Buc play-by-play man Gene Deckerhoff believes another year in the system will allow Randall McDaniel (64) and Jeff Christy (62) to offer even more help to surging RB Warrick Dunn
Midway through the first quarter on August 12, 1989, Tampa Bay Buccaneers' wide receiver Mark Carrier out-jumped Houston Oilers cornerback Steve Brown to haul in a 32-yard pass from Vinny Testaverde. Carrier landed just inbounds in the right corner of the end zone.
Since it was the opening score of the opening game of the Bucs' 1989 preseason, this was presumably the first time Buccaneer fans heard what has become the area's most famous radio call.
"Touchdown Tampa Bay!"
Those are the signature words of beloved Buccaneers Radio Network announcer Gene Deckerhoff, the radio play-by-play man for every Bucs games over the past dozen years. Tampa Bay has scored hundreds of touchdowns since Carrier's grab, most of them celebrated in Deckerhoff's thrilling manner.
Not every weekend in the last dozen years has warranted a celebration, however. Deckerhoff has described Buccaneer action through the good and the bad – statistically, more of the latter, as Tampa Bay has lost 28 more regular-season games than it has won under his watch. However, Deckerhoff has witnessed many good times: a Buccaneers rebirth, a thrilling near-miss run at the Super Bowl, repeated playoff appearances and an unprecedented number of Pro Bowl performers.
That being said, he's never seen the Bucs looking quite this good.
"I think everything's in place right now to make a great run at the promised land this year," said Deckerhoff.
If so, Deckerhoff will be talking about it this fall. He's back for his lucky 13th season on the Bucs' broadcast, along with returning analyst Scot Brantley, the former Tampa Bay linebacker, and Ronnie Lane, a long-time Bay area radio man who previously called the action with the Bucs' broadcast team from 1986 to 1989.
But, Gene, we can't wait. Let's talk Buccaneers football right now.
Buccaneers.com reached the award-winning broadcaster and intrepid explorer (just back from a week at Yellowstone National Park) last week and gathered his thoughts on what is just ahead for the Bucs. Deckerhoff waxed optimistic about Tampa Bay's quarterback depth and Warrick Dunn's immediate future, though he wondered a bit about the team's young offensive line and the difficulty of the Bucs' early-season schedule. Read on for Deckerhoff's insight.
Early in the spring free agency period, Tampa Bay made a huge splash with the signing of veteran quarterback Brad Johnson, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins. Since the Bucs' offense has generally failed to reach the same overall level of success as their defense, this move was seen by some as the final piece to the team's puzzle. Even those unwilling to go that far believe it is, at a minimum, an upgrade to the Bucs' quarterback position as a whole.
Deckerhoff has a unique perspective on Johnson, having followed his career since Johnson's college days at Florida State; Deckerhoff has served as the Seminoles' radio voice for the past 21 years. Though Johnson's playing time in college was limited, his progress in the National Football League has not escaped the Buc announcer.
"Well, Brad's a Pro Bowl quarterback and, if anything, he upgrades the position that is the most critical on a football team," said Deckerhoff. "If you look at our roster at quarterback right now, it's incredible. We may have as talented a roster of quarterbacks as any team in the National Football League.
"Obviously, I've known Brad Johnson since he was a freshman in college and I've followed his career in the National Football League, particularly in Minnesota. It seemed like every time we played the Vikings, I'd run into Brad's mom in the (Metrodome) hallways because her seats were somewhat near our press box. It was almost like Old Home Weekend, but then they'd do their thing and beat us up there.
"Brad is a smart quarterback, a big quarterback, he's strong-armed and he's obviously proven that he can excel in the National Football League. I know he's tickled pink to be a Buccaneer, and that's important."
Deckerhoff appeared to be tickled as well, and not just by Johnson's potential.
"Shaun (King) has proven he can quarterback in this league, too," said Deckerhoff. "In his first two years, he's taken us to the playoffs, and I don't think another quarterback in Bucs history can say that. In fact, I know they can't.
"And you've got the addition of Ryan Leaf, and we're just as strong at quarterback as ever, and that's the critical position."
Johnson and Leaf were only the beginning of the Bucs' amazing March free agency haul (Leaf was actually a waiver claim). Two weeks later, the team inked Pro Bowl DE Simeon Rice to a six-year deal, one that now seems to excite Deckerhoff as much as the addition of Johnson.
