- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 2006

Here it is the sixth week of the NFL season, and four teams are still looking for their first victory. Guess Vince Lombardi was right: Winning isn’t everything.

Oh, there was a second part of that quote?

One of the less-than-fearsome foursome, the 0-5 Titans, will be at FedEx Field on Sunday. The others are the 0-5 Lions, the 0-4 Bucs and, last and certainly least, the 0-4 Raiders. In case you were wondering, it’s been 15 years since there were so many winless clubs at this point — and at least a quarter century since there have been more. (Sorry, that’s as far back as I checked.)

It’s enough to make you wonder if parity is a myth. After all, weren’t free agency and the hard salary cap supposed to make the playing field more level than ever in the NFL? Alas, what they really seem to have done — at least this year — is create an overabundance of bad football teams.

With so many horses in the race, we might just see the first 0-16 club in league history. And wouldn’t that be a swell start to the Roger Goodell Era? Folks in Tampa can only hope it isn’t the Bucs, who already have the distinction of putting up the only 0-14 record in league history (in 1976, their first year).

It’s not easy eluding victory for an entire season. Sooner or later, even a blind squirrel finds a fumble in the end zone. Since 1976, nine teams have taken a serious run at 0-16 — that is, lost their first 10 games — but all of them eventually stumbled into a win.

Two, however, did come within a point of “perfection.” The 1980 Saints made it to 0-14 before beating the Jets 21-20 on a late touchdown, and the 2000 Chargers made it to 0-12 before sneaking past the Chiefs 17-16 on a 52-yard fourth quarter field goal. So close. Close enough to make you think 0-16 is possible, if not inevitable.

Whether any of this year’s Fumbling Four is up to the task remains to be seen. There’s a lot of football to be played yet. But you have to like the chances of any club that’s led by an inexperienced quarterback, and Tennessee (rookie Vince Young), Tampa Bay (rookie Bruce Gradkowski) and Oakland (first-time starter Andrew Walter) all have one.

Let’s not forget, when Carolina went 1-15 in 2001, it had rookie Chris Weinke at QB, and when Dallas went 1-15 in 1989, it had rookies Troy Aikman and Steve Walsh taking the snaps. (Of course, Weinke was 47 years old, but that’s another matter.)

Unfortunately — and this is a true tragedy — none of the winless teams play each other this season. What are the odds of that? Thus, we won’t get to see any signs like the one that hung in Veterans Stadium in 1997, the day the 0-5 Redskins did battle with the 0-5 Eagles. “May the worst team lose,” the bed sheet said.

The rest of the Bucs’ schedule is positively brutal. It starts with the Bengals and Eagles — “two of the hottest offenses in pro football,” in coach Jon Gruden’s estimation — after which come the Giants, Saints, Panthers, Redskins, Cowboys, Steelers, Falcons and Bears. The Steelers and the Redskins are the only ones with losing records at the moment and they both made the playoffs last year. Maybe Chris Simms, minus his spleen, will come back late in the season and guide Tampa Bay to a face-saving win over the Browns. But if Simms doesn’t pull an El Cid, my money’s on the Bucs to go all the way.

The Lions score too many points — they’re averaging 25 in their last three games — to finish 0-for-2006. Eventually, it’ll be Their Day. The Titans also figure to break through one of these weeks. Heck, they nearly did Sunday at Indy, holding Peyton Manning and Co. scoreless for more than a half before losing, 14-13.

But the Raiders — keep an eye on them. Especially since, in addition to their wretchedness, they’re beset by turmoil. Translation: Randy Moss has opened his big yap again. The other day, after Fox’s Howie Long questioned his effort, Moss actually made the following comment on his radio show:

“For Howie Long to say something like that is kind of bad because he knows, as a former NFL player, what it takes to get up for a game every Sunday. You got to practice week in and week out. Back in them days, he was probably popping pills and tablets and all that to get them up and going. But nowadays with the drug-testing policies and the performance-enhancing policy, then it’s hard for a player to just go out there with just himself and go out there week in and week out.”

So there’s another possible explanation for all these bad teams — players can’t take greenies anymore, can’t get away with anything. Never thought of that. Too bad, come to think of it, there isn’t a pill you can swallow to make these clubs just … disappear.

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