Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Answer Man, Series 4, Vol. 6

The Buc fans’ inside source takes a look at NFL rules changes, present and past, and then knocks out about a dozen of your questions

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So, football season is just two months away, and that undoubtedly has each of you as excited as it does me. But did you know that the NFL has changed the rules of the game?!

Okay, that was the Answer Man's attempt to a sensationalist, attention-grabbing opening paragraph. Did it work? Did you momentarily fear for the sanctity of the game you love?

Yeah, okay…probably not. But the statement in that first paragraph is true, you know. Or, I should say, it is accurate, in a small way, and it could accurately be said every spring. The NFL always tweaks a rule or two between seasons, and this spring was no different.

Acting on recommendations by various teams, the NFL's Competition Committee considered a good-sized list of rules alterations and eventually passed about a half-dozen, though none are likely to change the way you watch the game in any substantive way. The league is looking to refine the game each year, not redefine it.

A field goal is still worth three points, for instance, but a small change has been made in the procedure of kicking one. A defensive player can no longer line up directly over the long-snapper, a change made to reduce the chance of injuries. Sometimes existing rules are sharpened or improved. For instance, the league enacted the so-called "horse-collar" rule last year, making it illegal for a defender to grab a ballcarrier by the back of his shoulder pads and pull him down from behind. The point was to reduce injuries, such as the one that sidelined then-Eagle Terrell Owens for the stretch run and most of the playoffs in 2004. This year, the league broadened the rule slightly so that the maneuver is illegal if the defender does the same thing by grabbing the inside of the ballcarrier's jersey. In effect, the league made a common-sense addition to the existing rule and took out an unnecessary loophole.

You probably heard that the NFL also further limited the types of end zone celebrations that players may perform. That one has the least to do with the actual playing of the game but got by far the most press coverage of the new rules.

Prompted by planned performances such as Chad Johnson's pylon-putting routine, the NFL banned any celebrations using props (think: Sharpie) and anything performed on the ground (think: sit-ups). Celebrating players may still do such timeless classics as spiking the ball or dunking it over the crossbar, and they can still dance, as long as it's not too long, too choreographed or too much of a group thing.

And you know what? The Answer Man doesn't really care. Personally, I just can't get worked up over this issue. Dance a goofy little jig. Hand the ball to the ref. Do a mime's walking-into-the-wind routine. Whatever. The Answer Man just doesn't care how much you want to celebrate.

However, there are obviously a lot of people who do. The new rule passed 29-3 among the owners at this year's NFL meetings. Message board regulars can argue forever about letting a player express himself or sullying the dignity of the game.

But the Answer Man did recently hear an opinion on the issue that he found interesting. Buccaneers wide receiver Joey Galloway was asked about end zone dancing at a recent luncheon and it turns out the veteran receiver – not one known for any planned celebrations – comes down pretty strongly on one side of this issue.

That would be the "let them have their fun" side.

Now, keep in mind that the mood of this particular luncheon was very humorous and light-hearted, and Galloway was having a good time eliciting laughs from the crowd. However, it was clear that he really does get a kick out of the more elaborate end zone routines brewed up by Johnson or Owens or Steve Smith.

"I enjoy that stuff," he said. "A lot of work goes into scoring a touchdown. Guys are working now to score that touchdown in September, November, December.

"A lot of people say, 'Act like you've been there before,' but I actually believe you should act like it may be your last time in there. Whatever it is you would like to do when you reach the end zone, have a ball, have fun. I think they should stop the clock, clear the field and let a guy dance all night if he wants to!"

Galloway set a new team record last fall by recording 10 touchdown receptions. He followed each one with his brief signature move, baring his right biceps and flexing for the crowd. He won't really be affected by the new rule, but he still would have voted against it. Alas, he didn't have a vote.

