Alan Dell

Calling Bucs season miraculous does team disservice

Despite what might be contrary to popular opinion, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not a miracle.

Miracles are unexplained happenings often attributed to some kind of divine intervention; like when you are down to your last dollar and find a winning lottery ticket. They are unplanned and defy logic.

It’s the impossible happening right before your eyes.

To say it’s a miracle that the Bucs are in the playoff conversation heading into the final weekend of the NFL season would be a disservice to head coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik.

Call them scavengers, masters of deception or simply lucky; say the chances they took were born from courage or desperation. But if what they did is a miracle in your eyes, be cognizant that it is what they set out to do.

Dominik has gained a deserved reputation as a man who can scour through the other team’s throw-aways and turn a discard into an NFL-looking first-round pick without the expense.

He has done it all season, keeping alive a team that has been on life support with eight starters and a total of 13 players sent to injured reserve.

But Dominik and Morris are not just bagmen hanging outside somebody’s training camp waiting for the Grim Reaper to deal a death blow to someone they can bring back to life.

They have thick skin and will not allow themselves to be intimidated.

No two people bore the brunt of more jokes last year than Morris and Dominik. It was the Cub Scout and his Scout master trying to grow into Boy Scouts, if you listened to their critics.

They went about their business and were criticized for being naive.

Morris took Tony Dungy’s advice that you need a franchise quarterback to be a contender and selected Josh Freeman despite talk that he had a scatter-gun arm and was not the guy you risk your career on.

Morris didn’t flinch, but he thought it out.

He was not afraid to say what was on his mind just like he did at the beginning of this season when he talked about the race to 10 (victories). At 9-6, he may or may not get it Sunday at New Orleans, but isn’t that irrelevant? The new year will be two days old Sunday, and the Bucs will have a chance to make the playoffs.

Morris left himself open to ridicule when he traded away a first- and sixth-round pick so he could move up two spots and get Freeman at 17, afraid of the Broncos, who had the 18th pick. When then Denver coach Josh McDaniels later said he had no intention of taking the Kansas State quarterback, Raheem was portrayed as an overzealous individual involved in something way over his head.

Freeman, who threw 34 interceptions in three seasons at K-State, looked like another possible head trauma case when he declared on draft day that he was better than No. 1 pick Matthew Stafford and No. 5 pick Mark Sanchez.

This seemed like the makings of a funny farm, but Dominik and Morris kept going about their business collecting the players they deemed essential.

They selected people who frightened most teams away; high-risk individuals who seemed like they belonged in group therapy rather than on the practice field.

They took Mike Williams in the fourth round after 13 other receivers were chosen, believing his troublesome lifestyle at Syracuse would not accompany him to Tampa. People laughed and shook their head. A desperate duo these two must be, was the general belief.

They selected Aqib Talib despite cries from people around these parts that Southeast High/USF product Mike Jenkins was the better prospect and person.

Trouble seemed to be Talib’s most reliable companion. He was known for having a short fuse and getting into fights at the wrong time with the wrong people, including that scuffle he had with a teammate at a rookie symposium in 2008.

When the Tennessee Titans released LeGarrette Blount hoping to re-sign him to its taxi squad, Dominik was waiting pen in hand to claim another person perceived to be a therapeutic reclamation project.

Besides his infamous punch against Boise State linebacker Byron Hout that cost him nearly an entire at Oregon, Blount also lost his temper at Tennessee, throwing a punch at a Titans player during practice.

Now he and Williams and, of course, Freeman are key reasons the Bucs are still in the playoff conversation no matter how long the odds.

So you can call it a miracle if you like, or attribute it to the NFL’s generosity of giving weak teams weak schedules the following season as it did with the Bucs.

But the two guys responsible for creating this debate don’t care. They are in a race to 10, and how they get there is irrelevant.