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Bucs Nickerson Out Four Weeks

A difficult season for Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Hardy Nickerson just got tougher as he learned Saturday he will miss at least the next four weeks with a heart condition.

Nickerson was admitted to St. Joseph's Hospital Saturday and was diagnosed with pericarditis but is expected to be released Monday. Pericarditis is an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart, usually caused by a virus.

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Nickerson is expected to make a complete recovery. The 12-year veteran apparently is pain-free and will simply need rest and medication. This condition causes no muscle damage to the heart and it should not limit or affect his playing career. He should not suffer any long-term effects from the inflammation.

However, this is the latest bad news in what has been a rather rough season for Nickerson, who had not missed a game since sitting out two contests in 1994 with a sprained ankle. He has started Tampa Bay's last 58 games.

Nickerson was fined $7,500 for spitting on Carolina fullback William Floyd in a 16-13 loss to the Panthers on November 18th. Nickerson later apologized for the incident.

The three-time Pro Bowler has managed only one sack in 10 games this year and has failed to lead the Buccaneers' defense to the same level of success it had last season. Tampa Bay has given up an average of 28 points in the last three games, losing the last two.

After making the playoffs for the first time since 1982 with a 10-6 record last season, much was expected of Nickerson and the Buccaneers. Many picked them as a Super Bowl contender.

Instead, the Bucs enter this Sunday's game against Detroit with a 4-6 record, five games back of the NFC Central-leading Minnesota Vikings. Still, tey are only one game behind Arizona and New Orleans for the NFC's final wild-card spot.

Nickerson, who played his first six seasons with Pittsburgh, is one of only four players in Tampa Bay history to earn multiple trips to the Pro Bowl (1993, 1996, 1997). Four out of his five previous seasons with the Bucs, he has led the club in tackles.

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