Redskins try another NFL shopping club


TAMPA, Fla. -- How convenient for the Washington Redskins to give Baltimore fans another scouting report on a team that might be interested in moving.

Two weeks ago the Redskins went to Anaheim, Calif., to play the Rams, and today they're in Tampa to look at the Buccaneers.

The Rams and Bucs are two of the teams that could wind up changing addresses in the near future.

The difference is that, unlike the Rams, the Buccaneers have never given any indication they're really interested in moving.

That hasn't stopped the speculation because this team is on the verge of its 11th straight season of 10 or more losses, has sold out only eight games in the past 11 years and has an owner, Hugh Culverhouse, who is in poor health.

Even coach Sam Wyche said in a conference call with reporters last week that it's difficult to deal with the apathy in Tampa.

"Yeah, it is, and I don't think I've ever admitted that one out loud before. I was in the office at 6 a.m. listening to the news, and the reporter said, 'Jacksonville gets a franchise. There's one more team to beat up on the Bucs.' Our flagship station said Jacksonville is in the league now, and they're 10-point favorites over the Buccaneers. At the same time, these people are saying, 'Don't you leave Tampa,' " he said.

Even though NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has said the Southeast is a hotbed of pro football, the fans in Tampa are apathetic about the Buccaneers. They didn't sell out their opener when Joe Montana made his debut with Kansas City, although they did get 63,378. They have drawn fewer than 50,000 for every home game since then.

The Buccaneers are 3-8, but Wyche has told his players that close losses -- such as last week's 13-10 defeat against the Green Bay Packers -- are no longer acceptable.

"Moral victories go to sorry teams. Those teams can't win. They know they can't win. You walk off the field and pat them on the head and say good fight. We've been through that stage. We want them to know we're in a position to win games," he said.

The oddsmakers agree. The Buccaneers are favored by 2 1/2 points, although that's an indication more of how far the Redskins have fallen than of improvement by the Bucs.

It's the first time the Buccaneers have been favored this year and only the 18th time since 1985 -- an average of about twice a year. The Buccaneers are 4-12-1 as favorites.

"I can't recall the last time we've been favored," Wyche said. "We've been underdogs all season. We're no longer the same ballclub we were the first half of the season. We're not the same team the fans around here remember from the last 10 years. These guys have developed. Our quarterback is better. Early on, he was forcing the ball, but he hasn't had a turnover in two weeks."

Despite that improvement, Craig Erickson is ranked 12th in the NFC with a 68.9 quarterback rating. By contrast, Bernie Kosar, who was cut by Cleveland coach Bill Belichick, has an 82.3


Wyche said he is hoping the team will improve with free agency. He likes to think he can lure players to Tampa's warm climate.

"We have a little paradise down here. We have the best grass field [in the NFL]. At this moment, I'm barefoot in shorts in a T-shirt," Wyche said.

When that comment was relayed to Redskins coach Richie Petitbon, he said, "Yeah, but Sam dressed that way when he was in Cincinnati."

That's one of the few jokes Petitbon has been able to crack lately. There hasn't been much to laugh about in his first season. The Redskins have been riddled with injuries, and if they can't upset the Buccaneers, they could lose the rest of their games and finish 2-14.

A finish like that could cost Petitbon his job. It was ominous last week when owner Jack Kent Cooke said he's doing a "fine job" despite all the injuries, but didn't say he'd be back next year.

Petitbon isn't speculating about his future, but his assistants acknowledge they could be getting the pink slip at the end of the season.

"Winning is what you're paid to do," said Rod Dowhower, the offensive coordinator who has been under fire because the team has sputtered on offense most of the season.

"This is not an institution of higher learning," Dowhower added. "This is professional football. I think everyone's trying hard, but no one cares about that. This is a bottom line business. You either get it done or you don't."

Special teams coach Wayne Sevier said: "If you're 2-9, any coach that's been around this game has a chance of being fired. I certainly agree with that. We have an owner who gives us a chance to win, and we're supposed to win. What's unfair are some owners who don't give you a chance to win and still fire you."

If Petitbon is to survive, he may have to win at least another game or two. That's why he can't afford to waste the opportunity against the Buccaneers today.

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