Tampa Bay Buccaneers History
You can’t even begin to undertake a task of writing about the Bucs history without first making a simple disclaimer: You cannot judge past people using today’s standards. For one example, Hugh Culverhouse, Bucs first owner, is known today as the cheap guy who would not pay for players and only cared about making a profit.
The reality of the situation is that Culverhouse did not even win the Bucs franchise, but took over the team when the front runner, Philadelphia businessman Tom McCloskey changed his mind and withdrew at the last minute. So it was Culverhouse’s money of all things that was the reason for the Bucs being born the Bucs. He spent 1.75 Million dollars on a state of the art scoreboard, went out and got Oakland Raiders GM Ron Wolf, one of the leagues best GMs to head the Bucs, and One of College Footballs best coaches in John McKay. At the time, ONE BUC PLACE was a state of the art facility.
Yes ‘AT THE TIME’, In the 90s the place was a joke, too small for a modern NFL team, and the Stadium could not make enough money for the new owners the Glazers who put up big bucks to pay for this franchise, and re-up its players, and to win a superbowl. Now even they are being labeled cheap, but it’s the opinion of this writer that the label will be removed once the current players start to get their contracts renewed.
So keep in mind, Today’s NFL is different from yesterdays, and you have to remember that and not judge the past based on todays standards.
Chapter One- The Beginning
The Bucs were one of two teams (Seattle Seahawks) that were given new expansion teams in 1975 to begin play in 1976. The 1996 Expansion Panthers and Jaguars have their early success thanks to the terrible outlining of expansion rules for the Bucs and Seahawks.
There was no free agency, and teams were allowed to protect most of their rosters, leaving only the worst players available. They didn’t even get extra draft picks. The NFL will probably never be as harsh on expansion teams, nor as liberal as in the 90’s, again.
The 1976 Bucs were helpless and hapless. The league put the Bucs in the AFC West for the first year, then moved them to the NFC Central after that. There would be no Home and Away series against your division, the reason being they wanted the Bucs and Seahawks to play every single NFL team in the first two years. As a result the Bucs got blown out by some good Steeler, Raiders, Patriots, and Jets teams.
The next season, Head Coach John McKay was able to start to bring in players to fit his famous 3-4 defense. He got Richard Wood who was being used wrong in a 4-3 Defense with the Jets. The Offense was pretty much not addressed, but for the most part, the 1979 Bucs defense was on the field in 1977, getting practice and reps, which explains why they were so dominant by their third year.
The Bucs never really got blown out in 1977, but other teams knew they didn’t need to score more than 10 points, because the Bucs couldn’t score any. 6 times out of their 14 game season were the Bucs shutout. Two more times they only scored a FG, and two more times only one Touchdown. That’s easy math; ten of 14 games with one score or less, that leaves only 4 games that the Bucs score multiple times. Its amazing they won two of them.
It was week 13, and the Bucs were on the road in New Orleans when they got their first ever win! The defense scored 3 touchdowns, when they had never scored one up to that point. The Bucs came home to THOUSANDS of fans at the airport to support them! The very next week, the Bucs scored their FIRST OFFENSIVE TOUCHDOWN at home (the last game of the season!!) and beat the St. Louis Cardinals to finish off the year on a two game winning streak!
Chapter Two- GETTING Offensive instead of Being.
The Bucs had ignored their offense as they built their Defense. In 1978 that would change as Tampa Bay finally addressed the scoring side of their team. The biggest move was during the draft when the Bucs orchestrated a key draft trade, that was done with the Houston Oilers who wanted desperately Earl Campbell out of Texas. The Bucs had already drafted Ricky Bell, and didn’t feel drafting another running back would be smart, so they traded away their pick, the no.1 over all pick to Houston who took Campbell. The Bucs fell down to no.17, where they took Grambling QB Doug Williams, and got three other players in the trade. One of those players, was the Oilers back up Tight End Jimmy Giles.
The Bucs could now score some points, in fact in the first preseason game at home, the stands erupted when Doug Williams threw the ball about 65+ yards in the air down the field. The Pass fell incomplete, but the fans loved it! Finally a QB who could throw the ball that far!
Rookie QBs seldom go without some kind of issues during the first few games, and Doug Williams was no exception. His first pro pass vs the NY Giants was picked off and returned for a TD. Then he was knocked out of the game, and missed week two as well.
