Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Answer Man, Vol. 8

Buc fans have been wondering about such things as helmet decals, salary cap penalties and that elusive kickoff return touchdown, and the Answer Man is here to help

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The ol' mailbag was a little extra thick this week, and as I dipped into it I discovered why.

Seems a few Raider fans had discovered my modest little link and decided to send in a few questions of their own.

Well, not so much questions as suggestions…and since the Answer Man isn't quite as limber as his photo would have you believe, I'm going to have to decline.

Yes, I know…same theme as last week's Washington observation, but bear with me here; there is a point.

See, it occurs to me that this is a nice little rivalry, considering the two teams have met only six times in 28 years. Raiders fans seem fired up about it, although to be fair, they're generally a rabid bunch throughout the season. ESPN thought enough of it to make it one of their prime-time games. Super Bowl XXXVII obviously has a lot to do with that – it's still a fresh memory in the minds of both teams – and the cross-country moves of such folks as Jon Gruden, Bruce Allen, Warren Sapp, Tim Brown and Charlie Garner have added some spice.

The Bucs have their budding division rivalries with Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans, and their recent series with the St. Louis Rams has been memorable. It's also safe to say that Eagles hold a special place in the hearts of many Buc fans. But there's no denying the emotional possibilities of this weekend's game against the Raiders.

And the reason we bring that up is our knowledge that, barring another meeting in the Super Bowl, the Bucs won't be playing the Raiders again until 2008. We discovered that while answering Greg Johnson's question below. Read on to see the response to Greg's submission, as well as answers to several more of your questions.

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1. Greg Johnson of Port Orange, Florida asks:

Who are the non-NFC South home opponents for 2005?

Answer Man: That question is a lot easier to answer than it used to be, Greg.

Thanks to a new scheduling format adopted by the league two years ago, the Bucs actually know most of the teams they will play through the 2009 season already.

While the old system was based largely on strength of schedule – that is, a first-place team from the year before would play primarily teams that also finished first or second – the new one is more of a simple rotation. The idea was to make sure that every team played every other team within a few years.

So here are the non-NFC South opponents for 2005, which pits the Bucs against the NFC North and the AFC East. You only asked for home, but I'll give you home and away:

Home…Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo and Miami Away…Green Bay, Minnesota, New England, N.Y. Jets

Now, you may have noticed that there are two games missing there. That's because two games each season are still determined by strength of schedule. The Bucs will play the teams from the NFC East and the NFC West that finish in the same spot in their division rankings as the Bucs do in 2004.

Did you catch the best part of that schedule-in-the-making? The Bucs are going back to Lambeau Field next year!

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2. Pat Sonnenberg of Tampa, Florida asks:

Why is there a number 40 on the backs of the players' helmets?

Answer Man: Pat, you sent this question on Sunday during the games, and I'd be willing to bet you've heard the answer by now. Still, it's a topic worth touching on, and perhaps some of the other fans out there had wondered the same thing.

The number 40 sticker – which, by the way, constantly drew the Answer Man's eye on Monday night when the Eagles played the Vikes – was a tribute to former Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman.

Chances are you've heard Tillman's story. He played five seasons for the Cardinals as a safety but chose to give it up two years ago to join the Army Rangers with his brother, Kevin. On April 22, Pat Tillman was killed in a battle in Afghanistan, becoming the first NFL player to die in combat since the Vietnam War.

After leaving his lucrative job in the NFL for the Armed Forces, Tillman declined to do interviews on the subject, not wishing to put his own sacrifice above that of all the others also fighting for the United States.

On Sunday, Tillman was honored across the NFL, with every player on every team wearing his Cardinals number on the back of their helmets. In Arizona, where the Cardinals were playing their home opener against New England, Tillman's number was retired by the franchise during an emotional halftime ceremony. The Bucs and 30 other teams wore the decal for one week; the Cardinals will wear it all season.

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3. Carol Luke, Apollo Beach, Florida asks:

There is so much concern about the salary cap, but I never see an explanation of what the penalty is if the team exceeds the salary cap. Can you shed some light on that?

Answer Man: There is a penalty structure in place, Carol, but it is rarely mentioned because teams virtually always police themselves very well on the cap. They have good reason to do so.

Let's say that the 2004 season has ended and the Bucs are in compliance with the cap. However, they know they have a number of contracts which will increase in value the next year, and that will put them over the cap. For this exercise, let's say those contracts will put them $10 million over the cap.

The Bucs know the date when the new league season begins, usually one of the first few days of March. Before that day arrives, they will make the necessary roster moves to reduce their cumulative salary number and get under the cap.

But what if they don't? That's Carol's basic question. What if the Bucs simply decided not to worry about it? Well, the penalties would get pretty unbearable pretty quick.

