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Columnist
Heat of battle or not, just no excuse for loss
By Mike Imrem | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/22/2008 12:09 AM

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Tommie Harris was asked late Sunday afternoon whether the Buccaneers took a lot of cheap shots.

"Yeah," he said.

"Don't give them that," Alex Brown cautioned from the next locker. "They won the game."

"Yeah," Harris said. "They won the game."

The final score was Bucs 27, Bears 24 in overtime, and it was no surprise the feisty game turned on Peanut Tillman's unnecessary-roughness penalty.

"You can't have that," Bears coach Lovie Smith conceded.

Tampa Bay's offense was stopped on third down at its own 10-yard line with 7:22 left in OT. The Bucs were going to have to punt the Bears into good field position.

Ah, but a skirmish broke out beneath a pile of humanity, with Bucs tackle Jeremy Trueblood punching Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye.

Tillman, a Bears cornerback, rushed in and blasted the scrum. An official saw him and threw a flag.

The play came in the heat of a heated game in which, starting with the opening kickoff, push often came to shove.

As evenly matched as these two teams appeared to be, however, composure figured to figure in the outcome.

Tillman's penalty awarded the Bucs a first down, and they proceeded to drive to the winning field goal.

"I'm not condoning what Peanut did," Harris said.

Earlier, however, Harris did try to explain why a football player does what Tillman did.

Like, "(The Buccaneers') line is dirty." And, "Trueblood is dirty and he wants you to know it." And, "A lot of us were in there fighting because you got to get things right."

In other words the primary rationale for what Tillman did was this is football, football is a man's game, and a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

"Would you leave a partner on (the field) in war?" Harris said. "No. It's the principle. You see two guys jumping on a teammate, you go there to help."

First of all, Harris clearly never has been to war. Second of all, standing on perceived football principle forced the Bears to fall under the weight of an undisciplined penalty.

Wasted words aside, Harris understands that. So does Smith. So does defensive coordinator Bob Babich. ("Obviously we would have liked to have the drive stopped.")

Apparently, Tillman also understands. He was gone by the time the mass of media arrived in the locker room, but his sentiments showed up on a quote sheet.

"It was a costly mistake on my part," he said. "The saying is, 'They always see the second push.' I shouldn't have put myself in that situation. I've got to be smarter than that."

All for one and one for all is great in three-musketeering, but one priority overrides everything else on the football field.

As Chiefs coach Herm Edwards once famously put it, "You play to win the game."

One mistake does not a loss make, but the Bears' margin for error is so slim that one play at a critical time can irreparably tilt the balance.

The standings in the morning paper tell the story. There's a "W" for wins and an "L" for losses, but no "M" for macho.

The Bucs won, the Bears lost, and if you're scoring at home, the only "M" next to Tillman's name is for mistake.

mimrem@dailyherald.com