Tim Rattay (center) doesn't come in to be the Bucs' starting quarterback, but recent seasons have proved that anything can happen
Tim Rattay is in the middle of what might be the longest bye week in NFL history.
Rattay was on a golf course in California on Tuesday when he got word that he had been traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by the San Francisco 49ers. For all he knew, before a course attendant brought him a message to call his wife, this was his last day of rest for a little while. The 49ers, coming off their bye, would start preparing for the Washington Redskins the next morning.
Rattay wouldn't be with them. Instead, he was on a plane by that evening, at the Bucs' headquarters by 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning and calling a play in the huddle by 11:00 a.m. Coincidentally, Rattay's new team was just beginning its bye week, so once again there's a lot more free time on the schedule than an NFL player is used to in the fall.
Of course, Rattay needs the weekend to "crash-course" – his aptly-created verb – on Jon Gruden's offense, to memorize a whole new set of commands and learn the meaning behind the system's common pre-snap shifts. The irony is, after using all of this current free time to get up to speed as quickly as possible, Rattay, who started the first four games of the season for San Francisco, may find himself with little to do over the next dozen weekends.
See, if everything goes well for the 5-1 Buccaneers, Chris Simms will step in seamlessly for Brian Griese, who is now on injured reserve thanks to an awkward meeting between his leg and Zach Thomas. And if fortune smiles on the Bucs, Simms will also stay healthy and the Bucs' reserve quarterbacks will remain in reserve.
But no one can predict what will happen over the next two months, so Rattay's sacrifice of his extra bye weekend is a necessity. The Bucs will do everything they can to prepare Simms for his first start of the season and lay the foundation for his success, but they will also get Rattay and fellow back-up Luke McCown ready for any possibility. In Rattay's case, that means a lot of time with the Buccaneer coaches, who have no other players to worry about over the weekend.
The goal is to be confident in whoever is under center, as circumstances dictate.
"We didn't bring [Rattay] in here to hold a clipboard forever," said Gruden. "We try not to draft players or sign players who we don't think can eventually play for us. Last year we played three different quarterbacks, started three different guys. In 2002 we started three different quarterbacks. There's a chance, based on recent history, that we're going to start three this year. Hopefully we don't. We expect Chris Simms to play well. But we do feel like we need to get as many guys ready to play as possible and that's what we're going to do."
Every quarterback in the league wants to start, and Rattay was as displeased as any of his colleagues would have been when the 49ers handed the starting job to rookie Alex Smith, the first overall pick in this year's draft, in Week Five. His first preference would have been to remain the starter in San Francisco, to finish what he had started.
However, given what did occur, Rattay said he couldn't have asked for a better turn of events than Tuesday's surprise trade. He felt even better about it when he was informed that the Bucs had previously tried to deal for him before the season.
"It's always good to go somewhere that the team wants you," said Rattay. "Now I'm just eager to go out and prove myself and show [the 49ers] hopefully that they were wrong with what they did. I've been there five-and-a-half years in San Francisco, and this is kind of a way to go somewhere and prove myself somewhere else. I'm ready for the challenge and I'm glad to be somewhere different – new surroundings and all that."
Despite record-setting numbers at Louisiana Tech, Rattay was a seventh-round draft pick in 2000, most likely due to the fact that he stands "just" six feet tall. Those are obstacles he's long since overcome, as all that matters on the NFL level is production. He has been given the starting job at some point in each of the past three seasons (injuries cost him a good part of 2004, when he started nine times) and he has sneaky-good career numbers. His career passer rating of 81.6 is strong, and he fits one important criteria for the Bucs' system with a completion rate of over 60%.
"I try to play smart, take chances when they're there, and when they're not there try to move the offense efficiently," said Rattay. "I think that's the kind of the West Coast deal. That's what I learned when I first got to San Francisco and I'm sure that's kind of similar to what they want around here with the quarterbacks. Just be efficient and run the offense the way the offense is supposed to be run and not try to get too greedy with things."
Before he left the 49ers, Rattay even got as high as eighth on the franchise's all-time passing list, measured in yards. You can make of that what you will, of course. On one hand, you would probably be hard-pressed to guess the eighth-leading passer in Buccaneer history (if you said Brian Griese, you've identified the correct coincidence). On the other hand, the names above Rattay are the stuff of legends: Joe Montana, John Brodie, Steve Young, Y.A. Tittle. Just tickling the edges of that group is exciting.
Rattay left one Bay area for another before he could chase the two names above him on that Niner list, two players who, amazingly, also played for both the 49ers and the Buccaneers. That would be Steve DeBerg, the much-traveled vet, and Steve Spurrier, the first starting quarterback in Tampa Bay history. Throw in Young, and half of the top eight passers in San Francisco annals also played for the Buccaneers.
That's little more than an historical oddity, obviously, and it doesn't give us any insight into how well Rattay will fit in with the Buccaneers. Still, just contemplating the career twists and turns of such players as DeBerg and Spurrier – and even Young, who was jettisoned by the Bucs after they drafted Vinny Testaverde first overall and ended up in the Hall of Fame – makes one remember how unpredictable the game can be.
In the end, all you can say is that it is a fresh opportunity for Rattay, one he hopes to make the most of.
"Obviously, they've got things going – great coach, great team – so I was fired up about the opportunity, definitely," he said. "I'm just going to learn. I'm going to try to learn the offense as fast as possible and just get used to the guys here and get accustomed to here. Whatever happens happens after that."