As much press as this rule has gotten, and as many fines as it may elicit this fall, it really hasn't changed the game. Here's a look at some of the more significant NFL rules changes down through the years, just to give you an idea of the pace at which the sport has evolved:

  • 1933: The forward pass is legalized from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage. This came as part of a group of rules changes intended to separate its developing style of play from that of the college game. * 1946: The league does away with free substitution, allowing only three men to sub in at any given time. As you'll see below, and as surely you notice in the game today, that was one rule that didn't stick. * 1948: Plastic helmets are prohibited. * 1950: Free substitution is restored. This is bigger than it sounds, as it led to the modern era of offensive and defensive platoons and eventually did away with almost all two-way players. * 1955: The ball is now considered dead immediately if the ballcarrier touches the ground with any part of his body except his hands or feet while in the grasp of an opponent. Or, as you and I would call it, a "tackle." That seems fairly important, huh? * 1962: Both leagues, NFL and AFL, prohibit grasping of the facemask. Chances are the players were in favor of that one. * 1966: Goal posts offset from the goal line, painted bright yellow, and with uprights 20 feet above the cross-bar are made standard in the NFL. See, that is a field goal rule change people will notice. * 1972: The league changes how it calculates tie games in the standings. Previously, they were ignored; now, they count for half a game won and half a game lost. (Example: A 4-1-1 record would have been a winning percentage of .800, or 4/5. Now it is .750, or 4.5/6.) Of course, that was more important back when ties actually happened more than, say, once every three years. * 1974: Two words: Sudden death. This was part of one of the busier rule-change offseasons, as the NFL tried to liven up the game. For instance, the rules on contact downfield with a receiver were made a lot more strict (sound familiar?). * 1978: More juice. Trying to help the offense again, the league makes contact with the receiver illegal after five yards. * 1980: The words "personal foul" enter the NFL lexicon, as this heading is adopted to prohibit a whole bunch of actions, such as punching another dude in the head. * 1994: Yay! The two-point conversion. The AFL actually used that option, too, before it's 1970 merger with the NFL. * 1995: Two more words: Helmet radio. * 1997: As long as we're on the subject of helmets, this was the year in which the NFL said, "Don't take them off while you're on the field." The idea was to cut down on taunting and over-the-top celebrations. * 1999: The instant replay system is brought back (after a cameo in the 1980s), this time using the challenge system. That system has been tweaked a few times since but has stood up to several votes to remain part of the game today. * 2004: The league says "flamboyant" celebrations will now draw 15-yard penalties. And, yeah, that pretty much brings us to the issues that are currently foremost on the league's mind. So, hope you enjoyed that stroll through the historical corridors of NFL rule-making. Now that I've set a new record for intro length, let's get to your questions.

**

Actually, we'll start off with a correction, because the Answer Man believes in taking his lumps when he messes up, rather than burying the embarrassment on page nine next to the tire ads.

  1. Richard Schilling of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania asks…well, actually harangues:

**Welcome back, old friend! I feel almost guilty welcoming you back by critiquing your latest column. Fortunately, guilt is one emotion I easily disregard.

In your intro, you stated that Dave Moore could match Paul Gruber's 183 starts this year. I know you meant to type "games" instead of "starts" but one of those autocorrecting features of your editor erred. With 178 games as a Buc and 96 starts, Mr. Moore, who was kind enough to take back #83 so my jersey doesn't look like a cheap third-world knockoff with the wrong number, could match Mr. Gruber's games played, but not his starts.

Now get that autocorrection thingy looked at.**

Answer Man: Oh, yeah, just delightful to hear from you again, Rich. Must feel nice, sitting up there in your ivory tower casting down barbs against a hard-working soul like myself.

Well, Mr. Know-It-All, what you probably did not realize is that the recently unearthed records from that shadowy era known as "The '90s" indicate that Dave actually started every Buc game from 1992-97, contrary to the statistics that have been made public by the team. That would give Moore a total of…

…alright, yeah, you got me. I typed "starts" when I meant "games." And that is a distinction that deserves a correction here, because Moore certainly is much more likely to break the latter record than the former. Fifty lashes for me. I could point out that little slips like this are hard to avoid in a 7,500-word column, or that I actually had to change the word "easy" to "easily" in your second sentence above when you mistakenly used an adjective in a spot that called for and adverb, suggesting even the greatest of us can fall victim to typos, but that would be mean-spirited, so I won't.

The bigger issue, Rich is: What, no question? Your correction is appreciated, but the Answer Man is trying to get back in the groove, and I could use another one of your wildly inventive and completely improbable scenarios. Like, what's the ruling if a high passes strikes a low-flying aircraft and falls into the hands of a receiver still inbounds, or something like that. So get cracking.

Fortunately, plenty of other fans sent in good questions, so let's get to them.

