TAMPA, Fla. — The next time Vinny Testaverde grapples with a bowl game, it'll be the one with Roman numerals attached to it.
In signing Testaverde to a six-year contract April 2, Tampa Bay couldn't ignore the skills of the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. Instead, the Buccaneers decided to ignore some wrong numbers.
The University of Miami All-American threw 47 touchdown passes and 24 interceptions during his 22 regular-season games as a starting quarterback for the Hurricanes. In two bowl appearances, the ratio reads: one touchdown pass, eight interceptions. And two Miami losses.
Add a shoddy performance in the 1987 Japan Bowl in front of Tampa Bay Coach Ray Perkins and it's apparent the Buccaneers used selective memory in evaluating the nation's pass efficiency leader.
"Vinny has the total combination of abilities necessary to become one of the very best quarterbacks in the NFL," says Perkins, who took the suspense out of the first pick in the April 28 NFL draft. "We have great expectations for Vinny, but we realize it will take some time and training. We didn't sign him to hand the football off. You can hire a truck driver to do that. It takes a talented person to throw the ball. Anytime you sign a quarterback in the NFL, you don't sign him to hand the football off or run with it . . . you sign him to throw the football."
Testaverde threw just three interceptions in the final seven games of his 1985 junior season, but Tennessee picked off three of his passes in a Sugar Bowl rout. Last season, Testaverde threw for 26 touchdowns and just 9 interceptions in leading the Hurricanes to an 11-0 mark and the nation's No. 1 ranking entering the Fiesta Bowl. Penn State intercepted him five times en route to a 14-10 upset victory. After the game, some observers began to question Testaverde's ability to analyze complex defensive schemes.
"What you have here is an overachiever who is also a great talent," says Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson. "That's a rare combination. Anyone who suggests Vinny is not smart or can't read defenses, well, that's simply a bad rap. He can read defenses as well now as half the quarterbacks in the NFL. It is difficult to find a flaw. He doesn't smoke or drink, and he is a team man who will do most anything asked of him."
The Buccaneers are asking for a lot. Despite Perkins' public pronouncements, Tampa Bay owner Hugh Culverhouse didn't shell out $8.2 million for Testaverde to serve a lengthy apprenticeship. He will soon be thrust into a starting role for the 27th-ranked offense in the league.
"Testaverde has got to play," says Tampa Bay inside linebacker Jeff Davis. "But he's coming to a team that's 2-14. People are going to expect some things out of him, but I think Vinny has got to realize to just be himself, play as best he can and go on from there. He can't try to carry the load of added pressure. We know that. He should know that."
Perkins said he was very impressed by Testaverde's competitive drive when they met at the Japan Bowl. After a dinner with the Testaverde family in Miami March 11, Perkins said he knew "1,000 percent" the Buccaneers would draft him with the No. 1 pick.
"I'd put Vinny in Dan Marino's category," says Tampa Bay quarterback coach Marc Trestman, who worked with Testaverde at Miami. "He's got the ability to get the quick score, plus he's got some mobility that Dan doesn't have."