DE Simeon Rice expects a spirited performance from returning Jets QB Vinny Testaverde, but hopes to make it a tough afternoon
Eighteen years ago, on December 5, 1987, Vinny Testaverde went to bed in a New Orleans hotel room, his first NFL start just hours away.
A rookie, the defending Heisman Trophy winner, a strapping 220-pound kid, the "future" of a downtrodden franchise, he was almost surely feeling the predictable clash of confidence and anxiety.
And, that night, he probably dreamed of what he would accomplish the next day, as the starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Maybe he even foresaw the 369 yards and two touchdowns he would put up in a losing effort.
Nearly two decades have passed and Testaverde has moved on to the Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens, the New York Jets, the Dallas Cowboys and, now, the Jets again. He has amassed nearly 45,000 career passing yards, sixth-most in league history, and progressed far past his mostly disappointing six-year start in Tampa.
This Saturday, Testaverde will again go to sleep on the eve of an NFL start, as the Jets have given him the job a little over a week after bringing the 41-year-old out of retirement. After both Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler went down with shoulder injuries in the September 25 game against Jacksonville, former third-stringer Brooks Bollinger got the start at Baltimore last weekend. The Jets lost 13-3 and, though he didn't put the blame on Bollinger, New York Head Coach Herm Edwards made the expected switch to the veteran at the beginning of this week.
Testaverde is now a father of three, far removed from that 1987 rookie, but at least one Buccaneer thinks he will spend this Saturday evening the same way he did that first one 18 years ago.
"Everybody dreams big at night," said Buccaneer defensive end Simeon Rice, who will be trying to chase Testaverde down on Sunday afternoon. "We all go to sleep, we close our eyes, but we wake up from our dreams. From those dreams we try to live those out and play those out in our daily lives and our daily routine. So I'm sure he's doing one and the same. I'm sure he's dreaming big. I'm sure he lives all types of fantasies. I'm sure he threw 10 touchdowns in his dreams."
Rice wasn't being derogatory; far from it. Unlike some observers, he thought Testaverde must relish the opportunity to face the Buccaneers' number-one ranked defense in his first game since finishing last year as the Cowboys' starter. Rice called the signing a chance for Testaverde to once again "explore his dreams" and to rally a Jets team that had dropped to 1-3.
That being said, Rice was hoping he and his fellow Buccaneer could give Testaverde a rude awakening.
"There's a certain reality that you have to face," he said. "When you have to go out and accomplish it, sometimes the reality changes a dream to a nightmare. That's on us. It's on us to make those things happen, and it's on us to make our dreams come true. These dreams are going to collide at some point."
One can certainly understand the Jets' decision to go with the veteran, who threw for 3,500 yards and 17 touchdowns less than a year ago. Tampa Bay's defense has long feasted on young, inexperienced quarterbacks like Bollinger, and Testaverde is not likely to be rattled by much at this stage. Given the Jets' obvious talents at running back and wide receiver, they may be best off with a veteran hand who can get the ball into the hands of their playmakers. The Bucs are expecting a strong performance from the man they made the first overall pick in 1987.
"I've seen enough in this league to know that Testaverde can play just about anywhere for anybody in any kind of offense," said Gruden. "He can throw the hell out of the football. He's going to be a guy that we've got to contest with, man. He's one of the most prolific passers in the history of this league. And they do have weapons. They've got a guy that they can turn around and hand it to, a great runner in [Curtis] Martin. With Laveranues [Coles] and [Justin] McCareins and these two tight ends [Chris Baker and Doug Jolley], he's got plenty of players who will help him out. We've got a lot to get ready for."
Bucs tight end Anthony Becht, who was Testaverde's teammate for four years in New York, says the veteran quarterback has always done a good job in staying in shape during the offseason. He knows the Jets are expecting Testaverde to provide them with a much-needed spark.
According to Rice, you can't rule that out possibility. He and the Bucs know better than to dismiss Testaverde just because of his age or his late signing.