**

  1. Stacey of Columbia, South Carolina asks:

My family is planning a trip to Disney World July 24 - 30, and I understand the Bucs will be holding training camp at Disney's Wide World of Sports beginning the latter part of the week - do you have any type of schedule for their arrival/first day of practice? We are trying to schedule our days at the theme parks around when we might be able to watch them practice! Thanks!

Answer Man: Yes, I answer a question like this in virtually every column, and no, that doesn't seem to slow down the barrage of similar inquiries each week. Maybe the problem is the placement; since it's a repetitive issue, I usually put it near the end. So, this week we're bringing it right up to the top.

Good news for you, Stace: My buddies on the Bucs.com staff posted a story just a few days ago with all the information you need. Click here to check it out. Near the bottom is a day-by-day chart with the start and stop times of every practice on every day of camp. You should be able to perfectly coordinate a little Bucs practice with Space Mountain rides and the Lion King show at Animal Kingdom.

Keep an eye on this site as camp nears. As usual, Buccaneers.com will feature an entire section on training camp, with tons and tons of stuff. And if any practice times change, or if any of the workouts are cancelled, Buccaneers.com will have the updated information.

**

  1. AJ Muniz of Panama City, Florida asks:

During training camp this year, will the players be allowed to sign autographs after practice?

Answer Man: Might as well stick with the theme, I guess. Plus, these are the softball questions, warming up for the high, hard ones to come.

Yes, AJ, players are allowed to sign autographs after practice. There are several spots along the players' path from the field to the locker room where fans are allowed to congregate and seek signatures. Of course, at that point it is up to the individual players to choose whether to stop or not, and I should point out that they are usually bone-tired after a two-hour practice in Orlando's soupy August heat.

However, there is even better news in this regard. After most of the practices, the team's community relations staff makes a point of recruiting two or three players specifically to stay after the workout and sign autographs along the edge of the stands. Over the course of the three weeks of camp, a very good percentage of the team's roster will take it's turn along the wall.

**

  1. Dylan Boyle of Tampa, Florida asks:

Is it true that if the Bucs' defense is in the top five this year that will be an all time record for years in a row that a defense has been in the top five? Because that's what I thought Monte Kiffin said was the only reason he was not going to retire.

Answer Man: See, here's one that took a little research, although the basic answer to Dylan's question – no – was something the Answer Man knew off the top of his head.

My guess, Dylan, is that you're confusing an extremely impressive note regarding the Bucs' streak of placing in the top-10 of the league's defensive rankings with the notion of a top-five streak. The former note has been well-publicized by the Bucs' P.R. staff (for good reason, I might add), while I had to research the latter note, since nobody had looked it up or mentioned it yet.

Under Kiffin, the Bucs have finished among the top 10 in the defensive rankings every season since 1997, an astounding streak of nine straight years. If they can do it one more time in 2006 – and are you going to bet against them? – they would push their streak to 10 consecutive seasons and tie the post-merger record in that category. The Dallas Cowboys were in the top 10 of defense every year from 1970-79.

(Note: We start the research on this project at the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 because that's really when "Top 10" started to mean something. When there were only 16 teams in the NFL, as was the case in 1969, it wasn't that impressive to finish in the top 10.)

As for ranking in the top five, the Bucs are currently on a four-season streak in that regard, having finished first in 2002 and 2005 and fifth in each of the two years in between. That's very, very impressive, and the longest streak in the NFL since 1991, but it is not the record. Even a fifth year in the top five in 2006 wouldn't give the Bucs the new standard.

The Los Angeles Rams of the 1970s hold that mark. From 1973-78, the Rams finished in the top five in the defensive rankings for six straight seasons, the longest post-merger streaks. There have been four other five-season streaks: Dallas (1970-74), Oakland (1983-87), Chicago (1984-88) and San Francisco (1987-91). Five other teams have had streaks of three seasons, including the Bucs from 1997-99.

As for the part about Coach Kiffin retiring after reaching one or both of those milestones, that's the first I've heard of it. While somebody may have made that conjecture, I don't believe that's anything Monte himself has ever said. As of now, the Bucs don't have any reason to believe they'll have to do without Kiffin's legendary talents any time soon.

