•Being too emotional. "I fight a constant battle: In college I had no problem ripping out a guy's throat if he screwed up, but that doesn't work in the pros. Sometimes I'm an emotional wreck. My goal is to be a straight line."
Dilfer kept himself together during the Bucs' 0-5 start last season, even though he threw only one touchdown against 10 interceptions. Dungy kept his word and stuck with Dilfer, whose efforts to improve his footwork began to pay off in increased passing accuracy in Tampa Bay's sixth game, against Minnesota. Dilfer went 22 for 35 with three touchdown passes and no interceptions in the Bucs' 24-13 victory over the Vikings. From that game on he threw 11 touchdowns against nine interceptions.
All signs point to a healthy career for Dilfer, but he has larger goals. "I plan to become great," he says, "but how can you appreciate greatness if you've never experienced the worst? I would not change one thing about the last three years because the adversity has made me such a better person and football player."
Dilfer likens the Bucs' situation to that of the Green Bay Packers three years ago. In 1994 Brett Favre had his breakthrough season; now Favre is a two-time MVP and the Packers are Super Bowl champions. At least one Green Bay player, All-Pro strong safely LeRoy Butler, buys the comparison of Dilfer to Favre. "Trent's a lot like Brett was when he came into the league, kind of sporadic but very talented," says Butler. "His arm is just as strong as Brett's, and a lot of his interceptions have had to do with him forcing passes. He feels he has to hit his receivers in the numbers—because he doesn't have confidence yet that they'll lay out for him. I think he's going to be a great quarterback, and I have a lot of respect for the way he has fought through adversity."
Butler also believes it was significant that Dilfer, a scratch golfer, won the Cadillac-NFL Classic, a tournament held in conjunction with a Senior PGA Tour event last month in Clifton, N.J. Dilfer also won a Celebrity Player Tour event in June. Says Butler, "When you win under pressure, you gain the respect of your teammates, and it shows that you're a leader."
Yet Dilfer knows the respect he craves can come only from winning games. After tossing and turning in bed one night, he watched an NFL Films tribute to Joe Montana in which former 49ers lineman Jesse Sapolu spoke of his affection for Montana. Says Dilfer, "Jesse said that he's the greatest football player of all time because he was Joe. Joe was Joe, and the 49ers loved him."
Dilfer's eyes well up, and he pauses. His hard swallow reverberates through the room. "This is where it gets dangerous for me," he says finally. "I want that kind of respect and affection so bad that I try to make them happen, and you can't do that. Joe never talked about it. It just happened."
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