Diaz

1996-99

11

41

30

 

Charles Mincy

1996-98

2

32

30

 

Errict Rhett

1994-97

41

11

(30)

 

Horace Copeland

1993-98

45

13

(32)

 

Michael Husted

1993-98

64

32

(32)

 

Tyoka Jackson

1996-2000

13

50

37

 

Eric Curry

1993-97

53

6

(47)

 

Marcus Jones

1996-2001

16

68

52

 

John Lynch

1993-2003

56

108

52

 

Pete Pierson

1994-2001

23

77

54

 

Dave Moore

1992-2001: 04-06

66

124

58

 

Donnie Abraham

1996-2001

16

76

60

 

Tony Mayberry

1990-99

112

48

(64)

 

Steve White

1996-2001

4

75

71

 

Jeff Gooch

1991-2001; '04-05

15

90

75

 

Warren Sapp

1995-2003

31

109

78

 

Karl Williams

1996-2003

16

99

83

 

Mike Alstott

1996-2007

16

142

126

 

Derrick Brooks

1995-2008

32

192

160

 

 

Chidi Ahanotu, the long-time standout defensive end/tackle, came back in 2004 and got six more games in, which came so close to evening his ledger.  Tyrone Legette, a cornerback, got close to matching Ellison, too, but he fatefully missed one game in 1996.  Alas!  Brad Culpepper nearly broke even despite playing two more seasons than Ellison.

 

How about my guesses?  Well, Dilfer wasn't too bad, as he ranks sixth on the list with only a five-game difference separating the two totals.  I had figured that his career split almost down the middle of the uniform change and he played in a long stretch of games without missing any, and that was relatively true.

 

Lynch was a terrible guess.  I was thinking that, of "The Big Three" (Lynch, Brooks and Sapp), he started in 1993 while the other two were drafted in '95, he had a chance to get in a bunch of games before the switch.  Sort of true, I guess, but c'mon, he played with the Bucs through 2003; it wasn't even close.

 

As for the "Difference" column in the chart above, you can see that I've got it calculating the number of games played in red and pewter MINUS the number of games played in orange.  You could go either way, I guess.  By choosing that calculation, I made all the players who saw more action in orange than red come in with negative differences (displayed above with parantheses because I thought it looked less confusing).

 

The reason I bring that up is to point out something I noticed about that list once it was completed.  Of the 38 players who saw regular-season action for the Buccaneers before and after the uniform switch in 1997, 27 of them (71.1%) played more games in red than orange.  That's almost three-quarters of the list.  Why?  Of the 12 players on the list who had a difference of 50 or more games, only one of them (Tony Mayberry) played more ganes in orange than red.  Shouldn't it be closer to even?

 

What you're seeing there is how thoroughly the franchise was reworked after it was purchased by the Glazer Family in 1995.  In 1996, the team got a new head coach in Tony Dungy.  In 1997, it was new uniforms.  In 1998, a new stadium.  Oh, and lots more playoff games, but that's another story.

 

Anyway, Dungy's arrival in 1996 is the key point here.  Most new coaches put there stamps on their teams with higher-than-normal roster turnover, and obviously most new coaches take over teams that really could use a decent amount of reworking.  Other than Mayberry, the only core players on the team before 1996 who would stay with the team for any length of time after Dungy's arrival were Lynch, Brooks and Sapp.  There were only a few players from the 1995 team still around in 1998, but more continuity in the four or five years after.

 

**

 

2. Austin from Punta Gorda, Florida asks:

Answer Man: Here's a simple question: I have been told that kickers are often the highest-scoring person on the team. I was wondering if that was true. I thought it would have to be the quarterback, so why wouldn't they count? Also, who is the all-time leading point scorer for the Buccaneers?

 

Answer Man: Yes, Austin, it's true.  On most NFL teams, the highest-scoring player in any given season is the kicker.