"The Simeon Rice deal looks huge to me," said the five-time recipient of the Florida Sportscaster of the Year award. "I know Philadelphia had a great season last year pressuring and sacking the quarterback – golly, they ran us ragged in the playoff game – but I think our defensive pass rush, our front four, is second to none in the National Football League. I'm excited about that.
"Then you've got Derrick Brooks and John Lynch, Pro Bowl performers in the defense, just knocking people flat on their backs, knocking their helmets off, running down ballcarriers – heck, let's go ahead and kick off against Miami right now!"
Whoa! Hold up there, Gene. Even a team surrounded by as much optimism as the Buccaneers needs some time in training camp to assess the true depth of its talent. Tampa Bay doesn't appear to have any glaring holes in the lineup, but there are always burning questions in the preseason, and one of the most critical ones surrounds Pro Bowl RB Warrick Dunn.
That Dunn visited Honolulu for the second time last February is a testament to how dominant he was during the second half of the season, during which he racked up 767 rushing yards, 228 receiving yards, seven touchdowns and 13 plays of 20 or more yards. Still, his less inspiring first-half stats leave the question of his full-season durability open to debate.
Or does it? Not in Deckerhoff's mind. Dunn is another Florida State product and thus another player with which the long-time broadcaster is intimately familiar.
"Warrick Dunn has been proving himself his whole career," said Deckerhoff. "He came into Florida State as a kid that played defensive back-slash-quarterback. In fact, he played every position except offensive and defensive line and linebacker at a Catholic high school in Baton Rouge. As I recall, he came in with a couple of highly-touted running backs and I think the FSU coaching staff thought he might be better as a defensive back as opposed to a running back. It just so happened that on decision day he had a phenomenal practice, and the decision was made: he was going to be a running back. He has been proving that he can play at every level since he was a kid in Baton Rouge.
"The same thing holds true with Warrick in the NFL. I know coming out of college everyone said he was too small to be an every-down back. But, golly, I think Warrick's been hurt once in his life, and that was two years ago when he came into camp gimpy, favoring an ankle. All of a sudden, he pulls something in the other leg and had a miserable season. I think that was the first time, that I know of, that he was injured in his career. So, yes, I think he can be an every-down back."
Could Dunn, whose career single-season high is 1,133 yards, reach the 1,500-1,600 yard rushing totals posted by the league's elite runners? Clearly, Deckerhoff harbors no doubt that Dunn is capable of that type of production. Will he? The Buc announcer needs more info.
"Now, the question is, how do you use him?" asked Deckerhoff. "As a receiver? As a running back? You have the one-two punch with the A-Train (Mike Alstott) and Warrick Dunn, and you've got Keyshawn Johnson at receiver. We've got the weapons offensively to score points. I think last year everyone thought Keyshawn was going to come in and instantly make us a Super Bowl contender. And he is a great receiver, tremendous, but there was a transition period. We all forget about that. It will be interesting to see how those players are used this year."
Indeed. New Offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen has already confirmed that Dunn will be the primary ballcarrier, in less of a shared role with Alstott this fall. However, Christensen is also determined to get the most out of his four-time Pro Bowl fullback. Deckerhoff wouldn't guess at how that will be accomplished, but feels certain Alstott will be ready for whatever role is assigned.
"I think if you said, 'Mike, I want you to play linebacker tomorrow in this game against the Bears,' he'd play linebacker," said Deckerhoff. "Mike wants to play football, and that's the kind of people that Tony has put on this football team, guys that want to play in the National Football League. They want to play every down. They are good characters and they play good football. I don't know what his role will be – that's up to Tony (Dungy) – but Mike is a throwback player. He wants to play football, and I love seeing the A-Train play."
Alstott accounted for 465 rushing yards last year, a total suppressed by the month he spent on the sideline with a knee injury. That was a significant dip from his '99 mark of 969 rushing yards but, with Dunn's late-season explosion, the Bucs' running attack still finished ninth in the league and averaged a team-record 4.22 yards per carry. That speaks well of the front line, which last year welcomed two former Minnesota Viking standouts in center Jeff Christy and guard Randall McDaniel.
