Fascination on the NFL sideline
The NFL sidelines are fascinating places. Writers go down to the field for the last few minutes of the game so that we can get to the locker rooms.
Most of the time, the most amazing sensations are the physicality. How hard those guys hit. How hard they run, how fast the ball zips on a pass, how much effort is required to make two yards or hold a team to two yards.
But Sunday was different. I don’t know why. But it was. I stood just to the left, facing the field, of the Tampa Bay Buccaneer bench, and saw all kinds of theatrics I’d never seen before. I’m sure they happen all the time in NFL games, but for some reason, they were right in front of me Sunday.
Tampa Bay was driving, down 13-9 in the final two minutes, and the drama was building with a couple of first downs.
And I saw a leader’s actions up close and personal. The rest of the Bucs were inside the designated team area, which I think is between the 35-yard lines.
But no chalk line could contain 35-year-old linebacker Derrick Brooks. In his 14th NFL season, all with Tampa Bay, Brooks likely is headed to the Hall of Fame. He’s so old, he played college football at Florida State with Brad Johnson, the ancient journeyman quarterback who sort of led Dallas to victory Sunday.
Anyway, while Brooks’ valiant defensive teammates rested, Brooks paced the sideline and wore many hats. He was cheerleader, going out on the field, pumping up his offensive teammates during stoppages in play. He was part basketball coach, staying in the ear of the line judge about any call that might be pertinent. Heck, Brooks stood by the chain crew and gave them an earful; what you can say to the guy holding the first-down marker, I don’t know, but Brooks was saying it.
Then came an interesting play. Tight end Jerramy Stevens caught a pass and was knocked out of bounds at the 20-yard line. Tampa Bay huddled, came to the line of scrimmage and the whistle blew. The referee announced the play was under review.
I had no idea what could be under review. Maybe Stevens juggled the ball — the play was on the far sideline — but it certainly didn’t look like it.
The referee came right by me as the security personnel lined up the yellow tape to give him sanctuary. Then I learned that sometimes the confusion you feel as a fan or as a writer is also felt by the combatants. Buc coach Jon Gruden came over and accosted an official while the play was under review. He had one question. “WHAT are you reviewing?”
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