Martin Fennelly Columns
Bucs need to get off on right foot against Browns
TAMPA - For openers, there was the first opener in Buccaneers football history: Sept. 12, 1976. Coach John McKay led his team, which would lose its first 26 games, out of the locker room at Houston's Astrodome. They made a right and headed for the field. Only they were supposed to make a left. They headed down a ramp. They looked around. They were lost. On the field, the Houston Oilers waited. Somewhere in there, one '76 Bucs player uttered famous words: "Guys, I think we're going the wrong way." This Sunday - 34 years to the day - the 2010 Bucs will hit the field at Raymond James Stadium.Wonder which way they'll go. The end of last season pointed toward improvement, if not greatness. One thing for sure: They need to beat the Browns. Don't laugh. It's a must-win game. True, it might be the most uproarious must-win game in NFL history, a season opener between two teams that won eight games between them last season, with the Browns doing the heavy lifting with five. But Bucs coach Raheem Morris and his blacked-out bunch must beat the Browns even if no one is watching. It doesn't matter that the Browns now have Mike Holmgren running the show. Or that Cleveland's quarterback is that old Bucs slayer, Jake Delhomme, who still has a head for the game - and a head in general despite his helmet recently testing positive for Ndamukong Suh. The Bucs can't lose to the Browns. The Browns have won 29 games over the past five seasons. They're so pedestrian the Bucs need to circle Sunday and make it theirs. Lose and fans' expectations, already low, fall down a mine shaft. Lose this opener, and, really, flies will start to gather. They have to beat the Browns. Of course, the problem is that up in Ohio right now everyone is saying: We have to beat the Bucs. These young Bucs will be circled on lots of schedules until Morris and his Daddy Day Care produce more wins. They have to beat the Browns. The Bucs are laying their final preparations. Monday, after observing four preseason games, they might have hit on the final piece of the puzzle: They cut the punter they drafted and signed another. I knew it was the punting, I just knew. The Bucs also claimed rookie running back LeGarrette Blount off waivers. Blount is the kid who was suspended at Oregon most of last season after socking a Boise State player. He was recently released by the Tennessee Titans - where, no kidding, he actually punched a teammate in the facemask. But not one cab driver. Welcome to the halfway house, me Bucco! They can't lose to the Browns. The only thing worse would be Josh Freeman hitting the field in a cast to his elbow, then losing to the Browns. You can't lose to the Browns like you could lose to the Saints. Lose an opener to the Super Bowl champs and you can say it was close, or we learned a few things, things we can build on ... You can't build on losing to the Browns. It's a burial mound. And Delhomme, the consummate pro, knows the Bucs well. "You got to know that he knows that you know that he knows," Morris said. I couldn't have said it better myself. No one is picking the Bucs to win very much. They'll have each other and that's about it as they leave the locker room Sunday afternoon. Which way will they go? They have to beat the Browns.