 

Last year, for instance, only three of the league's 32 teams had a leading scorer who was not a kicker: Detroit, New England and Pittsburgh.  That's not a comment on the relative strengths or weaknesses of their offensive players, either.  Those just happen to be three teams that were forced to employ more than one kicker during the season.

 

In each of those three cases, as well, the point totals of the two kickers, added together, would have topped the player who ended up leading the team in scoring.  In other words, had there been no switch at kicker during the season, it's almost certain that the leading scorers for the Lions, Pats and Steelers would have been their kickers.

 

For instance, wide receiver Calvin Johnson led Detroit in scoring with 74 points (12 touchdowns plus one two-point conversion) but kickers Jason Hanson and Dave Rayner scored 55 points each. Had Hanson not suffered an injury, he probably would have scored something along the lines of 110 points.  Similarly, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis led the Patriots with 78 points (13 TDs) but kickers Stephen Gostkowski and Shayne Graham combined for 127.  In Pittsburgh, the Steelers gave Jeff Reed the boot at midseason after he scored 64 points and replacement Shaun Suisham added 61 for a total of 125, but the team's official leading scorer was running back Rashard Mendenhall, with 78 (13 TDs).

 

Look at Bucs history for more examples: The last two times the Bucs have had a non-kicker as their single-season leading scorer were in 2004 and 1992.  In '04, Michael Pittman took the title with 60 points (10 TDs) while Martin Gramatica and Jay Taylor split the kicking duties and combined for 77 points.  In '92, the Bucs made a midseason switch from Ken Willis to Eddie Murray, who would combine for 69 points, but it was Reggie Cobb with 54 points (nine TDs) who led the team.

 

However, the Bucs have had one other season in which their leading scorer was a non-kicker, and that was actually the rare case where no kicker switch was involved.  In this case, it was more the matter of offensive difficulties – in their inaugural season of 1976, the Buccaneers scored just 15 total touchdowns, and six of them belonged to wide receiver Morris Owens.  Kicker Dave Green (who was also the punter) happened to miss four of his 15 extra points (something you would never see in today's NFL) and was only asked to try 15 field goals on the year.  He made eight of them, leading to a total of 35 points.  Morris's six touchdowns were good for 36 points, the Bucs' best that year.

 

That's not how scoring normally breaks down for an NFL team, however.  Last year, the average point total per team was a little over 352 points.  That broke down, on average, in this manner per team:

 

a.   39.7 touchdowns (238.2 points)

b.   37.7 extra points made (37.7 points)

c.   24.7 field goals made (74.1 points)

d.   0.8 two-point conversions (1.6 points)

e.   0.4 safeties (0.8 points)

 

Now, look at entries (b) and (c).  The only player on any team who is going to score those points – about 112 for the season – is the kicker.  Forget (d) and (e), as they're negligible.  That leaves (a) – touchdowns, that is – for all the other players to score, and it's not like one guy on the team is going to score 40 touchdowns.  In fact, any touchdown total in double digits is outstanding for a single player; there were only 22 players last year who reached that mark, or fewer than one per team.

 

The touchdown leader in the NFL last year was Arian Foster, who found the end zone 18 times, which is pretty darn awesome (sure helped the Answer Man in his interstellar fantasy football league).  That gave Foster a huge total of 108 points…which still isn't enough to beat the average kicker's point full-season point total.  (He did come close…Houston kicker Neil Rackers had a team-high 124 points, 18 of which came courtesy of PATs after Foster's touchdowns.)

 

Why are quarterbacks not high on the list, Austin?  Well, it's not they don't "count," as you suggest.  If a quarterback scores a touchdown, he gets six points just like anyone else.  But here's the thing: Quarterbacks score touchdowns relatively rarely.  They throw them all the time.

 

Josh Freeman probably had more to do with the Bucs scoring their 341 points last year than any other player on the team.  Do you know what his point total for the season was?  Two.  He got those by running in a two-point conversion against the Washington Redskins on December 12.

