TAMPA — Thursday, game weeks, was traditionally when Josh Freeman spoke with media, on a podium, behind a lectern.
So much for tradition. Thursday, media swept into the locker room looking for the Bucs' new backup quarterback. Freeman saw them. He was half-dressed. He finished with his pants, grabbed his shoes and vamoosed, out the door, off limits. He hadn't even put on a shirt.
First came Shoeless Joe.
Now there's Shirtless Josh.
Say it ain't so.
Say something, anything.
Maybe Freeman was taking the high road. Or perhaps he was in a hurry to give street directions to the ESPN crew down for the exclusive.
Nice, Josh. Real nice.
In fairness, Freeman has usually answered most of our questions, albeit lifelessly.
But wouldn't it have been great if the exiled QB, now officially Schianoed, had come into the locker room Thursday, smiled and said “I know we wanted to get more quarterback sacks this season, but this is ridiculous.”
Bad-a-boom. Ah, funny Josh. It's in there somewhere. People tell me about it.
Wouldn't it have been grand if Free had stood there and, while praising Mike Glennon, and with all due respect, said that he still thought he was this team's best chance to win? Ah, the forceful Josh, the fourth-quarter, take-charge Josh.
I guess he didn't have it in him.
Once upon a time, it was all about 5. Once upon a time, in 2009, Josh Freeman threw three touchdowns and willed the Bucs to a comeback win over the Packers — his very first NFL start. Once upon a time, in 2010, Freeman threw 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Once, he was a franchise quarterback. Thursday, he was an empty locker.
There are few things more nonexistent, more awkward, than an NFL former starting quarterback still in residence. There are never ruffles or flourishes, so there were none between Freeman and Glennon, now the 33rd starting quarterback in Bucs history — no passing of the torch or the Josh Freeman Tuesday radio show time slot.
It's on to the next one. The Bucs are big on that. For 38 years, this franchise, for all sorts of reasons, has never grown a franchise quarterback — 38 years and not one Bucs QB has ever gotten to a second contract with this team. Josh Freeman was going to be the one, once upon a time.
He is currently listed as the No. 2 quarterback behind Glennon, but that will have to change. Freeman can't go back in a game for this team. We'll still see him on TV sometimes, when Glennon comes to the sideline. Forgotten, but not gone.
Thursday would have been a wonderful day to see the all-in Josh, the Josh we once saw, who when he came into this league was on a mission. There was draft night, after Freeman was selected. He was asked about being selected 16 spots after top pick Matthew Stafford and 12 spots behind Mark Sanchez.
“They're good quarterbacks,” Josh Freeman said. “… But if I had a pick, I'd take myself.”
What happened to that Josh?
He was hammered into pulp over five seasons, lately by his second NFL head coach, or misguided handlers, bad advice, maybe self doubt. Don't make mistakes. Don't say anything. He crumbled before our eyes.
Wouldn't it have been great if once, just once, Freeman had stood on the podium and fought off the death rattle, if he'd said “This is my team” or “Fran Tarkenton doesn't know what I have inside me. I'm a good quarterback.” Even the illusion of confidence, of leadership, would have done.
Tampa Bay might have liked Josh Freeman, a lot, if it had ever gotten to know him. But it didn't, just as it doesn't know Greg Schiano. They won't let us in. There's a profound disconnect between this franchise and this community. The TV blackouts might be lifted, but darkness has gathered nonetheless, and short of winning there might be no way to stop it — or care about it.
That's not Josh Freeman's problem anymore. He'll leave and go somewhere else. Maybe he'll even win a Super Bowl, like Doug Williams did, or Steve Young did, or Trent Dilfer did. Yes, maybe it will be like that in another place, for another team, maybe on another podium.
Thursday, he was just a shirtless guy hurrying to the nearest exit. I guess there really is nothing else to say.