Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ex-Buc Rice just happy to be back in the game
TAMPA - If he wanted to, Simeon Rice could stand on the sideline and count the crowd accurately within minutes. His United Football League paycheck is chump change by NFL standards, and he is hunting down Brooks Bollinger these days instead of Donovan McNabb, but the former Pro Bowl defensive end of the Buccaneers is still excited about playing football. "I'm back being me," Rice said over the phone from the airplane carrying the New York Sentinels up to Giants Stadium for Thursday night's UFL matchup against the California Redwoods. "After dealing with an injury for the first time in my career, I'm hell-raising again." In their first home game, in front of a few thousand fans, the Sentinels fell to 0-3 after dropping a 20-13 decision as journeyman left tackle Tyler Luellen limited Rice to one tackle and no sacks.The undrafted Luellen will never be confused with Orlando Pace, Jonathan Ogden or Walter Jones, but at this point in his career, Rice is thrilled just to put on pads and cleats and play without pain. Rice, 35, has basically been out of football since an injured left shoulder led to his release by the Bucs in the summer of 2007, after he failed a team physical. Instead of waiting to heal completely, Rice tried to latch on with Denver and Indianapolis, determined to prove that Tampa Bay acted rashly. After he asked the Broncos for his release, he chafed at the idea of being a third-down pass-rush specialist for Tony Dungy's Colts. "I was the type of person who was always going to call my own shots," said Rice, who registered 122 sacks in 12 NFL seasons. "Obviously, this isn't what I'm accustomed to in the NFL. We're not getting 60,000 people in the seats, but the game is what you make of it." Rice has been humbled a bit, but he's still wearing that familiar No. 97. The swagger returns in force when he discusses a potential return to the NFL. "There is no doubt in my mind I'll be back," said Rice, who has five tackles and one sack this season. "If people look at the film, it will stimulate them to call me. I know I can help somebody win some football games." As a Buccaneer, Rice generated sacks and sound bites in equal measure. He spoke openly about his differences with Jon Gruden, calling Tampa Bay's former coach "the biggest phony in the world," after Rice was cut loose on the brink of training camp. But let's not forget that Rice was an integral part of that 2002 championship team - powered by one of the best defenses the NFL has witnessed. When it counted most, Rice produced seven sacks in his five postseason games as a Buccaneer. "I don't know what's going on with the Bucs, but it's unfortunate," he said of Tampa Bay's 0-7 start and 11-game losing streak. "It brings down the morale of the whole city during football season. They brought someone in to replace me (Gaines Adams) and the guy never developed. I guess you never know what you have until you lose it." When Rice's UFL season concludes Nov. 20, he expects a few calls from NFL executives. "This is a golden opportunity for Simeon," said Sentinels coach Ted Cottrell. "He is really into it. It's not about the money. It's about the opportunity and trying to make the best of it."