 

That was the difference between that score and all the other scores Freeman was involved in – he was actually the one that took the ball into paydirt.  That's who is credited with the six points on any touchdown, Austin, the player who carries the ball over the goal line or catches a pass in the end zone.  Quarterbacks may not show up much on the league's annual list of scoring leaders, but fans can still see who's the best by looking at the passing charts, where touchdown passes are kept.  In 2004, Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning threw a then-NFL record 49 touchdown passes and was named the league MVP.  Do you know how many points he scored that season, Austin?

 

Zero.

 

Okay, one last part to your question: Who is the all-time leading point-scorer for the Buccaneers?

 

Well, at this point I'm sure it won't surprise you to hear that the Bucs' all-time scoring leader is a kicker.  In fact, the top two and four of the top five are all kickers.  Martin Gramatica is number one, with 592 points scored on 137 field goals and 181 PATs.  The only other 500-point man in team history is kicker Michael Husted, who got to 502 on 117 field goals and 151 PATs.

 

Numbers four and five are kickers Matt Bryant and Donald Igwebuike, respectively.  That leaves the third spot open, and I'm sure you will also not be surprised to learn that player is former fullback Mike Alstott.  The greatest touchdown scorer in team history, Alstott racked up 432 career points on 71 touchdowns (58 rushing, 13 receiving) and three two-point conversions.  That's light years ahead of the second-leading non-kicker on the Bucs' all-time scoring list, running back James Wilder.  Wilder scored 276 points on 46 career touchdowns.

 

**

 

3. Michael Ungerer of Tampa, Florida asks:

After seeing the article for Josh Freeman being up for the Madden NFL 12 cover, my question is, how true is the "Madden Curse?" I mean how many players that have won the cover honor have had horrid seasons/injuries that season?

 

…and…

 

Michael Deeney of York, Maine asks:

Answer man, I'm a huge fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers even though I live in Tom Brady and the Patriots Country here in York, Maine. My question is, has a team that has had one of their personnel be on the cover of NFL Madden gone to the super bowl that year. My reason is I just voted for Josh Freeman to be on the cover of NFL Madden 2012. Thanks Mike D., York, Maine.

 

Answer Man: Alright, a little Madden action, courtesy of Mike and Mike.  And how cool is it that we have a question from Maine in this week's column?  I can't remember posting one of those before.

 

To be honest, I was close to skipping Mike U.'s question, mainly because the Answer Man does not believe in sports curses.  At all.  In a way, I didn't want to validate the Madden Curse idea by giving it a response.

 

But then Mike D.'s question was literally the very next one in my inbox, and I figured we could combine the two and get some sort of reasonable discussion out of it.  And Mike D., if Mike U.'s question concerns you at all, given your vote for Josh, not to worry.  Our guy ran into the Drew Brees juggernaut in Round One of the voting for this year’s cover and did not advance.  Last I saw, Brees – who was on the cover last year – was in the final four.  The Answer Man's money is on Aaron Rodgers, which seems like a perfectly appropriate choice.

 

Okay, first the curse.  Here's the deal: If you want to believe in it, you'll find the evidence you want.  For instance, the curse supposedly "started" in 1999, the first year that the cover wasn't just John Madden himself.  That year, Madden shared it with Barry Sanders, who in the previous two seasons combined had rushed for more than 3,500 yards.  In 1999 (the game itself was called Madden 2000, referring to the "1999-2000" season), Sanders – gasp! – didn't rush for a single yard!

 

He was cursed!

 

Or, well, he retired.  Sure, we all remember that.  Still at the top of his game, Sanders abruptly chose to retire and, to the surprise of many, never changed his mind and never played another down.  That's hardly falling victim to a curse.  It was his own decision, and one he presumably was and is happy about.  Maybe you could say the Lions were cursed that year, but this curse is supposed to be about the individuals, and besides Detroit won three more games than the year before.

 

Or take 2001.  Everybody includes Eddie George on their Madden curse list, and why?  Was it the career-high 1,509 rushing yards he recorded?  Or the career-high 50 catches?  Or the career-best 16 total touchdowns?  Maybe the fact that his Titans went 13-3 in the regular season?

