"Yes, it's been a strange beginning," Harper admits. He had to know there would be days like this when he left one of the league's elite teams and signed with the Bucs, whose offense through four weeks was ranked 28th in the NFL. Last year he led the NFL in yards per catch—24.9 on 33 receptions, with eight touchdowns. His career postseason average of 27.3 yards per catch is the best in NFL history.
"In Dallas there was Troy Aikman, probably the best quarterback in the NFL. Here we have a young quarterback," Harper says. Before he was injured against the Panthers, Dilfer, a second-year player, had completed three of 12 passes for 55 yards.
Dilfer is learning the ropes, and Harper is paying the price. "I came here to get the opportunity to catch more passes than I did in Dallas and do the things that Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin are doing," Harper said to a lone reporter at his locker. "And I just want to help this club win games."
The Bucs are doing that. They are 3-2, with a home game against Cincinnati up next. Not in recent years has there been such optimism in Tampa Bay. And never before has this organization won a high-priced sweepstakes for a player of Harper's caliber. Maybe it is a New Day in Tampa Bay, as a franchise slogan attests.
Harper hopes to ring in this new day with some big plays. He wears number 82. It is a number his coaches haven't called much. "It isn't happening right now," admits Culley, "but it will."
For Harper it won't be too soon.
Coming of Age
It may be too soon to say he is finally living up to his fat salary and the Lions' oversized expectations, but Detroit quarterback Scott Mitchell's impressive play against the 49ers in Week 4 certainly was a sign that he is coming of age. Mitchell led the Lions to a 27-24 upset, completing a career-high 28 passes in 42 attempts for 291 yards and a touchdown.
Though Mitchell is in his sixth season, he was starting for only the 20th time. He had made just seven starts for the Dolphins when he signed a three-year, $11.1 million deal with the Lions in March 1994. He struggled last year before he was sidelined for the season with a wrist injury in the ninth game.
After they started 0-3 this year, the Lions held a team meeting, and some of the players pointed a finger at their quarterback. Mitchell, who had unfairly shouldered the blame for the Week 3 loss to Arizona, spoke his mind, and became emotional in the process. At least one player thought that Mitchell was about to cry.