I haven’t been too keen on the NFL experience over the last couple of years. My favorite team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are always fun to watch, even when they haven’t had very good seasons, but so far this year they look spectacular. And there are some things worth discussing about what makes winning teams great that gives sports a unique way to express the abstract psychology of success. Of course I didn’t start this season with very high hopes as Jameis Winston got in trouble yet again for sexually molesting a young woman, this time an Uber Driver. And I haven’t been too impressed with Dirk Koetter as a head coach. I love the owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and have supported their continued efforts at being a great team by making changes every year to be competitive, but the results just haven’t been there for me, so I didn’t enter this season too excited about them or the NFL. But after two games and two wins to start the season against very good teams in the Saints and Eagles, there are some things worth talking about that involve the spirit of winning and nature of teamwork.
At the heart of this sudden success is the backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick who has had back to back 400-yard games. Honestly, I think the playbook in Tampa Bay is so good, and to their credit, the team went out and filled the offense with great receivers and a good line that most quarterbacks could be successful under those conditions. But it’s what Fitzpatrick does as a leader that has made that team come together in a really special way. It’s not the typical kind of thing that Xs and O analysis can quantify, but it is unmistakable when you see it. Leadership ability is probably the most valuable attribute in any business. We build our sports recreation as a society to exhibit it when we can and as fans we marvel when we see it. And for Fitzpatrick maybe it took him until age 35 to finally figure out how to put it all together. Maybe the three-game suspension to Jameis Winston was the greatest thing to ever have happened to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers because it allowed Ryan Fitzpatrick to start the season knowing he was the starting quarterback and getting reps with the first team and at this point in his career he could afford to play loose. But nobody thought this was going to happen where he has been the best player on offense in the NFL for two consecutive weeks.
You can always tell when someone who is supposed to be a leader is faking it, and that has been the case of Jameis Winston. He’s a young kid with great charisma, but he has been trying too hard to establish himself and that is why Tampa Bay hasn’t been winning the last couple of years. If you can’t get the team to buy into the team leader at the quarterback position, then its going to be a long season. But sometimes a kid like Jameis just never really gets it. The same can be said about Cam Newton. Great raw talent, very likable personality, but when he’s down, he pulls the whole team down. And when he’s up, he pulls everyone up. But when a savvy veteran like Fitzpatrick gets a shot with over 15 years of experience to show his stuff without the pressure of being a franchise quarterback, then it’s a special thing that we often don’t see.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is having fun playing the game of football and it shows, and the rest of the team has rallied behind his enthusiasm. He was given a good team by management to work with, a starting job due to the suspension and a setting sun on his own career to make a point and he is simply a smart guy utilizing all those conditions. So they are calling it Fitzmagic in Tampa Bay what has happened to the team since the old quarterback started throwing the ball all over the place and raising the level of play for the entire team with his natural leadership. That leadership has been on display before with other teams, and it was obvious last year on the HBO series Hardknocks but with Jameis as the starting quarterback, and with the very expensive price tag of the franchise player, Fitzpatrick had to be happy to be a backup and help wherever he could.
So the ticker fell his way, he gained a starting job and if the Buccaneers are smart, which I think they are, they’ll keep Fitzpatrick in that starting job. Jameis Winston has been reckless and is still learning about natural leadership, so there is no reason he should be the starting quarterback when Fitzpatrick is obviously in a special place that many teams would kill for to discover among their roster. Leadership, especially natural leadership, is the most precious commodity in any business and with Fitzpatrick Tampa Bay as a football organization has found one. He’s the right guy at the right time and he is old enough to understand this time in history. That much was clear when he did his press conference after the Eagle’s game dressed up in an outfit from DeSean Jackson. All great leaders know how to have fun under the intense pressure of expectation and in that one gesture and very mature press conference where Fitzpatrick gave credit to the entire team for the win when the entire story could have been about his second consecutive 400 yard game, he showed that he had the heart of the team and the best shot at a chance to win a Super Bowl in 2018.
I still watch sports because I’m always hoping for these types of stories in the dialogue of the action. I have been a Buccaneer fan all these years during winning times and not so winning times because I know the owners are committed to finding just such a combination every year. They are always trying to win and when they aren’t they make moves in coaching and players to position themselves. And all that work has paid off. Even when their franchise guy went down due to a suspension and the schedule for the start of their year looked ominous. The Bucs have the Pittsburg Steelers on this coming Monday Night Football on prime-time television. The organization went the extra mile to sign Fitzpatrick. I couldn’t help but notice that the yards after the carry from Jackson, Evans, and Howard had just a little more swagger to them likely because they believe in Ryan Fitzpatrick. If that team keeps playing like that, they very much likely will be a Super Bowl team. And out of all the bad stories regarding the NFL lately, especially the flag drama from spoiled brat football players, the joy of such games come from watching teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hitting everything on all cylinders. It is a thing of beauty to watch and is very rare in any sport. But at this point in time the Fitzmagic show in Tampa is the hottest ticket in town and it’s a story that the NFL badly needs, and I’m very glad to see it happening.
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