As you can see, I decided against the dramatic, "I'm baaaaaaaaaaack!" to introduce my first column since July. Since I didn't really tell you I was going on hiatus after that last column, and since I left my mailbag open the whole time, I was kind of hoping to sneak sheepishly back into the room. Besides, if you're relatively new to this site, you wouldn't know me from a lightning rod in a leather helmet.
But, yeah, I'm back, for those of you who remember my kinda-weekly series of Q&As. So where have I been these past five months while your questions have been piling up? What could possibly take me away from my life's work? Something big, right?
Well, it depends on how you look at it. No, I didn't fly off in search of remnants of my home planet (unlike that other guy, I know exactly where my parents are, and I get enough nagging about bringing the grandkids around as it is). I haven't been in my underground lair developing new weapons (I'm not so good with tools, really). And I haven't been off punching numbers into an old computer on a mysterious island to save the world (okay, not really a superhero reference but, man, that's a good show, isn't it?).
No, none of that. I was just…well…okay, I'll say it: In the grand tradition of the midlife crisis, I've just been off trying to find myself.
See, I got to thinking, is this what I'm meant for, doing odd jobs for a football team? Remember, I haven't always been this enormously high-profile Q&A guy. I just got this gig on Buccaneers.com a little over two years ago, and I've been with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a lot longer than that. I thought I should travel the world, see if there is something else out there for me, something bigger. I mean, I've got flippin' lightning bolts coming out of my head, for Pete's sake. I have a freakishly muscled upper body, a chin that can split bricks and a radical cape. Clearly, I'm not your average guy.
So I've spent the last five months globetrotting a little bit, though still watching Buccaneer games at whatever watering hole I could find that had DirecTV. I saw Matt Bryant's 62-yarder, for instance, while enjoying tapas at a little place in Barcelona.
Then, late on New Year's Day, I was sitting in a hotel room in Las Cruces, New Mexico watching the Fiesta Bowl. I was sort of rooting for Boise State, considering there underdog status, but I would have been thrilled by the game either way, given the incredible string of plays that resulted in the Broncos' 43-42 overtime victory. The hook-and-lateral was one thing, and the fourth-down pass by a receiver to tie the game was incredible, too.
But that Statue of Liberty play to win it on a two-point conversion?! Have you ever seen a better ending to a game? And while Ian Johnson was looking for his cheerleader girlfriend to propose, I could think of only one thing:
Have the Buccaneers ever run that play? If not them, then who? And now that I think about it, wasn't a current Buccaneer player involved in another hook-and-lateral in a Fiesta Bowl just a couple years ago? And while we're on the subject, what about the fumblerooski? Is that something the Bucs have tried?
Okay, the first few questions are pretty easily handled by a visit to Wikipedia, and the last one is mostly irrelevant because the fumblerooski was made illegal (technically, an intentional fumble was made illegal) in the NFL before the Bucs could get their hands on it.
But you get the idea. One of the most amazing games you'll ever want to see had just come to its stunning conclusion, and all I could think about was how it related to the Bucs and their history. Furthermore, I could envision my mailbag filling up with similar questions from many of you.
And, at that moment, I realized that's where I wanted to be: In the Buccaneers' new facility (this place is niiiice, by the way) with my mail spread out around me and that loathsome/lovable NFL Rulebook open on my desk. Sure, I have to resume doing whatever other odd jobs they want me to do around here – there are lots of windows to wash in this building – but it's worth it to be back providing the As to your Qs. It is my calling. I am the Answer Man.
So, um, like I said…I'm back.
Alright, you may be asking yourself at this point, how does all this work? The best explanation would probably be a demonstration, a mini-mailbag, if you will. Usually I would answer a good dozen or so questions, several of them requiring extensive research. The lot below won't be quite as challenging, but hopefully they'll give you an idea – or a refresher if you've followed my work in the past – of the sorts of topics I'm here to address.
