TAMPA — Thursday was not the end of Jameis Winston in Tampa Bay, but it is in sight.
Me? I was sitting at home. I was tired of the NBA draft, even with Tampa's Kevin Knox going to the New York Knicks.
So I switched to the NFL Network. An episode of America's Game was on. I had the sound down, but I looked at the screen. I saw a silent movie, one of my favorites:
The 2002 Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Jon Gruden at his Chucky best. Sapp, Brooks and Lynch. Joe Jurevicius down the sideline in Philadelphia. Ronde Barber shutting down the Vet. The Raiders never had a chance, again. The Bucs won it all, again. It was so much fun, such great history.
I kept the sound down.
It might as well have been before talkies.
And now the big fade out. The boom has been lowered, a suspension for Winston for conduct unbecoming, per NFL policy and I'd like to think human behavior. It flattens Winston and dooms the upcoming Bucs season before it ever begins. I guess that new contract is sort of on the back burner.
I'm not saying the Bucs weren't perfectly capable of starting 0-3 with Winston. This was a big season for him even before he let down his team and teammates. Forget anyone rallying around a suspended quarterback and dedicating all effort to him.
What, win one for the Groper?
But it occurred to me that this is how it happens, Bucs fans. This is how it happens when your football team is an embarrassment, when it radiates lousy.
Sometimes it slips up on you. Sometimes it hits you with a thud.
Bucs fans, you're living through another nightmare era. Your children have no idea this team was ever any good. You are in the abyss again.
Winston's suspension could pass for punctuation. He might never again throw a meaningful pass for the Bucs. He is edging toward the Island of Misfit Toys. Josh Freeman is saving him a seat.
Winston is not a victim. The Bucs are not victims. This is Winston's creation, one the Bucs knew was a (remote?) possibility when they picked him No. 1 in the 2015 NFL draft and made him the face of this franchise.
Who wants to look at that face today?
Go back and watch those Super Bowl highlights.
It was another time, another world.
Winston's career is on the clock. And it should be.
Would you invest $100 million in him?
At the moment, I wouldn't lend him cab fare — especially cab fare.
Even if Winston makes his way back, he'll never again be trusted in this town. Maybe the same goes for the Bucs trusting him or us trusting the Bucs. It's a turning point.
There is nothing more seismic in the NFL than a team missing on its No. 1 — or moving away from him. The last three years would go down as a total waste.
How is that our fault?
Winston's commendable outreach in the community, his smiling persona — that's out the window.
How is that our fault?
It all points to a deep, dark place for a franchise that has spent a good part of its history cornering that market.
You're living it, Bucs fans. Winston's suspension makes it official.
You are in the middle of another epic stink bog.
That was supposed to change with Winston at quarterback.
At least 0-26 had its funny moments. There is nothing funny about this.
Again, how is that our fault?
This isn't about Winston's past. It's about his present.
Where's the future in that?
Who this morning doesn't long for Ronde Barber running in the Philadelphia night, that great Bucs team, the happiness they brought this community?
A million years ago.
I'm glad I kept the sound down.
Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029.