**

  1. Chan Valentine of Juneau, Alaska (for school - home base is Corvallis, Oregon) asks:

When a running back (or anyone) fumbles the ball out of bounds, the ball is placed at the spot it went out of bounds. If a fumble that is caused by a defensive player occurs near the end zone and then bounces out of bounds in the end zone, what is the call? The fumble occurs half way through the first quarter, because I think there is some rule about not being able to fumble the ball forward inside 5 minutes. Also, what is the longest run by Mike A-Train Alstott?

Answer Man: Snuck in a little bonus question there at the end, didn't you Corvallis Chan?

Well, that one's easy, so I'll handle it first. In fact, the Answer Man believes he can use one of his superpowers and handle this one completely from memory.

You'll have to take my word for it, but I swear I'm doing this without any references. I'm going to say, 47 yards, at Atlanta on…dang, I can't remember the exact date but it was in 1997.

Let's go to the record book. Yep, 47 yards for a touchdown against the Falcons on 11/9/97. The Answer Man was there, and I remember the A-Train starting over right guard, cutting towards the right sideline and simply outrunning the pursuit to the front right corner of the end zone. The Bucs won that game, 31-10.

Okay, now let's look into your hypothetical inquiry. Actually, that one's pretty straightforward, too, and it seems to happen several times a season. That scenario is specifically covered in Rule 7, Section 5, Article 6(c) of that light and frothy summer read, the NFL Rulebook. The rule is:

A fumble in the field of play that goes forward into the opponent's end zone and over the end line or sideline results in the ball being give over to the defensive team and a touchback awarded.

So if the runner loses the ball as he approaches the goal line and it bounds into the end zone and then out of bounds, he has cost his team possession of the ball. If you can recall the AFC Divisional Playoff Game between New England and Denver this past January, you might remember that this rule almost came into play. In fact, the Patriots used a replay challenge hoping the officials would make that very call.

Trailing 10-6 near the end of the third quarter, Tom Brady dropped back to pass on third-and-goal from the Broncos' five-yard line. He tried to hit Troy Brown just over the goal line on the right side, but Denver cornerback Champ Bailey intercepted the pass and streaked off down the left sideline.

Though none of the players on the left side of the field came remotely close to catching Bailey, Patriots tight end Ben Watson turned in a remarkable hustle play, angling in from the other side of the field and catching the Bronco from behind just before he got to the end zone. Watson poked the ball out of Bailey's hands and it went forward and out of bounds just before the goal line. However, a variety of replay angles made it not entirely clear where the ball went out of bounds, and if it had gone into the end zone and then out, the ball would have gone back to New England at their own 20. The Patriots challenged but the call was upheld and Denver's Mike Anderson scored on the very next play.

By the way, you CAN fumble the ball forward during the last two minutes of either half, you just can't benefit from it. In such a situation, the only player on offense who can advance a fumble is the same player who fumbled it. If the running back fumbles at the 10 and the ball goes down to the five, where it is recovered by one of his teammates, the running back's team gets to keep the ball but it comes back to the spot of the fumble. On the other hand, if anyone on the defensive team recovers it, they can advance it in the other direction.

The same is true on fourth down. Basically, the rules are set up to make sure a team can't benefit from fumbling intentionally out of desperation. Even on fourth down or with the clock running out, there's no point in a ballcarrier fumbling the ball if nobody else on his team can advance it any farther than the spot at which he fumbles.

**

  1. Mike Pentangelo of Tampa, Florida asks:

**Dear Answer Man,

This one should be right in your wheelhouse. Our defense has been good for so long, I have a hard time remembering who was on our original good defense in 1997. Other than Brooks, Lynch, Sapp, Culpepper, Nickerson, Abraham, who were the other 5 starters who got this defensive dynasty off the ground, and where are they today?**

Answer Man: To be honest, Mike, I can't really answer the "Where Are They Now" portion of the question. At least, I can't answer it without doing some exhaustive, non-football detective work, and that's not exactly my bailiwick. Tell you what, I'll give you all the starters on that 1997 team and then let you know which ones are still in the NFL and when they finished playing if they're not.