"You expect the unexpected," said Rice. "The one thing that you can't measure is a guy's hunger, a thirst. Those are the things he's going to bring into the game that won't show up on the film. You can't measure a guy's heart by the film, especially when a guy hasn't even been out there."
Wide receiver Joey Galloway had a career-high 166 receiving yards on Sunday against Detroit, but it could have been an even bigger day, according to his head coach. Gruden said the offense missed out on several other opportunities to get it to their speedy wideout down the field.
One of those missed opportunities was likely the last play of the Bucs' first drive in the fourth quarter, when quarterback Brian Griese's pass was intercepted by Lions safety Terrence Holt. Griese had tried to fit a tight pass into tight end Alex Smith about 20 yards down the left sideline, but replay seemed to show that Galloway had gotten open deep over the middle of the field.
"Last week when I threw that pick in the fourth quarter I didn't key the free safety," said Griese. "I had a guy down the field that was open that I should have thrown the ball to. Those are things I'm going to learn from and, trust me, I'm the most critical person on myself. I know that game shouldn't have been as close as it was on Sunday, and I'm going to try do everything I can to give our team the best chance to win. And not just win by one or two points – we want to win by two touchdowns, three touchdowns."
Griese says he has developed a comfort level with Galloway, that each player seems to be tuned in to what the other wants to do. In this case, however, their connection might have been thrown off by the fact that Galloway had just returned to the field after spending the first five minutes of the quarter in the Bucs' locker room. After his legs cramped up following a reception at the end of the third period, Galloway had needed intravenous fluids to get back into playing shape.
Galloway's time in the locker room was, to put it mildly, an uncomfortable interval of the game for Gruden. With Williams already out of the game by this point and relatively ineffective when he did play, the Bucs' offense had running in fits and starts all afternoon. It's most successful moments had mostly revolved around Galloway, and his absence had removed some of the options Gruden wanted to explore.
To the average Buccaneer fan, it was a relief to hear that Galloway's ailment was merely cramps, especially after a cart had taken him into the stadium tunnel. Gruden, however, viewed it as a problem that needs to be solved before it puts him into another uncomfortable situation on a coming Sunday afternoon.
That's why Gruden placed a call to Galloway later Sunday night. On Wednesday, the receiver confirmed that the call was about the cramps that took him out of the game.
"He made it clear that we've got to take care of the cramp situation," said Galloway, who missed the hottest months of a Buccaneer season last year due to a groin injury. "And believe me, we're doing everything we can to take care of the cramp situation. He called me afterwards and said, 'Look, let's take care of the cramp situation,' and that's the clean version of what he said."
Galloway, who had seven catches in the game and scored the winning points on an 80-yard post-pattern touchdown, said he tried to control the situation at the time but couldn't get rid of the cramps on a very hot and humid day. As such, he has started a new program this week, though he declined to go over the details.
"I've been doing a whole lot of things since then," said Galloway. "I felt like I did everything I could then and it didn't work, so we're trying something else."
Wired for Sound
If you're fortunate enough to have the NFL Network on your cable or satellite system, you'll want to tune in on Thursday at 9:00 p.m. ET (and PT) for an exclusive insider's look at the Bucs' 17-13 victory over Detroit.
Before the game, the NFL Network fitted Gruden, Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin, linebacker Derrick Brooks and wide receiver Michael Clayton with microphones to catch their conversations during the action. The results are unlike anything one can witness on traditional highlights. For instance, viewers will be privy to a sideline conversation in which running back Michael Pittman almost shyly suggests the play to Gruden that would result in Pittman's 41-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
The piece also features insight into Galloway's touchdown, as well as a series of reactions to the game's dramatic final minutes. The exclusive game sounds are mixed with the always outstanding game footage captured by NFL Films to offer a completely new perspective on the game.
Encore airings of this show can also be seen on Friday at 12:30 and 4:30 p.m. ET.