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Are fans ready to embrace the Buccaneers at 5-dash-2?

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 11:46 PM

They're 5-dash-2.

You know, it was on an October day 15 years ago that Sam Wyche made "5-dash-2" part of Tampa Bay Buccaneers lore and lexicon.

Well, here we are again.

Raheem Morris and his cardiac kids are 5-dash-2 and heading for an actual huge game this Sunday in Atlanta to decide who grabs the lead in the NFC South.

But, just as people were skeptical 15 years ago at 5-dash-2, there are a few skeptics now. Maybe "skeptics" isn't the word.

The question: Do Bucs fans care?

I started wondering that last home game. The Bucs were 3-2, better than a lot of people thought they'd be, and they were playing the St. Louis Rams at Raymond James Stadium -- and there was no one there.

More to the point, late in the game, the Bucs were being marched down the field by Josh Freeman toward another fourth-quarter win, and I looked up and saw that many people who had showed up were positively streaming toward the parking lots.

Where were they going?

This game was in doubt, and these were the Bucs, who run this town when they're on, and, well, where the hell are the people?

Bucs fever hasn't quite caught hold.

Maybe this is the week.

This 5-dash-2 seems real enough.

Josh Freeman seems more than real, if you ask me.

But it's almost as if Bucs fans have been withholding their judgment early this season, almost as if they're so beaten down that they want proof, always more proof, that this isn't going to go away.

Yes, there's the economy, too. And I think there's some deep-rooted resentment toward ownership; the feeling that, true or not, the Glazers aren't doing everything they can to make this franchise a winner again.

All of this is not the work of the liberal media. Fans, if you talked to them, have been decidedly neutral as Morris' crew has surprised the league.

Maybe it's the memory of the Bucs' last big start -- when they were 9-3 under Jon Gruden in 2008, only to collapse to 9-7, which cost Gruden his job.

Even now, the memory of 5-dash-2 works its way inside brains -- Sam I Am's false bravado. The Bucs finished 7-9 that season, and Wyche was finished, too, and in came Tony Dungy.

But there is increasingly more to like about these 2010 Bucs. More that says, yes, maybe down the road, there really is something special out there.

They have all their holes, and stats that seem to say they're average, but here they are and they're winning, winning with Josh Freeman, the fearless one, winning with a top young receiver in Mike Williams, winning with big plays on defense, winning with the B Train -- LeGarrette Blount.

And there's the ever spunky Morris, who declared his team the best in the NFC after the Bucs beat the Rams. It made you wonder if he was smoking what Jerramy Stevens apparently was selling.

What's so funny now?

They're 5-dash-2 and there's a big game coming up.

If fans are ever going to hop aboard, this would be the week for it.

There's a big game with the Falcons, and if the Bucs win, everything starts to open up, anything starts to seem possible, like that "Race to 10" idea, which doesn't seem so crazy anymore.

Maybe, just maybe ...

Sam's 5-dash-2 Bucs began losing almost as soon as "5-dash-2" was out of Sam's mouth. We knew what he was trying to do back then, back up a team that had often won by the slimmest of margins, a team that didn't really seem for real.

In the case of the 1995 Bucs, it was true. They fell apart and out went Sam.

But that team still had some young talented players -- Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks had just been drafted. That team had something that would continue to grow.

This team does, too. Look at Freeman and Williams. Look at Aqib Talib, still young, making two picks Sunday, one for a TD. If he can just keep it together upstairs ...

Don't forget first-round draft choice Gerald McCoy, easy enough to do so far.

There are a few pieces here, and they seem very, very real.

Is this the week Bucs fans go crazy over their team?

This was always going to be the Year of the Fan in Tampa Bay.

A young team coming off 3-13, owners under suspicion, a lockout possible down the road. If the Bucs were 2-dash-5 right now, this thing would be over, there would be no one in the stands at Raymond James, Morris would be on his way out after the season and before the lockout.

The fans would speak with those empty seats.

Now they have 5-dash-2. If they return home 6-dash-2 and the stadium isn't filled, then when are the fans going to come back, the NFC title game? Are Bucs fans going to try to lift that blackout to see with their own eyes?

It might not get better than this.

Then again ...

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