As you can imagine, there were quite a few (hundred) missives waiting in my mailbag when I returned to Tampa. I'm going to skim off the top of them for the following examples, but as for the entire collection, I'm calling a mulligan.
Yes, after this column, we're starting fresh, a brand new mailbag waiting for your brand new questions. If you sent a question in recent months that you think is too good for this type of treatment…well, send it again. Next week's column will be devoted to everything I receive in the coming days.
To send me a question, please click here.
In the meantime, let's get to the small sample of questions.
Ken Chance of Inverness, Florida asks:
Bucs get a safety. The opposing team kicks back to the Bucs. What stat does the kick go under, punt or kickoff or other?
Answer Man: See, this type of question is right up my alley: rules and statistics.
Oh sure, I'm willing to stretch my Answer Man powers to more subjective topics, such as when I discussed the concept of draft "reaches" and "steals" here or why announcers think long drives tire out defenses but not offenses here. But there's nothing I like sinking my teeth into more – and nothing that generates an ongoing debate in my series of columns - than a dip into my favorite reading material, the NFL Rulebook. Remember our repeated stabs at the "infinite plane of the goal line" thing? Ah, good times. You can find one such discussion here, from almost two years ago.
These types of questions usually come pouring in during the playoffs, because everybody is playing such close attention to the games and every play is so potentially important. If anything strange happens, I'm going to hear about it. A good portion of this column from last January, for instance, was devoted to things such as advancing forward fumbles, completing catches while falling (yes, the Edell Shepherd play) and determining which types of plays are reviewable.
Ken's question is actually a very light version of those tougher rules questions, but this is basically just an exhibition, anyway. I was actually pulled from this column four paragraphs ago and my backup is now in the game. We're just here to see if the system still works.
Your answer, Ken: It's a kickoff.
Or, more specifically, it's a "free kick," of which the normal kickoff to which you're accustomed and a safety kick. That definition is provided in Rule 3, Section 12, Article 1 of the NFL Rulebook. The main differences between a kickoff and a safety kick are: 1) Yard line (30 for a kickoff, 20 for a safety kick), and; 2) Available methods. You may use a tee for a kickoff, but you can't punt. On a safety kick, you can't use a tee but you can choose to kick or punt.
(This is a good example for my reintroduction column because I have no moved beyond answering Ken's specific question into other details he didn't request, may not care about and probably already knows. It's what I do.)
The stats for the kick go into the kickoff section and not the punt section. While the yardage each kickoff travels is recorded in the play-by-play, it is not tallied anywhere in the final statistics. The only specific kickoff stats kept for the kicking team are number of kicks, number of kicks that reached the end zone and number of touchbacks. The NFL also keeps "average opponent kickoff drive start," a nifty little stat but not specifically a kicking number.
I'm sure you've noticed that teams almost always choose to punt rather than kick after a safety, though they otherwise use their kickoff coverage team in a kickoff coverage formation. There are two reasons for that. First, you can't use a tee, so one of the other 10 men would have to hold. Second and more important, a punt, while it may or may not travel quite as far as a kick, is likely to have more hang time, giving the coverage guys a better chance of containing the return man.
Five hundred words on a question that could have been answered in five ("It goes under kickoffs, Ken). That's another Answer Man staple.
Steve Landis of New York, New York asks:
What percentage of teams win after winning the opening coin toss? Factoring in 4th-quarter wind, I have always suspected it's better to lose the toss.
Answer Man: Just from looking at the Bucs' own history in this regard, I can't find any evidence to support your suspicion. In the chart below, take a look at Tampa Bay's win-loss records when they win and lose the coin flip over the last decade. I've also included the overall record for each season, for a reason I'll explain below.
