The Bucs' ship is sinking fast (though they are traveling a little lighter in the Keyshawn department these days). Coach Gruden is looking around for someone to right this baby, and sail it through some choppy waters.
For our money, he should look no farther than Derrick Brooks, the anchor of the Tampa midway.
How do we know he's a stalwart? Is it his six Pro Bowls? His Super Bowl ring?
Nope. It's the way he handled these 10 Burning Questions from Page 2's Eric Neel.
1. If you had been the Carolina Prowler, what would you have said?
I really wasn't even paying attention to the guy. Someone yesterday had to tell me about it, and I was embarrassed because I had no idea what they were talking about. I'm too focused on the ballgame.
1A. Do fans affect you at all?
When we're at home, getting the crowd into the game is obviously an advantage for our defense. On the road, I pay no attention to the stands.
1B. Can you block it out even in a place like Philly, where the crowd is so rabid?
Yes, we did that before.
Oh yeah, a little thing called the NFC Championship Game …
Yeah, we silenced 'em.
2. What's the biggest misconception the common fan has about NFL players?
That because they're rich, they're not human beings just like everyone else. We're all men before we're football players. And we're not all arrogant, either.
2A. Does that misconception bother players?
No. We know, being in the NFL, that not everything is going to be positive. We want it to be, but we're realists. Everyone is not like that (arrogant). But some players are, and maybe it's their advantage. I don't know. You know, I'm definitely confident about my abilities. Just because I don't go and say it every time you have a conversation with me, don't think for one minute that I don't think I'm the best on the field. I think everyone has to believe that if they want to be successful.
2B. Who's the best trash-talker in the league?
(laughs) It all depends. Whenever you're winning, everyone on the team talks noise; but when you're losing, you don't want to say anything. And you don't want anyone talking noise to you.
2C. Favorite Warren Sapp line?
Sapp doesn't do as much talking as people think. That's another misconception. He really doesn't talk a lot on the field.
2D. If people knew Warren the way his teammates know him, what would they realize about him?
Either you like him or you don't. (laughs) No in-between. All seriousness, they would know he's a very intelligent individual. That gets overshadowed a lot by things that are written. He's one intelligent human being.
3. You guys are a veteran group and coming off the Super Bowl title, but you're struggling now a little bit. What goes on between you that will help you turn this season around?
Win this week (which the Bucs did, beating the Giants on Monday Night Football). Winning is a cure-all for our team right now.
3A. How do you personally get yourself ready to play?
I don't like to give away my secrets, now … but generally, I try to calm down, study the defenses, listen to music. Then I like to go out on the field and stretch. I like to breathe the air of the stadium.
3B. What kind of music do you listen to?
I start out with gospel. It's my small way of acknowledging the Lord in my life. And I normally end with the "Rocky" soundtrack, with a little rap mixed in between.
4. Can you recount your earliest football memory?
Yeah, I walked on the field that first day and saw how big guys were and got back in the car and went home. I was 7 years old. I was intimidated. And the best thing about it was, my father and mother didn't pressure me into playing. They didn't see it as giving up, but they kept encouraging me. I played baseball, and I found myself playing with the same guys I would have played football with, and I was competing and doing well, and that gave me the confidence to go out and play football the next year.
4A. If you had never become a professional football player, what do you think you'd be doing now?
I don't know. When I meet the Lord, I'll ask Him. It's hard to imagine who I am today without football in my life. Football has been such a big part of me; but at the same time, it doesn't define me.
5. Tell me about the Brooks Bunch.
It's an organization I started seven years ago, trying to get kids to experience life outside of the walls they live in, to get them to dream, to create hope and goals outside of their neighborhoods.
5A. When you see their faces light up when they experience something new for the first time -- like, I know you took a bunch of them on an airplane flight for the first time -- how does that compare to the thrills you have on the field?
It's hard to compare the two, to be honest with you. I feel the work the Lord has allowed me to do with these kids goes beyond football. At the same time, they're similar because the intensity I bring to the field is the same intensity I bring to my work with the Brooks Bunch.
6. Would you rather get an interception or sack the quarterback?
I'd rather get an interception -- gives me an opportunity to score. (laughs)
6A. Toughest quarterback you go up against?
Every week is another one. I'm not singling out one guy. I love playing against everyone. My thing is to make sure I leave my mark against any opponent I'm playing. I want them to know No. 55 was here, and he's not going anywhere.
6B. What's your best off-field talent?
You might ask my wife (laughs). Aw, man, something I do well outside of sports? I'll say laundry. And I can work on a car, too -- I'm not immune to changing my own tires or brakes or something.
7. Name one defensive player from throughout history who you'd most like to sit down and talk football with.
I got a little bit of that with Jack Lambert. He was a guy who wasn't considered too big, but had success at the linebacker position. And I've recently had the chance to befriend Eric Dickerson ... I wonder what it would have been like to tackle him and play against him.
7A. Does he tell you that he would have taken you?
(laughs) Well, you know, all the old guys see themselves playing in today's game. You got to appreciate that kind of competitiveness ... one day I'm going to be saying that, too.
8. Tell us something we don't know about coach Gruden.
Aw, I don't want to give away any secrets on the coach. Obviously, his energy is very genuine. He doesn't have to put up a front in who he is or what he's about. You can respect that.
9. If I could give you a career mulligan -- you could do one thing over again -- what would it be?
Man, that's hard. I don't live life with regrets. I try to be a man about all the decisions I've made and accept them.
9A. Finish this sentence: I love football because ...
It gives me an opportunity to glorify God with the abilities He gave me.
9B. Finish this sentence: Sometimes I don't love football because ...
I can't ...I love it.
9C. If I made you NFL commissioner for one day, what is the first thing you'd do?
Being a player? Raise salary! (laughs)
9D. What's your favorite sports movie?
I'm partial to Burt Reynolds. I like "The Longest Yard."
9E. What's your favorite part?
I like when he throws the ball and hits the guy right in the 'nads. (laughs)
10. True or false: The Bucs will make the playoffs.
Win the Super Bowl.