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The Other Pirate Team

  • Feb 29, 2012
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the expansion-mates of the Seattle Seahawks in 1976. They haven't had quite as much success, either: I don't know they're all time record, primarily because I'm too lazy to do the math. But I learned that the team has had nine coaches in its history, including the just-hired Greg Schiano, who has not yet coached a single game for them. Only two of those coaches have winning records, and those records are barely that: Tony Dungy went 56-46 in his tenure from 1996 to 2001, when he went to Indianapolis and used Peyton Manning to accumulate a resume worthy of Canton. His successor, Jon Gruden, went 60-57 from 2002 to 2008. Before Gruden won the Super Bowl coaching them in 2002, the Bucs were best known for their old, ill-advised "creamsicle" outfits and the longest losing streak in NFL history, which went 26 games, including their entire 1976 debut season. That debut season was the mark of team ineptitude until the Lions also ran the table in reverse in 2008, after the season was expanded from 14 games to 16.

The days of the Bucs have pretty much been all bad. They only have three players in Canton, and only one of them - Lee Roy Selmon - is universally recognized as a Buccaneer. One of the other two, Randall McDaniel, spent only his last two seasons with Tampa Bay, and the other was Steve Young. Yeah, THAT Steve Young.

Now that the inevitable speak about the infamous losing streak is out of the way, lets revisit the bad old days (and to be perfectly honest, this whole essay is going to be almost entirely about bad days because that's just the existence of the Buccaneers). Their first coach was former USC coach John McKay, a college football legend whose guiding hand with the Trojans had taken the team to four national championships and an incredible nine AAWU/Pac-8 championships. One very telling detail of McKay was that he hated the NFL and had said no three times in the past to NFL head coaching positions. What convinced him to give it a go in Tampa Bay was the challenge of building this new team up from scratch. And, you know, $3 million written into his contract. Now, I'm one of thse people who thinks it should be an obvious fact of life that collegiate athletics are different from big-time professional athletics, but far too many people seem to think they're the exact same. McKay's records show that he seems to have believed that, at least to an extent. The 1976 Bucs are rightly regarded as one of the worst gridiron teams ever fielded. Track down some Youtube videos and watch the incompetence. Missed tackles, fumbled snaps, and an inability to score any points resulted in the Bucs scoring a putrid 125 points for the season and being shut out four times and giving up 412. Their point-per-game average was 15. When McKay was once asked about the execution of the offensive line, McKay's famed response was "I'm in favor of it." Another great McKay-ism was "We can't win at home, we can't win on the road, so we were going to petition the league for a neutral site."

If it's even possible, the next season started off even worse. The team was shut out SIX times! It took until the last two games of that season for the Bucs to finally salvage a little dignity and win. 1978 saw them go 5-11, but rookie quarterback Doug Williams showed a flash of potential and for the first time, the Bucs played football. In 1979, the Bucs won their first five games and, in the last game of the season - which took place in a downpour which would have given Noah nervous jitters - clinched a 10-6 record with a 3-0 victory which gave them the division title. They rode the momentum into the NFC Championship, but lost to the Los Angeles Rams. They made the playoffs the next two years too.

In 1982, Doug Williams was making $120,000 per season as the starting quarterback, which was less than a lot of backups. Williams got pissed off and asked for a raise to $600,000, which given his position and past performances and market value, was actually quite reasonable. But despite McKay stepping up to bat for Williams, Williams was never offered more than $400,000, and so he bolted to the USFL, played the next two seasons with the Oklahoma Outlaws, and finally returned to the NFL and won the Super Bowl with Washington. The Bucs, meanwhile, spent the next 13 seasons losing ten games or more per year. Their fans became paper bag-wearers, and the team earned a new nickname: The Yuks. Since their cheap-ass owner was kepping the payroll among the lowest in the league, good players had little incentive to play for Tampa, and their free agents had little incentive to stay. Bo Jackson openly stated he would never play for them Bucs, but in a galactic misstep, they drafted him as the first draft pick anyway, and the NFL draft doesn't allow takebacks, so they were stuck when he decided to play baseball for the Kansas City Royals (in Bo's defense, the Royals were a great team back then).

Personnel missteps plagued the team. At one point, they were starting all-star Vinny Testaverde and had Steve Young backing him up. Young was traded to San Francisco, and we all KNOW how that turned out. Testaverde was allowed to walk away in free agency after his contract was finished. They also traded away draft picks who were eventually turned into Dan Hampton and Irving Fryar. In coaching, McKay stepped down after 1984 and Leeman Bennett was brought in to replace him after guiding the Atlanta Falcons to their first playoff win. In two years, Bennett won four games. After that, it was Ray Perkins, a former head coach for Alabama who compiled a four-year record of 32-15-1 and three bowl game victories. He brought discipline, but he also brought the three-a-day, which left his team totally drained for, you know, actual games. Richard Williamson was also tried after a period of being the team's offensive coordinator. Sam Wyche gave the fans some real optimism, because Wyche had brought the Cincinnati Bengals to the brink of victory in the Super Bowl before Joe Montana last a last-minute drive which won the game at the last second. He didn't work out, either.