However, that same front five will go into 2001 with two new starters, as second-year man Cosey Coleman takes over for departed right guard Frank Middleton and rookie first-rounder Kenyatta Walker steps in at left tackle. That thought momentarily gave Deckerhoff pause – remember, he was around for the attempted indoctrination of first-round pick Charles McRae - but in the end he sees the remake as an improvement.
"We're developing an offensive line," he said. "Coach (Chris) Foerster has his hands full developing this young talent. I like Kenyatta as a number-one draft pick this year – that's large. We've had some bad luck drafting offensive linemen early, but I think we have some linemen that proved last year they can get us into the playoffs.
"The acquisition last year of the two Minnesota free agents, Christy and McDaniel, was also large. That sort of helped us last year, but again, it was a transition year. I think this year we'll be stronger on the offensive line."
Of course, Deckerhoff spent much more time in assessment of the Bucs' offense, as the defense, with the exception of Rice's arrival, is facing much less turnover. Despite dropping to ninth last year after three straight seasons ranking in the league's top three, Tampa Bay's defense remains one of the league's most respected units.
Only two starters will not return from last year's squad, and one, Chidi Ahanotu, is replaced very handily by Rice. The other is free safety Damien Robinson, now a Jet. The Bucs are pleased with their replacement at that position, as well, and so is Deckerhoff. Tampa Bay's new starter at free safety is third-year man Dexter Jackson, who just happens to be another Florida State product. Uh, Gene? Don't get him started.
"Dexter Jackson – he's coming on strong, isn't he?" asked Deckerhoff with obvious glee. "Here's a kid that was a quarterback in high school. He came to college to be a quarterback. I was introduced to Dexter on his official visit and he was going to be the next quarterback at Florida State. The next thing I know, he's playing in the secondary and now, son of a gun, he's a starter in the National Football League. That's great for Dexter."
The rest of the defense Deckerhoff breezes over in a couple of sentences.
"The defensive line is the best in the league," he said. "Linebackers – we learned a lot about Derrick Brooks last year. He can play anywhere on the field and definitely is a Pro Bowl player. Secondary – I think the corner's are solid and it's great to have Ronde (Barber) back and in the saddle long-term."
If there is anything about the Bucs' upcoming season that did not elicit rosy words from Deckerhoff's famous larynx, it's the team's schedule. The Bucs see three strong '00 playoff teams in their first five games (Philadelphia, Minnesota and Tennessee) and also take on arch-rival Green Bay in that span. Deckerhoff, who watched a slow start derail Tampa Bay in 1998 and nearly do the same the last two years, feels like he's seen this before.
"I'll tell you what, I hate that computer up at NFL headquarters," he said, slyly. "They need to put a McIntosh up there, not one of those PCs. They spit out this schedule, and ours is the toughest in the National Football League. Boy it's loaded up front, just like the last couple of seasons. We needed to get that computer changed up there, because these 3-4 starts are driving everybody crazy."
Deckerhoff is personally harried by the Bucs' annual trips to Green Bay and Minneapolis, as his Saturday Florida State commitments often necessitate difficult travel plans to make it to Tampa Bay radio booth in time on Sunday. As such, he has just a little less sentiment than most in leaving behind the NFC Central after 2001.
"This will be our farewell tour in the NFC Central, and I'm looking forward to saying 'Adios' to Green Bay and 'Adios' to Minneapolis, though not forever," he said, going on to give his assessment of the Bucs' competition this last time through the Black-and-Blue circuit.
"I think Green Bay finished the season as strong as any team in our division.
"I think Detroit's going to be in a state of turnover. I hope they are, because you need to notch a win in Detroit your last trip up there.
"The Bears, I don't know. They stole one of our best people in Jerry Angelo, and he'll be waiting for us. We play them up there in December, and that's scary. I hope the temperature's about 18 degrees and we beat them by 40.
"I almost sent a congratulatory note to Robert Smith on his early retirement to tell him he made a great decision. I think Robert Smith is what has made that Minnesota Viking football team the team that keeps beating us in their place. We seem to contain Smith at home on the natural turf and then we beat them, so I think we have a chance to beat them up there without him."
How does that all add up. Again, Deckerhoff doesn't mince words.
"I think we're the team to beat in the NFC Central this year," he said. Like just about everything that spills out of Deckerhoff's mouth and across the Buccaneer radio waves each Sunday, that sounds pretty good to us.