First, the league would point out the problem and give the team a few hours to fix it. If that didn't occur, the league would levy some substantial fines. Eventually, the NFL would take away draft picks, and most ominously, withhold the team's television revenue checks. Given that TV revenue makes up a substantial part of a team's incoming funds, that would be an untenable situation for any franchise.

Answer Man did learn something new while researching this answer. I always figured that, if you had $3 million worth of room under the cap and you tried to sign a player for $5 million, the league would simply reject the contract. That's not the case, however. The NFL Management Council does review every contract, and occasionally reject one, but they are only approving or disapproving on technical issues, not financial ones. You could make that $5 million signing above, but you better have a $2 million cut ready to go.

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4. William McKown of Tampa, Florida asks:

I was wondering, are we the only team in the NFL that hasn't returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the regular season?

Answer Man: We've never returned a kickoff for a touchdown?! Really? Never?! Does President Ford know?

Sorry, sorry. Please excuse Answer Man his momentary sardonic breakdown. I'm just so anxious for this note to be no more, like Monty Python's parrot, that I snapped for a moment. I want Frank Murphy to put it to rest with a dashing, weaving, cut-back, last-10-yards-stumbling, diving-over-the-goal-line, 98-yard return this Sunday night in Oakland. By the way, Frank looks like he's getting close, doesn't he?

Anyway, William, it's a valid question and you don't deserve my sarcasm. Here's the answer: No.

The Houston Texans have also never returned a kickoff for a touchdown. The Texans are only in their third-year of existence, so it's not exactly a matter of civic pride down there in Houston, but still.

We are not alone in our anguish.

But, soon, Houston will be. You can quote the Answer Man on that. This is the year.

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5. Wayne of Lakeland, Florida asks:

When will the All-Time Buccaneer Team be announced? I've kept track of my selections and I want to compare my list with the announced team.

Answer Man: All you out there, don't jump on Wayne. He sent this question in before the team was announced – about two days before, to be exact. I didn't address it then because I knew he would he would get his answer in short order.

Still, I kept it on my list and I thought I would bring it up now, not because Wayne still needs an answer, but because the subject deserves a second look.

Did you all see the team, which was announced on September 8? The important thing to remember about 'The Greatest Bucs' is that it was completely fan-chosen. This squad is the representation of the combined opinions of thousands of Buc fans across the country. Here's a link to the story: The Greatest Bucs.

I was wondering what you all think of the team. Is there too much of a current-era bias (13 of the 26 players selected were on the Super Bowl team)? Did any players get a raw deal in the fan voting? Did any of the selections surprise you?

If you'd like to give some feedback, use the Answer Man question submission page and send me your thoughts, put briefly, please. I'll run a selection of them along with my next mailbag column.

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6. Darren Pyle of Cocoa, Florida asks:

Do the Bucs have a chance to get to the Super Bowl and win this year?

Answer Man: Now, Darren, the first thing I should say is that this is not the type of question Answer Man usually addresses. I steer clear of offering opinions such as these, as I don't think that's my function. As I explain on my introduction page:

"Players and coaches are free to answer their questions as they see fit, but the Answer Man is here to offer factual information. I will not be sharing opinions on why the team signed or released a certain player, or predictions on how well a specific player may do this season, or any other topic that is basically a matter of opinion. Please direct such questions to the players and coaches."

Still, we can address this question, at least briefly, from a factual standpoint. That question would be: Has any team started out 0-2 and won the Super Bowl? And that's an issue our buddies in the Buccaneers.com newsroom just recently covered in the Game Notes portion of the Matchup Section. Here's the answer, covering only the last 10 years:

Since 1994, 10 teams have rebounded from 0-2 starts to make the playoffs. The Patriots are on the list three times, including two occasions where they rebounded to reach the Super Bowl (1996 and 2001). Last season, the Eagles fell to 0-2 before eventually reaching the NFC Championship Game.

TEAMS TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS AFTER 0-2 START SINCE 1994

**Year****Team****Finish**
1994PatriotsLost Wild Card
1995LionsLost Wild Card
1996PatriotsLost Super Bowl
1998BillsLost Wild Card
1998JetsLost AFC Championship
1998CardinalsLost NFC Divisional
2001PatriotsWon Super Bowl
2002FalconsLost NFC Divisional
2002SteelersLost AFC Divisional
2003EaglesLost NFC Championship

So, yeah, Darren. We can.

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Confidential to Kathy of Tampa:

Glad I could help. It is funny how quickly situations can change on a football team. Suffice it to say that the Bucs' quarterback depth is strong enough to keep the issue of who the primary backup is a hot one all year.

That's it for this week, unfortunately. Got to get ready for that Oakland trip…we're leaving on Friday instead of Saturday since it's a cross-country flight. I've got to get my extra cape back from the dry cleaners. In our next mailbag we'll answer a question about game broadcast patterns for Richard Schilling of Pennsylvania and one about the Bucs' all-time record for Ty Knight of San Diego, plus several others.

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