 

Nope.  It was one bobbled ball in the playoffs against the Ravens.  On its way to the Super Bowl title that year, Baltimore beat Tennessee, 24-10, in the Divisional Round.  The Titans were trailing 17-10 with about five minutes to play and had the ball at midfield when a pass bounced off George's hands and was intercepted by Ray Lewis, who returned it 50 yards for a touchdown to seal the win.  Note that the Titans weren't actually winning at the time of the play, and that Baltimore's defense allowed only one touchdown in that entire postseason (which was scored by Eddie George, naturally).

 

So that's a pretty specific and sneaky little curse, eh?  It waited all season, allowing George to get his confidence up with 1,962 yards from scrimmage, then, wham!  Nailed him with a perfectly-timed bobble!  Can you detect a hint of sarcasm here?  You should, I’m laying it on pretty thick.

 

Now, it should probably be said that talk of the Madden Curse wasn't really loud at this point.  It's only in retrospect that people have tried to fit Sanders and George into the picture, because, honestly, there was a string of bad luck for some of the cover subjects in the mid-2000s.

 

Most notably, Daunte Culpepper lost five games to injury in 2001 and his team plummeted to 6-10; Michael Vick broke his leg in 2003 and missed 11 games; Donovan McNabb suffered a sports hernia in 2005 and broke his string of five straight Pro Bowls; Shaun Alexander fractured a foot in 2006.

 

Curse believers want to put Marshall Faulk in there for his 2002 season because he missed two games with an ankle injury and didn't hit 1,000 yards rushing.  But he had missed two games each of the previous two seasons as well, and in 2002 he still had nearly 1,500 combined rushing and receiving yards.  I guess he was mini-cursed.

 

They also want to include Ray Lewis in 2004 because he missed one game with a broken wrist and didn't have a single interception, and because he was hurt the next year.  Now we're counting the next year?  Drew Brees better be careful.

 

Recently?  Brees had another fine season in 2010, didn't miss any time and his team made the playoffs again the year after winning the Super Bowl.  He threw more interceptions and they didn't win the Super Bowl, but he still surpassed 4,000 yards and had 33 touchdowns, so we're going to say he managed to skate by.  The previous cover combined Troy Polamalu and Larry Fitzgerald.  Polamalu did have a very tough season due to injuries in 2009 but Fitzgerald nearly caught 100 passes, scored 13 touchdowns and made another Pro Bowl.  In this case, the Madden Curse decided to pick and choose.  It's versatile like that.

 

The year before that, it was Brett Favre, at the beginning of that whole retire/unretire saga.  He was on the cover as a Packer but ended up playing that season as a Jet, which if anything seems like the Madden game itself fell to the curse.  Yeah, Favre and the Jets collapsed at the very end of the '08 season, but he threw for 3,500 yards and 22 TDs.  The season before that it was Vince Young, who arguably had his best season while leading Tennessee to the playoffs.

 

So, Mike U., I guess it depends on how overwhelming you view the evidence to be.  Is that enough trouble to constitute a curse?  The Answer Man thought a curse was supposed to work every year, like it has with the Cubs for more than a century (if you buy into that sort of thing).  It's not like people say the Red Sox are still cursed since winning the World Series in 2004 and then again in 2007.  People don't say the Sox are cursed because they haven't won the World Series eight of the last 10 years (though, given their start this year, maybe that talk will be rekindled).

 

Your question is actually quite a bit easier, Mike D.  No, no Madden cover subject has ever led his team to a Super Bowl title at the end of that same season.  Below is how each of the cover subjects' teams have fared in their respective seasons.  Keep in mind that the name of the game is a year advanced (e.g. the Madden 2000 game was in play and Sanders was on the cover while the NFL was playing its 1999 season).  We'll go by NFL season for less confusion.

