Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Our Picks of the Week take advantage of early hype, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (with special guest Flavor Flav)
In the 21st century, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may not consistently be a playoff threat, but fans can at least take solace that their team isn’t synonymous with losing – because for quite a while, this team led the league in little more than punchlines.
The Buccaneers were born in 1976 along with the Seattle Seahawks and, considering how the late 70s/80s would play out for these two teams, should probably be called preemies. Perhaps a tad too greedily, NFL team owners hurried the franchises into existence as the league’s only expansion in the 70s or 80s – had they simply waited five or six more years, both the USFL and players’ strikes of the 80s might never have happened.
In reality, though, what never happened for nearly two seasons of Buccaneers football was winning. Wooed over from USC, legendary head coach John McKay proved little more than the college game differs fairly radically than the pros’, and that an expansion draft is no substitute for recruiting. In a bit of a fruity decision, the Buccaneers played their first season in the AFC West and played a schedule of a single game against the other 13 AFC teams plus a 14th against the Seahawks.
Tampa Bay’s results in that first season were incredible – and not in a positive way. The Buccaneers were shut out in their first two games before finally landing 9 points on field goals in a week three loss. The team’s first touchdowns came in garbage time of the 42-17 loss to the Baltimore Colts in week four. In that year, the Buccaneers were shut out five times and averaged 8.9 points per game.
Things looked even worse in 1977: Through 12 games, the pitiful Buccaneers had scored just 53 points, with 23 coming in a single loss to Seattle, and had been shut out *six* times. Relief came in the form of the beatdog New Orleans Saints and St. Louis Cardinals, allowing Tampa Bay to run up 50 points in the final two weeks of the season for the team’s first-ever away and home wins.
But even with a ragtag team of castoffs, McKay (not to mention emergent badasses DL Lee Roy Selmon and QB Doug Williams) would not be kept down for long. In the team’s fourth season, Tampa Bay stunningly advanced all the way to the NFC championship game, only to lose to the Los Angeles Rams. (And wouldn’t a matchup of Steelers-Buccaneers in Super Bowl XIV have been interesting?) Tampa Bay got into the playoffs twice more in the following three years, but soon the joking was back…
Between 1983 and ’96, Tampa Bay *once* managed a record better than 6-10 and were, needless to say, utterly irrelevant. And then Tony Dungy, arguably the most important man in Buccaneers history, was hired on as head coach. Rapidly building one flashy and impressive defense, Dungy got the Bucs into the playoffs with Trent Dilfer, Shaun King and Brad Johnson as starting quarterbacks four times before departing in 2001. After acquiring Jon “Chucky” Gruden to coach the team for ’02, and Dungy’s former team smoked Gruden’s former team in Super Bowl XXXVII to give Tampa Bay is first NFL title.
Sadly, the mostly-losing ways of this franchise have returned since that magical season of 2002. The Buccaneers have made the playoffs just twice since then, both times under Gruden, while the other three NFC South teams (New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons) have all enjoyed quite a bit of success.
It all adds up to the all-time 32nd “best” win-loss record among active NFL franchises, but hey, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are just 40 games behind the Chicago/St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals…
For the official Tampa Bay Buccaneers website, click here.