Oddly, there was chaos during the off-season, much of it emanating from the team owner, 70-year-old Hugh Culver-house. In a June golf game at Disney World with The Orlando Sentinel
sports columnist Larry Guest, Culverhouse said he was so concerned about dwindling attendance at Buc games that he wanted to move three games a year to Orlando, 90 miles away. Look out. To many long-suffering fans, this was a Mickey Mouse thing to say. Tampa radio station WFLZ put up billboards blasting Culverhouse. One read, HUGH WANTS us TO LEAVE TOWN, TOO. Another showed a huge screw just before the words HUGH CULVERHOUSE.
"Looking back," says WFLZ vice-president and general manager David Macejko, "I think we went over the line with that one." Still, his station hadn't gone as far as another one did. WKRL, in Clearwater, held a "——on Hugh" contest in which listeners walked their dogs on an enlarged picture of Culverhouse, with a cash prize of $100 going to the entrant whose pet came closest to relieving itself on Culver-house's mug.
Before the New Orleans game, Culverhouse stood on the sideline, a gold-and-black Batman pin on his lapel, and smiled at the recent criticism. "It hurt my family more than me," he said. "But I told them not to worry. I don't want anybody getting too uptight about all this."
He then set forth what had gone wrong with the team in recent years: charges of drug usage on the '79 club; the 1982 trade of the late Ricky Bell, the promising running back from USC; the failure to re-sign quarterback Doug Williams in 1983; the loss of 1986's No. 1 draft pick, Bo Jackson, first to baseball and then to the L.A. Raiders; the failure of former coach Leeman Bennett to hire a strong supporting staff; and poor drafting generally. Whatever the causes of the Bucs' misfortune, Culverhouse knows what it has done to his coffers. "Our gate is so low that teams don't want to play here in the preseason," he said. "To get the Oilers to come this year, I had to give them $160,000 out of my own pocket. I'm concerned. We need fan support; we need the people behind us." On Sunday, only 44,053 showed up in Tampa Stadium, which seats 74,315.
Maybe Culverhouse should talk to his coach about strategy. Last season fans booed the team when it played poorly, and Perkins said the booing had a detrimental effect on the players. Against the 49ers two weeks ago, the fans cheered the team's efforts despite the Bucs' last-minute defeat. "I don't like our fans patting our players on the back when we don't win the game," said Perkins in the postgame news conference. "I don't like that." O.K., fans, go figure that out.
In any case, Testaverde, who seems to be developing along the lines of Terry Bradshaw, appears to have figured it out. He got divorced during the off-season, and though the split was amicable, Testaverde received counseling to help deal with his anger. Much of it stemmed from his reaction to the things he took too seriously—"losing, interceptions, bad plays," he said—and it found expression in Testaverde's yelling and beating on walls. Now he writes poetry and paints and tries not to sweat over the things he realizes he can't control. He also has a heavy bag right next to his painting area. It helps when things get frustrating. "I can just say, 'Man, that was a lousy painting!' and turn and go at the bag," he says with a smile.
Testaverde smiles a lot now, because he has learned to relax a little more. "It's like today on the third downs," he said. "You know it's third down and you need to make it. But what can you do by getting tense? I made myself almost forget that we had third downs at all." He converted nine of 12 third-down plays, including a critical third-and-six on the touchdown drive—Lars Tate scored on a five-yard run—that would put Tampa Bay up for good, 17-10, in the third quarter.
Testaverde can even laugh at his color blindness, a defect that some observers felt caused him to throw passes to the wrong team and which was crudely lampooned this summer on a bright blue WFLZ billboard that read, VINNY THINKS THIS IS ORANGE.
"I have no control over it; it's just something I was born with," he said. "Last year, quarterback Bill Ransdell came to camp, and I saw his shoes and said, 'I'd like a pair of red shoes like that to match my uniform.' He said, 'They're green!' I looked at him. I knew he was from the Jets, so I figured he was telling the truth."
Testaverde plans to have a designer plan a new wardrobe for him and put the color notes on a Rolodex so that he can always dress in harmonious hues. That would be in keeping with the way he feels about himself this season. "T feel real good, real comfortable these days," he says. "Mentally, I've gotten a lot older. I feel positive about myself, the team and the city of Tampa."