Buccaneers' Records After Winning and Losing Opening Coin Flip, 1997-2006
Considering how wildly those numbers swing from one year to the next (compare 2002 to 2003) and it looks to me like there really is no correlation between the opening flip and winning or losing. Now, scoring first, that's big. I'm not going to present that information here, but if somebody were to ask me in the coming weeks, well…
I did notice one interesting trend, though it may once again be nothing more than coincidence. Look at the three seasons in which the Bucs had a sub-.500 record (2003, 2004 and 2006). In each of those years, the Bucs had a better winning percentage after losing the flip than they did after winning it. In all but one of the years in which the Bucs had a winning record overall, they had a better or equal rate of success after winning the flip than after losing it.
Perhaps when a team is good overall, it makes better use of the advantage of first possession. If those winning teams were better at scoring on the opening possession, then they would score first more often and, as I hinted above, that is an advantage.
Of course, your question didn't aim specifically at the Buccaneers. Maybe you'd like to see how the league as a whole does after the coin flip. I won't pretend to have easy access to that assembled information, but I don't mind researching it a little bit. Back in a second…
Okay, that was easy. See, I am meant for this job!
I have gone through every game played in the NFL during the 2006 regular season, a total of 256 contests. I suppose I could go back and look at 2005 and 2004, too, but remember that this is an exhibition column and I'm not going to show everything in my playbook when it doesn't count in the final standings. Besides, I think 256 games is a pretty solid sample size.
And what does it show? Not what you were expecting, Steve. During the 2006 regular season, the team that won the game-opening coin toss ended up with a record of 131-125. That's pretty much right down the middle. It's kind of like what you might expect from…oh, I don't know…flipping a coin 256 times.
I don't think that a 131-125 split shows that winning the opening flip is an advantage, but I think it's clear that your hunch that losing the toss is an advantage is off the mark. Sorry.
Rhonda of Largo, Florida asks:
I'm wondering why a pass thrown out of bounds (or not really toward a receiver) can be called intentional grounding but when the quarterback spikes the ball it's not a penalty. Thanks!
Answer Man: Another thing you'll see in my columns on a regular basis is references back to questions I've answered in the past, sometimes more than once. I'll usually finish my piece with a series of "Quickies;" that is, questions that I've answered before or that don't require much elaboration.
And we have definitely done this one before. This is actually a question I get quite frequently. For the answer, I refer you to the very first time I fielded this question, in Volume 11 way back in October of 2004. The short answer is, there is a specific rule provision allowing for the clock-killing spike, if executed in a certain way. The long answer is at the other end of that link.
Van Cully of San Diego asks:
What European team do "The Bucks" send players to during the off season? How can I/we get news about that team?
Answer Man: I like this guy's name, "Van Cully." Sounds a lot like Vin Scully, who is, needless to say, awesome.
I don't so much like his spelling of "Bucks," nor do I understand why it had to be contained in quote marks. But, whatever. The question is a good one.
The answers are: 1) All of them, potentially; and 2) Right here.
Pretty soon, the Bucs will announce a list of free agents they have signed to reserve/future contracts; that is, players who were free agents when the 2006 season ended and who will be on the Bucs' 2007 roster when the new league year begins in March. Shortly thereafter, the Bucs will announce a list of players they will be sending over to the NFL Europe League, a list that will be drawn mostly from that previous group of free agent signees.
The NFLEL will then conduct its various methods of player allocation, including a draft of allocated players. The allocated Buccaneer players will be spread out among the six NFLEL teams. You'll probably have this information by early February, and you will find it first here on Buccaneers.com.
You'll also find weekly updates on those players European fortunes on this site. Knowing that the team has found more than a few valuable contributors in the NFLEL – Aaron Stecker, Chartric Darby, Kalvin Pearson, etc. – Buccaneers.com makes a point to keep track of those men plying their trade across the pond each spring.
Brett M. of Hoboken, New Jersey asks:
We all know that Probable, Questionable and doubtful is supposed to mean 75, 50, and 25 percent chance of playing (respectively) on Sunday...But can you, the Answerer of all things Holy and UnHoly actually tell us how often a player plays when he is listed as questionable or doubtful or even probable? thank you.
