Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Good Cheer

With a special contingent of Buccaneers Cheerleaders rooting them on, Eddie Hardaway and the Rhein Fire kept their World Bowl hopes alive

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WR Eddie Hardaway, allocated to Rhein by the Buccaneers, had a team-high three receptions for 29 yards in the Fire's win over Frankfurt

A year from now, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin their first season in the new NFC South, don't expect the team's cheerleaders to be throwing any encouragement in Corey Harris' direction. On Saturday, however, Harris had the full support of the Buccaneer rooters as he raced down the sideline with a game-winning interception.

Harris, you see, is a member of the New Orleans Saints, who may emerge as one of the Bucs' chief rivals in the NFC South, a new division created by NFL realignment. This spring and summer, however, Harris is playing not in the Louisiana Superdome, but in six venues in Europe, as the Saints allocated him to the NFL Europe League for the 2001 campaign. As part of the Rhein Fire, Harris was on home turf on Saturday, playing against the Frankfurt Galaxy in the Fire's packed-to-the-rafters Rheinstadion.

And the Buccaneers Cheerleaders were on hand as well. Heeding an unexpected by exciting invitation from the Fire's game production crew, roughly half of the Bucs' cheerleading squad headed overseas last week to perform at Rhein's halftime show. They were thus on hand when Harris' 57-yard interception return in the fourth quarter gave the Fire a 17-13 win over the Galaxy, pushing the home team to 5-4 and keeping their World Bowl hopes very much alive.

The Buccaneers Cheerleaders were invited to perform on this Saturday in part because the Fire expected it be a special occasion, an all-German matchup with Frankfurt that was expected to draw a huge crowd. And, in fact, it did. The audience of 51,719 American football fans ranked as the third largest crowd in league history and the largest since 1991.

The Buccaneers also had four allocated players performing in the game, though most of them were on the losing end with Frankfurt, which dropped to 2-7 after the defeat. Punter Andrew Bayes, guard Wilbert Brown and CB Terrence Parrish all start for the Galaxy; unfortunately for the visiting team, Bayes was the most active of those three on Saturday, getting off five punts for a gross average of 37.0 yards. Included in those kicks was a 41-yarder in the first quarter that pinned Rhein at its own five-yard line for its first drive of the game.

Though the Fire couldn't climb out of that hole, it did march for a score on its next possession, thanks in large part to Bucs-allocated wide receiver Eddie Hardaway. Hardaway came up with an 11-yard reception on third-and-three early in the drive, then added a four-yard catch inside the Galaxy's 40-yard line. The Fire eventually capitalized with a 19-yard field goal after a drive that lasted almost nine and a half minutes.

Hardaway added a 14-yard catch later in the half to finish the game with three receptions for 29 yards, a team high. The Fire's leading receiver on the season with 32 catches for 394 yards and two touchdowns, Hardaway came into the NFLEL's ninth weekend ranked seventh in the league in receptions.

Despite its league-worst record, the Galaxy refused to concede an easy victory to the home team, taking leads of 7-3, 10-7 and 13-10. The Fire managed to rally each time, however, culminating in Harris' thrilling interception.

With the victory, the Fire remained tied for second place with the Berlin Thunder, who won their Saturday game in a somewhat more convincing fashion, dropping the Amsterdam Admirals, 41-10. Amsterdam, however, remains in the World Bowl hunt at 4-5 with one week to play.

After a 10-week season, the two teams with the best records in the six-team NFLEL qualify for the World Bowl, the league's championship game. Barcelona, which ran its record to a dominant 8-1 after Saturday's 26-7 dismissal of Scotland, has had one of the two spots locked up for weeks.

Rhein, Berlin and Amsterdam will battle for the second World Bowl spot in Week 10 next weekend. Berlin and Amsterdam will play each other for the second week in a row, while Rhein will take on the 3-6 Scottish Claymores.

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