The Bucs – An Unrequited Love Story

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Full disclosure. I’ve been a dyed-in-the-wool Tampa Bay Buccaneer fan since the beginning. Tampa is my home town. My family first moved to Tampa from Key West, Florida and Havana, Cuba in the 1880s. I have deep roots there. I remain a faithful Buccaneer fan.

My devotion to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers began before Tampa was awarded a NFL franchise. In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Tampa Sports Authority successfully negotiated preseason NFL games to be played in Tampa Stadium. This was an effort by these community and business leaders to convince the NFL that Tampa could support a NFL team. In August, 1968 the first such preseason game was played in Tampa Stadium between the Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins. The “Big Sombrero” of over 46,000 was nearly sold out. A total of eleven more preseason games were played in Tampa Stadium with impressive ticket sales. I know, I attended many of those games. I felt that I was doing my bit to support the notion of Tampa being awarded a NFL team. On April 24, 1974, Tampa was awarded an NFL expansion team to start in the 1976 season. The other city entering the NFL with Tampa was Seattle.

I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on January 15, 1976. That fall, when the inaugural season for the Buccaneers began, I was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, NE. That did not stop my excitement supporting this brand new team coached by the legendary coach, John McKay. As the losses continued to mount I rationalized my support by reminding myself this was an expansion team. In those days, expansion teams were not afforded much in acquiring good players to stock their rosters. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks selected 39 players each in a specially held expansion draft. The remaining 26 NFL teams were allowed to exclude from the expansion draft 29 of their top players. As Tampa Bay and Seattle alternated picks, that team losing a player then excluded from the expansion draft two additional players from their team. This continued until three players from each of the existing teams were picked. Therefore, the veteran rosters comprised primarily aging veterans and rejects. The first player selected by the Buccaneers was defensive end Pat Toomay from the Buffalo Bills. He was originally a Dallas Cowboys sixth round draft pick in 1970 from Vanderbilt University. He played solidly for the Cowboys and earned a Super Bowl ring in Dallas. Toomay was traded by the Buccaneers, after only one season, to the Oakland Raiders for a draft pick. For the Bucs Toomay was credited with three sacks. For the Raiders the following season Toomay was credited with 17 sacks. The first player selected by the Bucs in the collegiate draft was defensive end Leroy Selmon from the University of Oklahoma who would go on to have a short-lived but Hall of Fame career.

The Bucs first season turned out to be brutal. They have the dubious record of being the first team in NFL history to play an entire season without a win or tie. Shutout in their first two games against the Houston Oilers and San Diego Chargers and only scoring three field goals in game three against the Buffalo Bills they finally scored their first touchdown in game four against the Baltimore Colts, albeit a 42-17 trouncing. In fact, the Buccaneers would go on to lose their first 26 games winning the final two games of the 1977 season.

Thank God their head coach, John McKay had a wicked sense of humor! McKay was one of college football’s most successful head coaches winning four national titles at the University of Southern California. When he was evaluating his new team, he heard that kicker Pete Rajecki was nervous playing in front of the legendary McKay. McKay responded, “that’s unfortunate, as I plan on attending all the games.” When asked by a reporter after another horrible Buccaneer loss about what McKay thought of his team’s execution, McKay responded, “I’m in favor of that.” When McKay heard a comment that his quarterback Steve Spurrier throws one of three passes into the ground, McKay retorted with, “that’s OK, we’ll just get shorter receivers.” Back in those painful early years, McKay is also attributed to stating, “We’ve determined that we can’t win at home and we can’t win on the road. What we need is a neutral site.” Another McKay quote, “We didn’t block real good, but we made up for it by not tackling.” Finally, “We’ll be back. Maybe not in this century, but we’ll back.”

After an 0-14 season followed by a 2-12 season I remained loyal to the Bucs. Their third season showed promise in that their defense was improving to the point of keeping them close in many of their losses. They went 5-11 in year three. That was the first year I saw a Bucs game live. Stationed in Omaha, NE, the Bucs played the Kansas City Chiefs on October 8, 1978. Only a 190 mile one way drive from Omaha to Kansas City! Proudly wearing my Buccaneers jersey and hat I was a very small minority in Arrowhead Stadium cheering on the Bucs. They won convincingly 30-13.

The following year was one of the most memorable of my life. The Bucs had their best year to date. On September 15, 1979 I married the love of my life and the Buccaneers made the playoffs!!!! By then, stationed at Hahn Air Base, Germany living in a little village named Altlay. I listened to that game on the radio via the Armed Forces Network. The reception was terrible due to us living in a valley. It didn’t matter, it was the Bucs in their first ever playoff game! The Bucs were the number two seed that season and faced the Philadelphia Eagles in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The Bucs dominated that game winning 24-17 behind Ricky Bell’s 142 rushing yards. The following week the Los Angeles Rams became the first team in NFL history to win a conference championship without scoring a touchdown by defeating the Bucs on three field goals. Final score, 9-0.

I was stoked!!! After only four seasons, the Buccaneers were now a playoff caliber team. The future looked bright! Aaahhh the Buccaneer faithful were soon to find out what an elusive lover the Bucs are to their followers. Although the Buccaneers made the playoffs two of their next three seasons they then went 14 consecutive losing seasons. As the Air Force and then Lockheed Martin assigned me to many different locations ranging from Europe, Asia, Texas, Maryland and Colorado, I remained devoted to “my” Buccaneers. It has been a very rocky relationship.

Thankfully, Tony Dungy turned this miserable franchise into respectable, competitive winners culminating in his team winning Super Bowl XXXVII coached by Jon Gruden.

Like that 1979 team making the playoffs twice (and losing both times) after their milestone season, the 2002 team made the playoffs twice after Super Bowl XXXVII and repeated history by losing those two playoff games.

It’s not easy being a Buccaneer fan. But I can’t quit them. As you can imagine, I’ve had to develop very thick skin supporting the Bucs all these years. However, I’ll remain the eternal optimist when it comes to my beloved Bucs. When my son, James, asked if I would like to write a weekly blog covering the Bucs, I couldn’t refuse the opportunity. I thought about it for a few minutes and knew deep down, that I would enjoy very much sharing my thoughts on the Bucs with anyone interested. I know that my two sons have been subjected all their lives about my unabashed support of one of the most hapless of NFL teams.

The 2014 season is going to be different. he Bucs have much to offer its fans, both old and new. Lovie Smith and his outstanding coaching staff will make an immediate, positive impact and I can’t wait for the upcoming NFL draft and season. Go Bucs!!!

 

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