Wyche wasn't a complete write-off, though. He did bring in three players - Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and John Lynch - who became the core of the defense which finally brought sunnay days back to the Tampa Bay area. In 1994, owner Hugh Culverhouse died of lung cancer, and his son forced his pop's legion of estate trustees to sell the team. Among the interested owners were Yankees owner George Steinbrenner (a truly fantastic owner, no matter what you may think of him) and Orioles owner Peter Angelos (a skeevy, snakish asshole of an owner who publicly said he would take the Bucs to Baltimore, which didn't have a team at the time). Both were outbid by current owner Malcolm Glazer, who had a serious commitment to a winning team. Glazer did everything he could to turn over a new leaf: He convinced the taxpayers to buy a new stadium. Then he changed the uniforms. Lots of teams change uniforms, but it's extremely rare they do it in the way the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did. Usually, uniform changes are subtle and focus a lot of the logo. In the rare instances that the primary colors are affected, it's usually just to add a new color for a slight accent. But the Bucs went all out, changing the orange and yellow creamsicle look and the feather-capped pirate with the knife in his teeth logo to deep red and pewter, with a badass new logo of a red Jolly Roger with a football sitting at the point where the swords cross. As far as uniform changes go, it was unusually extreme; the only major pro sports team I can think of which also tried to remake its look to such a degree is the NHL's Buffalo Sabres, who turned a blue and gold look to red, black, and gray in 1995. And it really didn't take for them. The new look was accepted more than loved, and the team returned to the blue and gold in 2006, and reintroduced the classic old logo two years after that.

Glazer's best move, however, was his first hire as head coach: Tony Dungy. Since it was Dungy's first stint as a coach, he went through the usual growing pains, bt there was more to his 6-10 first-year record than just the numbers. The team started 1-8 that season and went 5-2 down the stretch. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin developed the team's trademark Tampa 2 defensive scheme, which became a blueprint widely copied by the rest of the league. In 1997, the Bucs went 10-6 and were back in the playoffs after a 15-year absence. The defense dominated the league, but Dungy couldn't put together a competent offense, so the team still struggled a little, going 8-8 and 9-7 before Dungy was fired and replaced by Jon Gruden. Don't feel too bad for Dungy, though; he was hired by the Indianapolis Colts, where he commanded one of the most dominating offenses in the league and won the Super Bowl in 2006, beating the Bears. He's retired now, and no matter what people say about his weaknesses, he's still considered a man of great character around the league, and his players were always fiercely loyal to him.

The Bucs weren't happy with the selection of coaches that followed Dungy. Steve Spurrier, Bill Parcells, and Marvin Lewis were the candidates. Spurrier went to Washington and Parcells just let the opportunity go. Lewis looked like the certain hire, but Glazer was so pissed about getting yet another defensive guy that they overruled the GM's decision and tried to hire Jon Gruden. But Gruden was still under contract with the Oakland Raiders. Eventually, the Raiders just released Gruden so the Bucs could sign him. It cost the Bucs four draft picks and $8 million, and the league was so displeased that it put an edict on trading players for coaches. The move did prove a smart short-term one, though, as Gruden retooled the offense got the Bucs to the Super Bowl. In an incredible scene of poetic justice, they met Gruden's ex-team, the Raiders, there. Oakland's replacement coach was Bill Callahan, their own offensive coordinator and a royal dunderhead as a head coach. When Gruden left, he didn't bother to change the playbook, so the Super Bowl that year was a contest between two teams in which one coach had designed both playbooks. Gruden used what he knew about Oakland's plays against Callahan. Callahan never called a rushing play. Gruden's Bucs won a blowout, 48-21.

Gruden couldn't keep up the momentum, though. The next season started off well with the team going 4-0, but on Monday Night Football, they played a game against their own last coach. Tony Dungy's Indianapolis Colts were outgunned for most of the game, but they launched a 21-point comeback with about four minutes left and stunned the Bucs. It was all downhill from there. The Buccaneers have been having unpredictable, wavering seasons since then. Gruden is gone, Lynch is gone, Sapp is gone, and all-star fullback Mike Alstott is gone. It's tough to predict them now.

I know the Glazer family is serious about keeping the Bucs in contention, but the team is only constant in its unpredictability now. You have to at least respect the Glazers for their commitment. But hey, the Bucs are at least easy to root for, and they have some good-looking cheerleaders.

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February 29, 2012
Having been a lifelong Saints fan, I know exactly how Bucs fans have felt over the years. I've watched Tampa rise and fall and have never really had any passionate love or hate for them. Plus, I'm one of a very small batch of people who actually liked those old creamsicle colors.
March 01, 2012
It can't be that small a batch. They still wear the creamsicles as alternates.
February 29, 2012
You really do your football research. Thanks for all the detailled history.
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Nicholas Croston ()
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Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers participate in the National Football League (NFL) and are based in Tampa, Florida. Tampa Bay plays its games in the South of the NFC. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, founded in 1976, play home games at Raymond James Stadium and have won one NFL Titles (2002).
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