Flynn's Focus

May 7 - It's not bad being the son of a Super Bowl MVP, but Chris Simms, whose father, Phil, was a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback for the New York Giants, is eager to take a step outside of his father's shadow and make a name for himself as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. How is Tampa Bay's rookie quarterback adjusting to life in the NFL? Read all about it in this installment of Flynn's Focus.

Chris Simms wouldn't change a thing about his childhood.

He would, however, like to step outside the shadow of his father, Phil, who was a Super Bowl MVP for the New York Giants, and make a name for himself in the NFL.

The fact that both father and son accomplished the feat of making it to the NFL is impressive, but they took two different roads to the pros.

Phil Simms entered the NFL out of Morehead State University as a first-round draft pick of the New York Giants in 1979 and he played in 12 games as a rookie. Simms played 15 seasons in New York before he retired from the NFL after the 1993 season.

During his 15-year career, Simms didn't produce Hall of Fame-type numbers. He completed 60 percent or more of his passes in a season just twice, but he still managed to win two Super Bowls, earn two trips to the Pro Bowl and become the Giants' all-time passing leader.

Although there was a 10-year lapse between the time Phil Simms hung up his helmet and cleats and the time his son entered NFL, Chris Simms spent his four-year college career at Texas trying to live up to expectations some say were set by his father's successful pro career.

"I definitely think there were probably more expectations for me because my last name was Simms, but that comes with the territory," said Chris Simms. "I don't really worry about what everyone else says. I always say the only opinions that I really want to listen to are the ones of my coaches and my teammates. They are really the only ones that matter."

But the opinions of others might have swayed some NFL teams to pass Simms up in the first two rounds of the draft. Simms went from a potential first-round pick to the last pick of the third round.

Despite leading Texas to a 25-6 record as a starter, Simms has had a hard time shaking the constant comparisons to his father and his critics' constant criticism about his "inability" to win "the big game".

Those two factors played a huge role in Simms falling into the Bucs' lap in the third round, and after getting over his initial disgust with the other 31 NFL teams that passed on him in the first two rounds of the draft, Simms is starting to think it all happened for a reason.

"After the first round, I pretty much said I hated every team in the first round," said Simms. "I couldn't hate Tampa Bay because they didn't have a first-round pick, so it kind of worked out good. I was sitting there with my dad, and he's trying to console me a little bit. He said, 'are you all right? Just hang in there. It doesn't matter what happens.' I was like, 'I hate every team here. I hate them all. I don't even want to play for anybody.' Then Coach Gruden called and just brightened up my day. The opportunity to work with a guy like that is second-to-none."

With Pro Bowl Bucs QB Brad Johnson a lock at the starting position and veterans Shaun King and Jim Miller battling for the No. 2 spot, Simms will finally get some relief from the spotlight.

"When I got to Austin, I think everybody expected me to win the Heisman my freshman year, and that was a little unrealistic," said Simms. "I think all in all here I can escape to the background a little, learn what I have to learn and take it one day at a time and learn from all these great players."

While Simms was peeved with his draft-day status, the Bucs certainly didn't complain about landing him where they did.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden couldn't offer an explanation for Simms' drop on the first day of the draft, but he said Simms' draft status won't mean much once he takes the field as a quarterback in the NFL.

"I keep hearing those questions," Gruden said when asked why Simms fell so low in the draft. "I have no idea. I still don't understand the draft. That draft is for organization and agents and slotting and contracts and all that. He's the last pick in the third round; why that is, I don't know. But we're fortunate, I think, to have acquired him in this draft. Now it's a matter of what we do together. We've got a lot of guys from different walks of life. Kerry Jenkins didn't even get drafted. Brad Johnson was a late draft pick. Just because you're a first-round pick or a third-round pick is really meaningless in a lot of ways.

Simms might have good reason to be unhappy about what happened to him on draft day, but Gruden said it's time for his rookie quarterback to turn the page and focus on competing for a job on Tampa Bay's 53-man roster.

"Forget about where he was picked in the draft," said Gruden. "He's battling Brad Johnson, Shaun King and Jim Miller for a position on this football team. If you're going to be real sensitive, think-skinned guy about where you were picked, I wish you luck in this league. But he's over that. He's got to really concentrate on the verbiage, the terminology and get himself mentally squared away where he can compete."

Simms' attitude at last weekend's three-day mini-camp suggested he had already moved on.

He didn't receive a lot reps at mini-camp, but Simms did take plenty of looks at his playbook, which is, of course, foreign to him at this point.

"It's Chinese," Simms said of Gruden's playbook. "There are a few things, the basic terminology, comes easy. But there's the next-level stuff that Brad Johnson is doing right now that really is just completely foreign to me. It's something that is going to take me a little time. I need to see it and keep practicing it."

Three veteran quarterbacks will report to training camp with Simms on July 18, and all inquiring minds want to know if Gruden will keep all four quarterbacks on his 53-man roster.

"There's always a chance of that," Gruden said of keeping four quarterbacks on his 53-man roster. "Jim Miller's health is an issue but if he does come around physically, I have a strong feeling about him that he's going to be a legitimate competitor everyday for us. I like what Shaun King has done here in the last month. It's a competitive situation and we're going to do everything we can do keep the right guys."

While the Bucs will probably only keep three signal-callers, Simms' third-round draft status will likely guarantee him a roster spot for at least one season.

"There's no timetable," Simms said of a deadline for learning Gruden's playbook. "I'm just here to learn. Brad Johnson went to the Pro Bowl last year and won the Super Bowl, so he's just a great player and I have tremendous respect for him. I really just want to pick his brain here for a few years and see what he has to say."

After spending most of his football days in the shadow of his father's legacy, Chris Simms will spend his rookie season shadowing Tampa Bay's more experienced quarterbacks, and Gruden said he expects the 6-foot-4, 220-pound signal-caller to compete and be ready to play if needed this season.

"We played and started three different guys last year," said Gruden. "There ain't no spoon feeding for anybody around here. There's a crisis and there's a matter of urgency for him to pick this up right now and here today and every day. We've got to get that done and we've got to get that across loud and clear. We've got to get him up to speed to where he can come out here and compete and showcase the things that he can do."

Simms is mindful of the fact that third-string QB Shaun King became Tampa Bay's starter halfway through his rookie (1999) season due to injuries sustained by Trent Dilfer and Eric Zeier. In fact, all three of Tampa Bay's quarterbacks started and played in at least one regular season game last season, which means there's a chance Simms could see action on the field much earlier than anticipated.

"You have to approach every season acting like you're going to play because you never know," said Simms. "The NFL is a crazy league and people get hurt all the time. You never know what could happen. I'm going to try and do everything I can to get ready for that first game, and if anything did happen, hopefully I'd be able to just go in there and at least move the offense a little bit."

Chris Simms may want to step outside the shadow of his father, and while the former Longhorn may in fact do that, he'll have to patiently await the opportunity to prove his critics wrong because he probably won't get the chance to seriously compete for a starting job in Tampa for at least two years.

There's obviously a strong quarterback-related bloodline that runs in the Simms family, but Gruden finds it difficult to see the similarities between Chris and his father.

"I call him Chris Simpson," said Gruden. "He's no relation to Phil Simms. He's left-handed, he comes from Texas, and the other guy was a right-hander from Kentucky, so you tell me what common traits they have there."

While they may not share similar traits, the Bucs are hoping Chris Simms will share something his father does have -- two Super Bowl rings.


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