Bride of Chucky
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

Road Dog here, hooking it up for all you big-timers out there. So. Say, pilgrim, how long you think it'll be before Chucky Gruden gets Rob Johnson in there as starting QB of the Tampa Bay Bucs?

Brad Johnson
Brad Johnson is No. 1 in Tampa Bay until the inevitable catches up to the slow-footed quarterback.
No time at all. That's what I say. One false move, Bingo, Brad Johnson's history. Hook's already set. Chuckster will have Robo-QB in there Vicker than you can say, "Donnie McNabb."

I'm crazy? Oh really. You sound like R-Dub. Chucky gives Brad a constant vote of confidence. "Brad Johnson is our starter," and all that. Only Chucky don't sound convincing saying it. Not to me.

I'm beginning to get an idea that Chucky's got an idea.

Chucky says he likes how Shaun King has been looking at camp.

Smokescreen. Don't hear what people say. Watch what they do.

What makes me think Rob J. is Chucky's boy, his Robo-QB?

No. 1, that squinched-up look on Chucky's face when Robo does something wrong; if he takes a sack, or shows a tackler both numbers on his chest if he happens to be running, (a good if, in Rob's case), or he doesn't throw the ball away after he reads the clock and nothing's there when the defense is on total lockdown.

If Chucky didn't care how Robo was doing, he wouldn't look so disgusted. He wouldn't talk a blue tattoo at him when Robo gets back to the sideline.

No. 2, knowing Chucky's history: he had Gannon in Oakland, and Gannon had legs too; Gannon could get Chucky two or three first downs a game on athletic ability and legs and, what's that word? Guile. Joe Montana, he was good at guile. He'd guile you to death. I mean, what else are you gonna say. Brad Johnson is a big dude, but he can't run, and guile? Nah.

No. 3, Chucky was the first guy in the NFL that I heard of raving about a draft pick named McNabb. Chucky peeped him at the Senior Bowl after McNabb's senior year at Syracuse and went stark raving mad, and he remains so today when dealing with his QBs. Meanwhile, the draftniks from Philly, they booed when the Eagles took Donnie. The same ones went along for the ride when Donnie took them one game from the Super Bowl. Oh yeah, Philly. It was you. I ain't forgot you. Chucky was way ahead of you, but lucky for the Eagles, he wasn't way ahead of Andy Reid. Or me.

Me personally, I'm starting to dig me some Chucky. I like the way he makes his moves. I'm a big personnel guy. Brought in Michael Pittman, that RB, and he has been looking good, making guys miss or bounce off. Nice combination.

Then Chuck brought in Keenan McCardell, and there's some tread left on that tire. But the key to the whole show is Rob Johnson. Robo-QB is going to be Chucky's Gannon, Chucky's McNabb -- at least he will be until he shows he can't be, or until something better comes along. Just call Rob Johnson "Bride of Chucky." Like "Bride of Frankenstein."

Now, some of you, like Dub, you think Rob Johnson can't be Robo-QB, that he's some kind of Huckleberry, that he's a walking, talking sack waiting to happen, that he is as effective a quarterback as the real "Bride of Frankenstein," what's her name, Dub? Yeah, Elsa Lancaster. Yeah, you would know that. But you ain't got the 4-D football vision of me and Chucky. We see it. Plain. Clear.

Jon Gruden. Mark Arteaga
Think Jon Gruden would bring out his Chucky face for an ordinary No. 2 quarterback?
"Lookit the way he move, Dub!" I pleaded. We were watching a seven-on-seven drill at Bucs camp. Rob Johnson looked in great shape. Tall, muscular, ripped up, shredded, for a QB, anyway; his jersey was tied off at his wasp waist. He was like a horse. Plus, Robo is very familiar with Keyshawn Johnson, since they both were factory assembled at the USC plant. Key ... we'll get to him later.

Me, I saw this. I figured R-Dub had to see Rob had thoroughbred in him. But everybody's got their blind spots. Brad Johnson is a good guy with a real neat completion percentage, but he couldn't escape from a bad dream. Nice guy. If we needed a sorority sweetheart, that might matter. Brad Johnson is what he is -- slow.

Robo-QB has upside, more giddy in his yup. Yeah, he'll be your Huckleberry, all right. Who'd you rather game plan, Brad or Rob?

Please. Robo.

R-Dub still couldn't see it. Acting like some emotionally busted-up Bills fan or something. "Lookit him!" I kept saying to Dub. "Look at what?" Dub said. I sighed the most disgusted sigh I could dredge up, and I went deep. Ain't no fun knowing that your boy, your dog, ain't really all that great of a personnel man. Can't take him with me to my fantasy league, the Greater Orlando and Oakland Pro Football Prognosticators of Brooklyn League. Or, GOOFBALL.

Me and Dub went over and basically asked Chucky for the 411. He answered us, too, if you read between the lines, as Dub likes to say it, although the only thing I see between the lines is white. I say make it plain. That's why I can understand a guy like Chucky.

"What do you have to do with Rob, coach? Slow him down?" R-Dub asked Chucky. Chucky had been seen wearing the squinched-up Chucky face in the Bucs' exhibition game against Miami and then Jax, because Robo-QB got sacked and all tied up a couple three times. Chucky wasn't thrilled. But that was the tell.

