Buccaneers Aaron Stecker and Deshone Mallard will battle for the chance to win this trophy in World Bowl 2000
An exciting four-month 'tour' of Europe ended this weekend for four Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but two other Bucs have one more scheduled stop.
RB Aaron Stecker will lead the Scottish Claymores into World Bowl 2000 on Sunday, June 25. Trying to slow him down will be CB Deshone Mallard, who is the leading interceptor for the Rhein Fire, Scotland's opponent in the league championship game. The other four Bucs – QB Scott Milanovich, TE Jason Freeman and LBs Bobbie Howard and Shawn Stuckey – completed their NFLEL stint this weekend when the league played its 10th and final week of the regular season.
Stecker's Claymores actually lost on Saturday, dropping a tight 28-25 decision to the Barcelona Dragons, but had clinched one of the two World Bowl berths the previous weekend. The team from Scotland will face the Fire in the NFLEL's eighth championship game, to be held in Frankfurt's Waldstadion and televised live in the United States by Fox at 1:00 p.m. EDT.
Scotland's loss gave Mallard and the Fire an opportunity to take the league's regular-season title when they met the Amsterdam Admirals on Sunday in a game televised by Fox. Rhein took advantage of that chance by slipping past the Admirals 31-28.
Milanovich, Freeman, Howard and Stuckey can now rejoin their NFL team and get ready to report to the Bucs' training camp on July 23. While their play in the NFLEL forced them to miss the team's post-draft mini-camp and the recent four weeks of voluntary workouts, that sacrifice was balanced by a chance to see regular game action for the first time in a while.
And, though the league's final stats are not yet compiled, the experience appeared to be a good one for the Bucs' six, with Stecker leading the way. Tampa Bay's allocated players saw significant action across the league, which in turn has earned the Bucs' two roster NFLEL roster exemptions for training camp. That means the Buccaneers can bring 82 signed players to camp instead of the usual limit of 80.
Heading into this weekend's action, Stecker was virtually assured of the league's rushing crown and was considered one of the front-runners for the league's MVP award. His 686 rushing yards through nine games was more than 200 better than his closest competitor, and he also ranked 10th in the league in receptions with 35. Not surprisingly, that also gave him a large edge on the NFLEL total yardage chart (his 944 yards were 129 more than the player in second place), and his 11 touchdowns were tops in the league as well.
Mallard picked off three passes for the Fire, tying for third in the league. He was also tied for third on the Rhein tackle chart with 44 stops and had added seven passes defensed and three special teams stops.
Milanovich's 79.4 passer rating was the league's fifth-best mark, even though the fourth-year Buc had to wrest the Berlin Thunder's starting QB job away from Eric Kresser at midseason. His touchdown-interception ratio of 11-6 was a sign that his reputation as an accurate passer is well-founded. One of Milanovich's frequent targets in the Berlin offense was another Buccaneer, first-year TE Jason Freeman, who had hauled in 17 passes for 176 yards and one touchdown entering the final weekend.
In Amsterdam, Stuckey entered the weekend with 25 tackles, two sacks and two passes defensed, plus seven stops on special teams. Similarly, Howard had 42 tackles for the Frankfurt Galaxy (tied for third on the team) and added four sacks, one pass defensed and seven kick-coverage tackles. Both Stuckey and Howard were at or near the top of their teams' special teams tackles charts, skills that will serve them well this summer in their attempts to make the Bucs' roster.
With the Bucs' training camp still over a month away, Stecker and Mallard's extra week of action will not delay their arrival with the rest of the team at the University of Tampa. It will extend their interesting swing through Europe a little while longer, plus earn one of them a championship ring. That would be a very nice souvenir indeed.