Answer Man: Here's another thing to know about me if you're new to this column…I enjoy the whimsically written question. I don't know if I've really ever answered any thing "UnHoly" (there was that whole Colorado-Missouri fifth-down thing I addressed in Series 2, Volume 5), but I like that title. Brett's question had a better chance of catching my eye.
The other reason I included his e-mail here is that I'm not going to answer it.
Okay, that sounds weird. I mean, I'm not going to answer it now. That's another common aspect of my columns, and I thought I'd give you a preview. Every now and then I find myself near the end of a writing session and realize that a certain question needs more research. In that case, I'll publicly punt it to the next week. The good news, Brett, is that you know you'll get an answer pretty soon. I punted this one because, at the last minute, I thought of a good way to research the answer.
Stay tuned for that, and for an explanation of why what you think "we all know," isn't even accurate.
Jammie Shaw of Des Moines, Iowa asks:
When and where is the training for the Bucs? I have 4 boys that LOVE the Bucs and we are going to FLA in 2007 and we would love to see them.
Answer Man: I included this one in my exhibition column for three reasons.
1) The questioner is either named "Jammie," which I think is pretty cool, or he/she misspelled his/her own name. Or his/her name is spelled "Jammie" but pronounced "Jamie." That would be disappointing.
2) The questioner has raised or is raising four Buccaneer fans. That is fine, fine parenting and that alone makes the question worthy of inclusion.
2) This is by far the most common question I receive. I have come to realize that I could answer it 100 times and it would still be in my mailbag the next week. The reason, obviously, is that not everybody who comes to the web site has been there before, or at least recently. You can't expect readers to dig through all my old columns to find the answer to a commonly asked question. What that means is that the four or five people who do read my column each week are going to have to put up with seeing that question over and over again.
The answer, Jammie: Although nothing has been officially announced yet in regards to the place and dates of the Bucs' 2007 training camp, the team has spent the last five years training at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex on the outskirts of Orlando, Florida.
Training camp usually starts 15 days prior to the team's first preseason game. Usually, that means the last few days of July. Stay tuned to Buccaneers.com for more details. Because, believe me, I'll be answering this question again.
Kevin of Edgewood, Somewhere asks:
Are the Bucs interested in Troy Smith?
Answer Man: And I've included this question in my comeback issue for two reasons.
1) People, can I get a city AND state? This happens all the time. I mean, if you're sending a question from Philly or Indianapolis, fine. But Edgewood? Um, is that the one in Pennsylvania, Texas, Maryland, Iowa, Washington or New Mexico? Okay, yeah, it's probably the one in Florida, but I can't know that for sure, and as soon as I assume it, I'll get angry e-mails correcting my error. City AND state, please.
2) This is the perfect example of a question I can't answer. The truth is, I don't have access to that type of sensitive information, and if I did I would be foolish to share it. I did mention that I like my job, right? Who the Buccaneers are going to or should draft makes for great debate fodder among fans and members of the local media, but it's not a question that will get a direct answer until the minute the Bucs are on the clock. I know this type of question will only arrive more frequently as the draft approaches, but I simply have nothing of value to say in response.
And that's it. Like I said, this was a warm-up, a comeback exercise, an exhibition. Assuming you refill my mailbag over the next week, I'll hit you next with a full-fledged column. It is, after all, what I'm meant to do.
Until then, take care and Go Bucs!
P.S. One other thing I always end up involved in: Debates with typo-obsessed readers who go through my 10,000-word columns looking for every slip-up. Overall, this is a good thing, because it forces me to spend a little more time on quality control. But I have to admit that it can be a bit irritating. And that's why I purposely included a "there" where there should be a "their" in the eighth paragraph of this story (including the opening "I'm back" paragraph). I guarantee I'll get an e-mail about that from somebody who didn't read down to this point of the story.
All part of the job.
And I love this job.