ST. LOUIS ( -- Like Shaun King, the story seems to get better every week.
Local boy grows up idolizing hometown Tampa Bay Buccaneers, goes away to college and returns to lead the once-struggling franchise within one step of the Super Bowl.
He makes his first NFL start on ''Monday Night Football'' and wins. He overcomes second-half deficits in four of five victories en route to the NFC championship game. And, as it turns out, he's pretty handy with a calculator, too.
Not to keep up with his statistics, but rather how much it meant to be drafted by his beloved Bucs.
''I liked it. It saved me a lot of money. I didn't have to fly my parents in every weekend,'' he said. ''I did some math. It probably saved me 15 or 20 grand. It's expensive. You fly your parents in, you've got to feed them, too.''
King grinned, flashing the same smile that spreads across his face when he tells you the pressure of being a rookie quarterback on a title contender hasn't affected him.
The same smile that appears when he's pressed to continue talking about living out a lifelong dream among family and friends.
''It's exciting. It seems like everybody wins. Everybody calls the house and says how proud they are and how good the Bucs make them feel,'' the 22-year-old King said. ''That makes you feel good because those are people who you've actually known growing up.''
On Sunday, the quarterback who revived a struggling program at Gibbs High School in nearby St. Petersburg before heading off to Tulane, where he also led a resurgence, will try to become the first rookie quarterback to get his team to the Super Bowl.
The St. Louis Rams are two-touchdown favorites in the NFC title game, but King has a knack for defying the odds. There are more than a few people who feel he'll do it again.
''The confidence the whole team has is a reflection of Shaun, and that's a lot to say for a rookie,'' coach Tony Dungy said. ''But that's the biggest thing he's given us, the confidence that no matter what the situation is, we feel like we can win the ball game.''
King, who in 1998 led Tulane to its first unbeaten season in 57 years, caught Dungy's attention while the coach and his assistants were working with the South team at last year's Senior Bowl.
They had a chance to see how he fared in Tampa Bay's system, took time to get to know him personally and watched how his teammates responded to his leadership.
And, if that wasn't enough to convince the Bucs he was their quarterback of the future, King closed the deal when he worked out for Dungy, offensive coordinator Mike Shula, quarterbacks coach Clyde Christenson and general manager Rich McKay on a day when the wind was gusting to about 40 mph.
''A lot of guys would have canceled. But not Shaun,'' Christenson said.
King said if he proved he could throw in the wind, ''they'd figure I could throw when it wasn't windy.''
That part of the story doesn't surprise teammates who say King has been unflappable since the day he walked into training camp. His calm demeanor earned him the nickname ''Smoothie'' and his 5-1 record as a starter has kept the Bucs afloat since injuries sidelined Trent Dilfer and backup Eric Zeier.
Dilfer hasn't played since breaking his right collarbone on Nov. 28. Zeier, who was hurt on Oct. 31, has been unable to get off the bench since recovering from bruised ribs because King quickly established himself.
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