 

Year

Player

Team

Team Results

1999

Barry Sanders

Detroit

8-8, no playoffs

2000

Eddie George

Tennessee

13-3, lost in div. round

2001

Daunte Culpepper

Minnesota

5-11, no playoffs

2002

Marshall Faulk

St. Louis

7-9, no playoffs

2003

Michael Vick

Atlanta

5-11, no playoffs

2004

Ray Lewis

Baltimore

9-7, no playoffs

2005

Donovan McNabb

Philadelphia

6-10, no playoffs

2006

Shaun Alexander

Seattle

9-7, lost in div. round

2007

Vince Young

Tennessee

10-6, lost in WC round

2008

Brett Favre

N.Y. Jets *

9-7, no playoffs *

2009a

Troy Polamalu

Pittsburgh

9-7, no playoffs

2009b

Larry Fitzgerald

Arizona

10-6, lost in div. round

2010

Drew Brees

New Orleans

11-5, lost in WC round

 

* Favre played for the Jets but was on the cover as a Packer.  Green Bay went 6-10 and did not make the playoffs.

 

Well, I still don't believe in a curse, but that isn't a particularly good run for the teams of the cover subjects.  Of course, the cover often goes to a Super Bowl MVP (e.g. Drew Brees) or a key player on a team coming off a great season (e.g. Daunte Culpepper), and we've all seen how difficult it is to duplicate success in the NFL these days from one year to the next, for a team or a player.

 

So, yeah, I don't believe in the Madden Curse.  But maybe, if you want to play it on the safe side, we should be quietly happy that Freeman didn't get the cover for Madden 12.

 

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4. Sean Cary of LaMarque, Texas asks:

What were the offensive stats of the 2001 season, compared to the 2002 season, the year my Bucs won the Super Bowl! Was it worse or better? BUCS RULE!!!

 

Answer Man: Don't worry, Sean, I won't tell anybody that you originally spelled Super Bowl as one word and I fixed it.  Longtime readers know that's a huge pet peeve of mine and we don't need to get into that again.  Plus, I like the all-caps “Bucs Rule” at the end, so I'll cut you some slack.

 

I'm wondering what the motivation for this question is.  I'm intrigued.  There's no doubt that Tampa Bay's defense was its main strength in 2002, maybe one of the best defenses the NFL has ever seen.  Does Sean have a theory that the 2001 team could have just as easily won it all if the defense had come together that marvelously a year earlier?  Or maybe it's the opposite and he wants to prove to his friends that it was precisely the improvement in offense from '01 to '02 that gave the defense enough help to get over the top.

 

Was the Bucs' offense worse in 2002 than it was in 2001, or better?  Well, statistically at least, neither really.  Tampa Bay's offense, on paper, showed slight improvements in a few areas and held steady in a couple others.  Meanwhile, the defense improved from sixth overall to first in terms of yards and from eighth to first in terms of points.

 

Now, let's say this up front, and make it loud enough for Coach Morris to hear us: Stats are for losers.  To look at the raw numbers now, nine years later, and through that alone announce that the '01 and '02 offenses were basically interchangeable is a stretch.  And probably not defensible, if you remember those two teams.  The offense had a whole host of key imports in 2002, including Michael Pittman, Keenan McCardell, Joe Jurevicius, Ken Dilger, Kerry Jenkins and Roman Oben.  It was also just starting to hit its stride in the second half, scoring 27 points a game over a six-week stretch behind the red-hot hand of quarterback Brad Johnson when Johnson went down with a back injury and missed the last two weeks.  The Bucs scored only 22 points over those last two games, including just one touchdown, and then Johnson returned after the bye week to start the team's playoff run.  In the postseason, the Bucs averaged 334 yards and 35 points per game.  Even taking into account that the point total included four defensive touchdowns, the Bucs' offense still was good for 26 points per game during the playoffs.