Here were the primary starting 11 on the Bucs' third-ranked defense of 1997:

**Pos.****Player****No. of Starts**
LEChidi Ahanotu15
NTBrad Culpepper16
UTWarren Sapp15
RERegan Upshaw15
SLBRufus Porter10
MLBHardy Nickerson16
WLBDerrick Brooks16
LCBDonnie Abraham16
RCBAnthony Parker14
SSJohn Lynch16
FSCharles Mincy9

As you can see, the Bucs had very nice continuity on the defense that year, and they weren't particularly hindered by injuries, either. Sapp (ankle) and Upshaw (flu) each missed one game due to ailment or injury but the only one of those 16 who missed significant time was Porter, who sat out three early-game seasons with a shoulder strain and two later in the year with a neck strain. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Jeff Gooch. Ahanotu didn't start the season finale due to his own bout with the flu but did play in the game.

The only real starting change the Bucs made during the season was at free safety. In his third and final year with the team, Melvin Johnson started the first seven games, but was replaced thereafter by Charles Mincy. To be honest, the two shared the position for much of the year, with the non-starter often seeing frequent action as a mid-game substitute. Mincy had joined the Bucs midway through the 1996 season but had played only sparingly that season.

Nickerson led the team that season with 194 tackles, just ahead of Brooks' 182. Four different Bucs had at least 7.5 sacks, the only time in team history that has ever happened. Sapp (10.5) edged Ahanotu (10.0) for the team lead, with Culpepper (8.5) and Upshaw (7.5) just behind. Abraham paced the team with five interceptions and 20 passes defensed. Lynch had 154 tackles and two interceptions. Brooks, Lynch, Nickerson and Sapp all made the Pro Bowl.

By the way, the primary nickel backs that season were Tyrone Legette early in the year and Floyd Young in the second half. Ronde Barber, then a rookie, played in only one regular season game but came on strong late in the year and was made the nickel back for the team's second playoff game, at Green Bay. Steve White and Tyoka Jackson were the most common D-line subs.

Brooks is the only one of those 11 primary starters still with the team. Sapp and Lynch remained with the team through the 2003 season and were obviously core members of the 2002 Super Bowl champions. Sapp is heading into his third season with Oakland, Lynch his third season with Denver. None of the other eight still play in the league.

Ahanotu spent his first eight seasons with the Buccaneers (1993-00) then returned briefly in 2004, which proved to be his last season in the NFL. In between, he played one season each in St. Louis, Buffalo and San Francisco.

Culpepper was released by Tampa Bay just before the 2000 season after six seasons with the team. He played one final season in the NFL with the Chicago Bears.

Upshaw, a first-round pick in 1996, was sent to Jacksonville just before the trade deadline in 1999. He last played in the NFL in 2004 with the New York Giants, after one season in Jacksonville, three in Oakland and one in Washington. Those 7.5 sacks he gave the Bucs in 1997 proved to be a career high, though he did reach seven again as recently as 2001.

Porter probably counts as the most transient member of that great 1997 defense in that he played only that one season with the Buccaneers. That wasn't particularly surprising, however, as the team has had something of a revolving door at the strongside linebacker. It was Lonnie Marts in 1996 during Monte Kiffin's first year with the team, then Porter in '97, Gooch in '98 and Shelton Quarles in '99. Quarles held onto the spot until being shifted into the middle in 2002, after which it has passed through Alshermond Singleton in '02, Ryan Nece in '03, Ian Gold in '04 and back to Nece in '05.

Originally an undrafted free agent, Porter came to the Bucs late in his career, after seven seasons with Seattle and two with New Orleans, a stretch that included two Pro Bowl selections. His season in Tampa was his last in the NFL.

Nickerson played seven seasons with the Buccaneers, departing as a free agent after the 1999 season and signing with the Jaguars. He played two seasons and Jacksonville and one more in Green Bay before retiring after the 2002 campaign. This one the Answer Man can track down for you: Nickerson was recently named the new color analyst for the Buccaneers Radio Network. He'll share the radio booth with play-by-play man Gene Deckerhoff this fall.

Abraham remained a Buc through the 2001 season and eventually took over as the team's all-time interceptions leader, with 31. He made just one more NFL stop, playing three seasons with the New York Jets before retiring after the 2004 campaign.

Parker, whose biggest claim to fame was his seven career defensive touchdowns, had played for four other teams before joining the Bucs in 1997. He helped solidify the Bucs' cornerback situation during the transition to current starters Barber and Brian Kelly, but 1998 was his last year in the NFL.