If Rob was penciled in as a backup, Chucky wouldn't have cared. Never seen anybody getting impatient with Rodney Peete, do you? Ask Chucky about Brad, you get the programmed response. "Brad Johnson is our starter." Ask about Robo, you get what's your boy's name, Hamlet? You get Hamlet's ... so ... sol ... speech.

Chucky looked at R-Dub with the squinched-up face, then looked over at me and winked. Startled the crap outta me. I dig Chucky.

"Rob has to keep our team moving," Chucky said. "And when you take sacks, you wind up with second-and-16, third-and-16, and I guarantee you, in this league, it's not going to happen for you; you stymie yourself and the team, if you do that too many times."

Rob Johnson
Rob Johnson should be in great shape; he hasn't played much the past five years.
R-Dub mumbled something about when you've got superior athletic ability, isn't it harder to discipline yourself to throw the ball away sometimes? Not because you're stupid, but because you're confident you can escape, make a play. Dub asked Chucky if that wasn't a hard sell, didn't an athletic body automatically tell its title-holder that he can get away from the rush, and that's when you can get into trouble, because you can't. You can't outrun an NFL defense. Not unless you're in a car. A good car.

Chucky didn't want to hear it.

"No. 7 in Atlanta has high athletic ability," said Chucky, and the way he said it, I knew, man, I knew; Atlanta and New Orleans are his competition this year in the NFC South, and Chucky plans on winning it. And Brooks, if you gets off that pout, he's a move man too. "And No. 5 in Philly, my goodness, he has athletic ability. So that's no excuse. If Rob's got enough athletic ability to run around back there and get sacked, he oughta have enough athletic ability to throw the ball away!" said Chucky, squinching.

You might be like R-Dub, and are now sitting there acting confused, asking who died and left John Elway's skills to Rob in their will?

Me and Chucky are saying that it's there. And Chucky can bring it out. "Really, Rob hasn't even played in five years," Chucky said.

Now this is going to come as a surprise to the citizens of Buffalo, who after the Bills signed Rob for tall paper five years ago, set up a caterwauling for Doug Flutie. Ingrates. If Rob Johnson was such a good athlete, how come he couldn't beat out little ol' Flute? Well, he did, in training camp, in practice, in the passing drills line. But there's always guys who look great in the uni, who look super in practice throwing the ball, but when the real bombs start going off, their feet start to float, they can't read clock, they freeze. They doof. Guys like R-Dub, and maybe you think Rob is one of those.

Not after Chucky gets in his business. That's what I think Chucky thinks, and I'm with him all the way on this one. Robo will give Chucky way more of a chance to win. What Tony Rice was to Lou Holtz at Notre Dame when it last won a national title, Rob Johnson is to Chucky Gruden at Tampa Bay. Once Lou Holtz said Tony Rice had a chance to be an NFL pro quarterback and blah-blah-blah, trying to butter Dub, but Dub gave him the fish eye and said yeah? Well then why could Dub hear Tony Rice counting steps in his sprint-out drop-back. Know what? Lou Holtz laughed.

What I'm saying is, it don't always take Johnny Unitas to win in a system. But in the NFL, it helps to have somebody who can get a first down with his legs, and escape. Be able to do it. Just don't do it dumb. In Tampa, it spells And it really don't matter if you believe it or not. I believe Chucky believes it.

See, it was Rob Johnson, not Brad Johnson, or Doug Flutie, who had the Buffalo Bills one play from the Super Bowl two years ago. Took a Music City Miracle lateral kickoff return for a touchie for the Titans to get Stevie McNair to the Bowl; once Stevie got over the first-half jitters, he promptly showed out. Robo can do that. Disagree? Yes? Well, if you coached the Bucs, it might matter.

Jon Gruden, Keyshawn Johnson
Be sure that Keyshawn Johnson has Gruden's ear on who's going to get him the damn ball.
Yeah, in Buffalo it was like Rob was the special teams coach for the Bills or something, the way the people in Buffalo carried on about him. Now they've got Drew Bledsoe. And Drew Bledsoe will help the Bills. He'll help until he crumbles in the pocket against by the best teams. And even the best teams have breakdowns; that's when a McNair, a Gannon, a McNabb, a Vick, a Brooks, a Favre, or a Robo-QB can turn a sack into a first down. I half look for somebody to re-sign Steve Young. Three first downs made out of nothing, out of what would have been a sack, they can change the balance of the game, and a season, and maybe a coach's career.

Chucky knows it. Dub knows it. And so do you.

So Chucky is going to get Rob Johnson in there Vicker than you can say Donnie McNabb. That's the skinny, Benny.

Know what else? I got to like him for it. Chucky thinks like he's straight outta Brooklyn. That squinched-up face will play, too. So after talking to him, and watching Rob Johnson move in practice, and hearing what Chucky was saying between the lines, I went out and got Robo-QB down in the sixth round of GOOFBALL fantasy league. Took Peyton in the first round. Hey, I ain't crazy. The guys, they tripped when I picked Robo. Hooted. Told me to stick to the Knicks. In the immortal words of Dave Parker, when the leaves turn brown, I'll wear the crown. Me, Chucky, and Robo.

You might not like what I'm saying, or how I'm saying it.

That's cool. We'll see. When Chucky finally pulls the trigger and gets Robo in there, when he throws the switch, starts squinching that mug, saying "freakin' A!", I just hope you're not in the way.

Say, ain't your name ... Vic? As in, no K on the end of it?

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."



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