 

That said, if you want to compare the statistics, that's no problem.  Here's how the team fared in a variety of key categories in both 2001 and 2002

 

                                       2001       Rank            2002       Rank

Yards/Game                   293.4      26t                312.6      24

Points/Game                   20.3        15                 21.6        18

RushingYards/Game      85.7       30                 97.3        27

Passing Yards/Game      207.7      15                 215.3      15

3rd Down Pct.               35.1        23                 35.6        26

First Downs/Game         18.6        9                   17.9        23

Giveaways (fewest)       22           5                   21           6

Sacks Allowed               47           24t                41           22t

 

As you can see, there was an uptick in 2002 in almost every category, but in most cases it was a fairly slight improvement.  The things that the team was doing right in 2001 – not turning it over too many times, throwing the ball fairly efficiently – it maintained in 2002 (in no small part due to Brad Johnson, in both cases) and minor improvements in other categories helped.  If I was right about either of your motivations, Sean, then I probably didn't help either argument.  Beyond the statistics, the Answer Man would say that the 2002 offense was better, that it took a little while to get all of the new parts, not to mention a brand new offense, working together smoothly but when it clicked it really clicked.

 

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5. M. Fludgecow of Tampa, Florida asks:

What happens to the ball on a field goal if it hits the uprights and bounces back towards the field? Is it or alive once it hits the ground? What if someone catches it; can he return it like Devin Hester did for a TD? Thanks.

 

Answer Man: "M. Fludgecow?"  Milton Fludgecow, I presume.  Somebody here has lived in Tampa for a pretty long time.

 

FYI to potential question submitters out there: Obvious fake names do NOT help your chances of getting a question into the column.  I like to feel like I'm making a real connection with a Bucs fan, darn it!

 

I'll make an exception this time, but don't count on it continuing.  (Says the guy who two weeks ago was practically begging for more mailbag input.)  It's a pretty easy question anyway, so let's bang this out.

 

The ball is dead on any play – field goal, kickoff, pass, etc. – as soon as it hits the uprights or the crossbar, although if it continues through the uprights on a field goal it still counts.  If it hits the uprights or crossbar and bounces back into the field of play, it's a dead ball.

 

I figured you'd want confirmation from my favorite piece of fine literature, the NFL Rulebook.  Again, it was pretty easy to find.  Here is Rule 11, Section 6, Article 2, which covers touchback situations.

 

When a team provides the impetus (3-15-3) that sends a loose ball behind its opponent's goal line, it is a touchback:

 

-- skip a few sub-letters and --

 

(d) if any legal or illegal kick touches the receivers' goal posts, crossbar or uprights, other than one which scores a field goal;

 

Just so I don't cause any unwanted confusion by the use of the word "touchback," if the attempted field goal was from beyond the 20-yard line, the receiving team gets the ball at the spot of the kick, not the 20, on a miss as long as the receiving team doesn't touch it.

 

Mr. Fakecow is referring to the play in 2006 when the Chicago Bears' Devin Hester returned a missed field goal 108 yards for a touchdown against the New York Giants on Nov. 12, 2006.  Such plays are pretty rare, and you really only see them at the end of a half because the return man is taking a big gamble by running it out. A field goal is live ball until it goes out of bounds (and hitting the uprights constitutes going out of bounds), so a return man can station himself in the end zone on a long field goal and hope to catch it if it comes up short.  If he does, as the Rulebook states, "all general rules for a kick from scrimmage will apply, and the special rules pertaining to field goals…are not applicable."

 

Those special rules are the ones that govern the placement of the ball after a missed field goal, as discussed above.  That is, the team defending the field goal gets the ball at the spot where the ball was kicked from OR the 20-yard line, whichever is better.  Once you field the ball as the receiving team, however, as Hester did against the Giants, all bets are off and your offense is going to get the ball wherever you're tackled.  That means, on a 52-yard field goal try (as was the one the Giants tried in that 2006 game) the return man would have to get past at least his own 42 to make the attempt worthwhile.  Big gamble.  At the end of a half, however, it's not much of a gamble at all because it doesn't really matter where the ball is eventually spotted, and the return man will figure he might as well take a shot at going the distance.  What helps the return man, as opposed to punts and kickoffs, is that the opposing field goal team is not designed specifically to stop returns.  It's mostly a lot of very big guys providing blocking for the field goal try.  Not only did Hester pull of the 108-yarder in 2006, his own teammate Nathan Vasher had done the exact same thing the year before.