As mentioned, the Bucs picked Mincy up during the 1996 season but really didn't work him extensively into the defensive until 1997. He had played four previous seasons in Kansas City and Minnesota. Mincy was the Bucs' starter at free safety again in 1998 and he finished his NFL career with one more season in Oakland.

**

  1. Matt of New Port Richey says:

**In your latest mailbag, you pitch this in Question 8:

"The solution: Keep the higher veteran minimum in terms of actual salary being paid but have it count less against the salary cap in the bookkeeping. That way, if you didn't mind giving up the actual cash, you could choose either player and have the same impact on the salary cap."

As you might recall, I proposed this idea to you way back in Season 2. You hacked it off my question (I figured you might) but still allowed that my thought had merit. Here's a clip from Answer Archive 2.13:

"Answer Man: Full disclosure because I usually don't edit questions beyond correcting spelling typos and occasionally editing for brevity. Matt actually had two questions in his original e-mail, but the second one was more of an idea than a question. (By the way, Matt, I thought the "sliding-scale-cap-hit-for-long-running-veterans" concept had some real merit.)"

No credit for pitching the idea over a year ago, eh? :)**

Answer Man: Well, sure, I'll give you credit, much as I did 14 months ago, but I'm not exactly sure what you proposed that later came to be. I don't have access to your original, unedited question, so I can only wonder what I referred to as your "sliding-scale-cap-hit-for-long-running-veterans concept."

See, the reason I'm confused is that, when I did answer your question back then, I gave much the same information (although in somewhat more detailed fashion) that I did last week. I certainly did not mean to intimate last year or last week that this was a new NFL policy or that the Answer Man had just become aware of it. My reference to the deleted portion of your original e-mail appears to be to some other variation to the idea. Here's the complete text of my answer from last April so you can see what I mean (and so that I can artificially pump up my word count by another 300!):

"There is a relatively obscure rule in play here, although it's obscurity does not extend to NFL front offices, which make repeated use of it.

No, a player cannot waive the minimum salary requirement and, as you seem to understand, that minimum salary goes up for each year the player is in the league. So a 10th-year veteran has a minimum salary of, say, $750,000, and he has to be paid at least that much. No exceptions.

That's as far as the rule went in the early years of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which went into effect in 1993. However, as you also seem to understand, it was perceived as unfair in some instances. If a particular 10th-year veteran can't get a team that will employ him at $750,000 but could get a job if he could make the same amount as the rookie the team is going to employ instead, then why can't he choose to make that lesser amount? Is it fair that the veteran's choices are either zero or $750,000 when he's willing to play for, say, $450,000?

No, it's not fair, and the league realized it. So, while the minimum salaries remain in place, there is now a rule called "minimum salary benefit." You still have to pay that player his 10-year minimum, but he can actually count just $450,000 against the cap. Thus, in an era when every cap dollar is treasured, the 10th-year veteran still gets the benefit of his tenure but isn't squeezed out by it at the same time.

All a team has to do is mark that the contract is a minimum salary benefit contract, and there are no limits as to how many players you can sign under this loophole. One note, the player's contract cannot include more than $25,000 in bonus money, total."

See? I described the bookkeeping rule the same way here. In essence, veterans can be paid a higher minimum in terms of actual dollars but count against the cap in the same way that a younger player with a lower minimum would. That way, they don't price themselves out of the league. This rule was in place before your original e-mail; perhaps I simply didn't explain myself very well.

Anyway, no matter when you hit upon the idea in relation to when the league implemented it, it was still a good one, so well done, Matt.

**

  1. Anna of Orlando, Florida asks:

Do the Buc cheerleaders have a yearly calendar?

Answer Man: Why, yes they do! Last year's calendar was sold out some time ago, but they will soon be coming out with the new one. It was recently shot in some luscious locations down in South Florida.

The team expects to have the calendar completed and ready for sale as it heads to training camp in late July, so if you happen to attend any camp practices you should be able to purchase it there. It will also be made available for ordering online here on Buccaneers.com.

If you do get your hands on the new cheerleader calendar, you'll be able to put it into use almost immediately, as it is going to be a 16-month edition. It will start in September of 2006 and cover this football season plus all of 2007.

**

9.Tim of Seneca Falls asks:

I have been wondering for some time now about what would it take to create a new NFL team? Not that we need a new one since the newest one is the greatest one but I was just a little curious.

