Rookie QB armed for battle

Confident King ready to lead Bucs vs. 'Skins

January 12, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

If a quarterback is an extension of the head coach, then Shaun King is the perfect quarterback for Tony Dungy.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' coach is noted for his calm demeanor, and so is his rookie quarterback.

Thrust into the starting lineup when Trent Dilfer suffered a broken collarbone in Seattle on Nov. 28, King completed only three of seven passes but preserved the 16-3 victory over the Seahawks and went 4-1 in five starts.

King's first start was on a Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings. All he did was complete 22 of 37 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-17 victory. Six days later, he beat the Detroit Lions, 23-16.

"I wasn't nervous," he kept saying when asked if he was nervous.

Finally, after the Lions game, he said, "Do you all want me to be nervous?"

Don't look for King to be nervous Saturday, when the Bucs play host to the Washington Redskins in a divisional playoff game.

Dilfer will not play in Saturday's game. The last rookie quarterback to start a playoff game was the Los Angeles Raiders' Todd Marinovich in 1991. He lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, 10-6. The last time a rookie quarterback won a playoff game was in 1976 -- Pat Haden led the Los Angeles Rams to a 14-12 win over the Dallas Cowboys.

No rookie quarterback has taken a team to the Super Bowl.

Dungy doesn't seem worried about going with a rookie quarterback who wasn't picked until the second round, after five quarterbacks were taken in the first.

"They say it can't be done. I guess somebody has to be the first [rookie quarterback to go to the Super Bowl]," Dungy said.

But then, Dungy is always calm. He's calm about the Bucs' 8-1 finish. He was calm about the team's one loss, 45-0, to the Raiders in Oakland.

He had one thought on the long plane ride home from that one.

"The sky isn't falling," he said at the time.

"Every day is a piece of the season. If you win, 45-0, it doesn't mean you're going to the Super Bowl. If you lose, 45-0, it doesn't mean you're finished."

It was noteworthy that he didn't pull King for backup Eric Zeier during the 45-0 loss.

"Shaun's not going to get demoralized," Dungy said. "We could have gone to Eric, but we just thought it was the best thing to stay the way we were."

King got the shot in the first place because Zeier was out with bruised ribs, and he has kept the job now that Zeier is healthy.

Dungy is noted for maintaining the status quo. His coaching staff has been together for four years.

With Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott, the Bucs also have a reputation for a superb running game that should be able to shred the Washington defense, which was ranked 30th in the league.

The reality is the Bucs average 3.5 yards per rush, 22nd in the league. But what they do is stick with the run. They ran 502 times, fourth most in the league.

King's job is to not lose the game more than to try to win it.

But he doesn't lack self-confidence. "I want to be a great quarterback," he said when he became a starter. "I believe I will be at some point."

He can't wait for the chance to play the Redskins at home after growing up watching the Bucs struggle through losing season after losing season.

"The atmosphere is going to be fantastic," he said.

King's statistics are not particularly impressive. His quarterback rating of 82.4 is not much better than Dilfer's 75.8.

But Dilfer tends to be too frenetic and emotional for Dungy's tastes. He likes King's more unemotional approach.

General manager Rick McKay said: "Shaun King would never qualify for any quarterback beauty pageants. He's short [6 feet], he's somewhat pudgy [225 pounds], he's not the fastest guy. He's a good athlete but not a great one. But he's a winner. Whatever it is that makes quarterbacks special, Shaun has it."

He's also quite a story. He grew up in St. Petersburg, Fla., rooting for the Bucs, went to Tulane when Florida State passed on him and led the Green Wave to a perfect season last year.

The Oakland loss was his only one as a starting quarterback in the past 25 months.

He's also close to his family. When a delivery man arrived at the door recently with the keys to a sport utility vehicle he was delivering to the house, his dad handed the keys to King, who told his father the vehicle was for him.

Now the Bucs are handing King the keys to their playoff hopes.

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