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PRO FOOTBALL '87 : COACHES, PLAYERS, TEAMS AND TRENDS TO WATCH THIS SEASON : HONEYMOONS AFTER MIAMI : For Starters, Testaverde Doesn't Mind Second-Stringing Along, Scouts' Honor

September 10, 1987|GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI | Times Staff Writer

TAMPA, Fla. — So far, we know that Vinny Testaverde says no to drugs and drink, that he personally answers his own fan mail, that he tools around town in a black Jaguar that has a dashboard worth more than the family Buick.

What else? We know that he lends $10 to elderly couples stranded in parking lots, that the Waltons would have envied his family life, that a college teammate once compared Testaverde's nose to the front end of a Concorde.

What we don't know--what is driving the locals absolutely crackers--is if Testaverde, the $8.2-million Boy Scout in cleats, can play quarterback for the win-starved Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Yes, he can.

Against the Cincinnati Bengals, in his very first appearance at Tampa Stadium, Testaverde threw three touchdown passes in about six minutes. The Bengals still won the exhibition game, 31-30, but Testaverde (16 of 29, 233 yards) made his point: he can play.

No, he can't.

Against the Indianapolis Colts last Saturday, Testaverde completed 6 of 24 passes for 42 yards. While several members of Testaverde's offensive group later found themselves on the waiver wire, the performance still caused Tampa Bay optimists everywhere to reconsider.

Remember, the Buccaneers have seen manners before. They had quarterback Steve Young, sort of a sincere Eddie Haskell with money. The Buccaneers have seen whopper contracts before. Again, we offer Young, the Buccaneers' most valuable player in 1986 who has since been dispatched to the San Francisco 49ers. And the Buccaneers have seen potential, plenty of it. This was the team that introduced Doug Williams to the National Football League, that was convinced Steve Spurrier was a quarterback to cherish, that swore Jack Thompson was destined for the Hall of Fame.

Yes, well, Williams is now a backup for the Washington Redskins. Spurrier is the head football coach at Duke University. And get this: Thompson is a local promotional representative for--you guessed it--Testaverde.

As for legacies, the Buccaneers are best known for their losses. So many to choose from, too.

Leeman Bennett, the most recent head coach to be fired, left town with a sparkling 4-28 record. Before him, it was John McKay (44-88-1). In all, the Buccaneers have won five games or fewer in eight of the franchise's 11 seasons. They are 17-65 on the road. Opponents have outscored them by more than 1,000 points.

Now there is Ray Perkins, best known for helping assemble the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, succeeding legendary Coach Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama and drafting one Mr. Testaverde.

It was also Perkins, in a long-awaited announcement, who named veteran Steve DeBerg, not Testaverde, the starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons.

To which Testaverde replies: "Everybody expects me to jump right in there. You have to realize that Steve's a 10-year veteran. That's a lot.

"My answer to a question like that last week--Who should be the starter, me or Steve?--was, if I was put in the game, I feel comfortable enough to get the job done."

Testaverde is accustomed to this sort of thing. He waited three years until he became the starting quarterback for Sewanhaka High School in Floral Park, N.Y. He spent a long year at the Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy before his grades were good enough to enroll at the University of Miami. Once there, he had to wait until Bernie Kosar left after the 1984 season to become the starter.

Now this. "I mean, that's fine with me," Testaverde says. "I'm in no big rush. I want to be in there, don't get me wrong, but I believe in Coach and what he sees. If he thinks Steve is going to get the job done better, then I'm not going to disagree with him until I feel that I'm making it obvious that I'm getting the job done better."

History tends to use Testaverde as an example of what happens to those who wait and work. At old Sewanhaka High, Testaverde left the premises with a diploma and honorable mention All-American status. At the University of Miami, home of soft knits, pastels and guerrilla warfare attire, Testaverde became the school's all-time leader in passing yardage and touchdowns . . . in only two seasons. He also has a Heisman Trophy to call his very own.

So Testaverde doesn't mind delays--he thrives on them, actually. He is, well, too true, too accommodating. Negatives. Where are the negatives?

Let's see, at the annual Buccaneers rookie show, Testaverde, a former member of the Iron Arrow leadership honorary fraternity at UM, played chaperon to two strippers. He escorted the scantily attired women to a makeshift stage where an embarrassed Perkins awaited. It was, said teammates, the first time rookie quarterback and head coach took turns blushing. "We don't want to talk about that," he says. "That wasn't my idea."

Here's one: Testaverde occasionally can be seen cruising around the Gulf in a $150,000, 34-foot powerboat that easily reaches speeds of 70 m.p.h. Surely there must have been some wake law violations.

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