Answer Man: I'm a bit confused by your reference. It would seem to me that the "newest one" is the Houston Texans, as they were the most recent expansion team. And while the Texans may very well develop into a league powerhouse, they are currently still looking for their first winning season.

Anyway, the main thing it would take, Tim, is an NFL decision to expand. You can put together a football team any time you like, but to have it become part of the NFL you have to be granted a franchise. That only comes after the league decides by vote to expand, and there is no indication they are looking to do so any time soon. The 32-team, eight-division format seems to be working out to everyone's delight.

Oh, I guess the other thing it would take would be a whole lot of monetary resources. These things ain't cheap. The Texans paid $700 million to the NFL to join the club in 2002. If you've got that kind of scratch, Tim, give me a call. We can hang out.

**

Okay, let's coast to the end with a handful of "Quickies." As always, these are questions that either need little elaboration or have been adequately addressed in previous Answer Man columns.

  1. Ty Tvedten of Redington Beach, Florida asks:

Dear AM: I realize that this is a low priority question, but nevertheless, who decides which uniform colors the team wears for games? I am a fan of the white on white combo, and wish the Bucs would wear it more often. Is the win - loss record noticeably different with the color combos? Thanks for all of your efforts. H&K's, Ty.

Answer Man: "H&K's?" Hugs and kisses, Ty? Uh, thanks.

Anyway, I've fielded the first part of your question at least four times in the past, starting with just my 10th column way back in 2004. Check it out.

As for the record of the team in each uniform combination since the introduction of the new colors in 1997, I first tallied that up a little later in 2004, in Volume 22. At the time, the Bucs were 14 games into the 2004 season, which means that 19 games, including the preseason, have been played since. I went ahead and updated the numbers, and this isn't looking much like a "Quickie" anymore, but let's take a look.

The funny thing – I don't know if it's funny ha-ha, but it's worth mentioning – is that the fan who wrote the original question like yours was particularly fond of the red jersey/white pants combo. And percentage-wise, that has been the Bucs' most successful combination. Your white-on-white choice is next, but the sample size is very small. Here's the chart:

**Combination****W****L****T****Pct.**
Red Jersey, White Pants83072.7%
Red Jersey, Pewter Pants2916064.4%
White Jersey, Pewter Pants4844052.2%
White Jersey, White Pants42066.7%

The Bucs won their only two white-on-white games this past season (against Buffalo and Detroit) which probably helps explain your sense that it's a good-luck combo. You know, the latest evidence and all. The Bucs are 4-2 in that uniform, but that's a pretty small sample size and it's easily swung by just a few more games. I mean, before this season, the Bucs were only .500 in that combo, and that was the worst percentage of their four choices. Play twice, win twice and now it's second-best, closing in on the top spot.

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  1. James Williams of Staten Island, New York asks:

Here is my question, try and see if you can help me out. If a cornerback (Ronde Barber) goes to catch an interception in the air and is about to go out of bounds and another cornerback (Brian Kelly) was inbounds behind him, if Ronde while in the air could he throw the ball to Brian while in the air? And will it still be an interception?

Answer Man: Well, really, only your second question matters. Obviously, Ronde could throw the ball back to Brian. The question is, would it matter.

And yes, it would. That would be a valid interception. I originally covered that topic in Series 2, Volume 17. Well, that discussion actually dealt with receptions, not interceptions, but the same rules apply. Note the difference between batting back inbounds and catching-then-pitching it back.

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  1. Kevin of Tarpon Springs, Florida asks:

Why is spiking the ball to stop time near the end of a half not penalized for intentional grounding? Every person I have asked has not been able to answer this, so I challenge you to answer this one.

Answer Man: Obviously, all of those football gurus you asked before enlisting my help are not regular readers of the Answer Man. We've covered this one a few times in the past. Here's one instance, in Series 2, Volume 20. Simple answer: Spiking the ball to stop the clock is not an intentional grounding penalty because the NFL wrote a specific rule making it legal.

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Okay, that's it for today. Not a bad effort, I hope, and most importantly it comes just a little over a week after the last one. I told you I would try to get back into a regular pattern if you would send me a fresh batch of good questions. You held up your end, and I held up mine. Let's keep it going as we slide inexorably into training camp in a little over a month. You send 'em, I'll answer 'em. At least as many as I can handle. Thanks and good night.

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