 

But if Hester had been standing in that end zone and the ball had first struck the uprights and then settled into his hands, he wouldn't have been able to return the ball.  Also, he would not be allowed to stand under the upright, wait and leap over the upright to catch a field goal that would have gone through.  This is appropriately called "goaltending" in the rulebook, just like in basketball.

 

**

 

6. Conor Keating of Dublin, Ireland asks:

How many times have the Buccaneers gone 10-6 and not got into the playoffs and also how many times have they gone 10-6 and got into the playoffs?

 

Answer Man: Yeah, I'll admit it: This is another softball.  So sue me.  My man in Ireland wants an answer.  Who's going to tell him?  You?  You over there?  I don't think so.  I think I've earned the right.  (That's a lot more dramatic if you read it in the voice of Colonel Nathan Jessep.)

 

Anyway, it probably will not surprise you to learn that last year was the first time the Buccaneers won 10 games or more in a season and did not make the playoffs.  There's a reason that Raheem Morris regaled his team with the "Race to 10" motto from the first days of training camp last year – 10 wins is almost always enough to get into the playoffs, especially, as it turns out, in the NFC.

 

As you know, the Buccaneers went 10-6 but missed out on the final playoff spot when they fell into a three-way tie with the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers, both also 10-6.  Yes, those very Green Bay Packers who went on to win it all.  Again, that was Morris' point: Win 10 games and you're probably in the playoffs, and then anything can happen.  Unfortunately for the Buccaneers and the Giants, they became just the seventh and eight teams since the playoff field expanded to 12 teams to win at least 10 games and not make the playoffs.  It was the first time in almost two decades that had happened in the NFC; Philadelphia and San Francisco suffered the same fate way back in 1991.  The most recent example in the AFC was just a few years ago – in 2008 New England actually won 11 games and missed out.  That must have hurt.

 

I make the distinction of drawing the line at the year the NFL expanded to six playoff teams in each conference because, as should be obvious, when fewer teams are allowed in there is a higher likelihood that a team with a good number of wins will be squeezed out.  That's particularly true as you go decades back into NFL history.  Consider the 11-3 Detroit Lions of 1963 who had to watch Green Bay and the Giants play for the NFL title (that was the entire playoff field back then).

 

The Bucs have been in the league since 1976, and the format was four playoff teams per conference back then.  The St. Louis Cardinals went 10-4 that year and didn't make the postseason field.  The NFL went to 16 games and five playoff teams per conference in 1978 and in 1979 the 10-6 Washington Redskins were left out in the cold.  The six-teams-per-conference format began in 1990, and as mentioned there have been only eight teams since that won 10 or more games and missed the playoffs.

 

The Bucs?  They've won 10 or more games in seven different seasons and made the playoffs each time except for last year.  In case you specifically wanted to know about 10-6 seasons, there have been four of those: 1979, 1997, 2000 and 2010.  Again, all of those except last year resulted in playoff berths.  Tampa Bay also made the playoffs with fewer than 10 wins in 1981, 1982, 2001 and 2007.

 

**

 

Okay, that’s gonna do it.  I know this is the second straight time I’ve cut it a little shorter than usual, but I think that’s going to be my new approach.  The mailbag is still a little light, and every week they’re siphoning off three of the questions for the video piece before I even get to dig in.  Maybe the days of the 15-question, 12,000-word Answer Man bonanza are over.

 

Or maybe not.  We’ll see.  If you give me enough to work with, I’ll be happy to sit in my research cave (sooooo lame) all day and night.  To send in a question, please visit this page.  Until next time…Go Bucs!