But Williams returned and the Bucs would never be the same again. In a game whose video has become synonomous with the 76/77 losing years, the Bucs week 3 visit to Minnesota would become the earliest win the Bucs had experienced to date in their 3 year history, and was over the team who has dominated the NFC Central division for the entire decade of the 70s!
The video was the clip of Bucs kicker Neil O’Donoghue who after the FG Kick is blocked, chases the ball backwards, and tries to kick it out of bounds, but he misses the ball and falls down. You’ve seen the clip a million times, but its always when someone wants to talk about how inept the Bucs were during their first two years. The irony of course is that it comes from the game that actually was the turn around for the franchise.
The Next Week the Bucs beat the Falcons at home, with the help of a blocked FG, and became 2-2, and .500 for the first time ever! It would then become a struggle to try to get over the hump, but they never could, instead trying to keep up to .500 football until a fateful day out west in California that set back the Bucs.
Doug Williams was hit late in the Jaw during a midseason road game at the Los Angeles Rams, and in fact broke his Jaw and had to leave the game. The Bucs would only win one more game that year, and Williams would not return until the 1978 season finale vs the New Orleans Saints in Tampa Stadium seeing revenge for the Bucs beating them late in the previous year. The Saints got their wish, but Williams got some playing time in, and it would be the last loss for a losing Bucs team for some time.
THE ‘GLORY’ YEARS- 1979-1982
It was magical, it was miraculous, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers caught the world by surprise, shooting out to a 5-0 start to the 1979 season that left them as the ONLY unbeaten team in the NFL. The keys were three fold:
- DEFENSE– The Bucs ended up with the No.1 Ranked defense that year, led by players who had been in position for up to three years now. The main difference was on Defensive line, where Wally Chambers, a Left Defensive End who was considered washed up and let go by the Chicago Bears because of his bad knees. Chambers revitalized his career in ’79.
- RUN GAME– ..got a big boost from a healthy Ricky Bell, and a change of pace running back drafted out of Arkansas named Jerry Eckwood. It was Eckwood, not Bell, who took the season by the horns, at least in the beginning. Both of them, and the play of Doug Williams benefited from the next key:
- THE OFFENSIVE LINE, which was anything BUT offensive in 1979, and was led by rookie Guard Greg Roberts, and new Right Tackle Charlie Hannah, brother of Pro Bowl Guard John Hannah of the New England Patriots. Charlie however was converted from Defensive End in ’78, something John McKay was famous for doing at USC. The line was so dominant, Bell ran for 1200+ yards, and Eckwood ended up with almost 700 himself. QB Doug Williams was sacked only 9 times!
With these changes, the Bucs dominated the opponents on their favorable schedule. Sitting at 9-3, Tampa Bay only needed to win one more game out of their last 4 to clinch the Division.
It wouldn’t be that easy. The Bucs had Field Goals, Punts and Extra Points blocked against the Vikings in their first attempt, the latter of which came after Doug Williams ran the ball in and set up the PAT for a tie game and OverTime.
The danger in the NFC Central race came from a surging Chicago Bears team, who took it to the Bucs the next week to close the gap even more. Finally a trip out to San Francisco proved mortifying as Williams tossed interception after interception and the 49ers gave Bill Walsh a shoulder ride off the field for winning their second game of the year.
It all came down to week 16, and the Kansas City Chiefs came to down and brought with them one of the worst thunderstorms the Bay area had ever seen. Water poored down the cascading staircases and the field was soaked. Needless to say the football became a hard to handle commodity. On one play, Jerry Eckwood had broken free and was headed for a sure touchdown, but dropped the ball without so much as being touched or tripped up. Kansas City recovered.
Deep into the 4th quarter, the Bucs started driving. A tie would have been as good as a loss, it would have given the playoff spot to the Bears. But Doug Williams and Jimmy Giles got the Bucs into solid FG range, and O’Donoghue nailed the 19-yard FG through the uprights, and a legacy was born. The Bucs went from worst to first. They were in the playoffs, in only their 4th year of existence.
Bucs players found out that the Eagles had booked reservations to Dallas for the next week. When listening to Eagle Player interviews on why they felt they could reach the superbowl, they talked about how the Cowboys, and Rams were not as good as they have been in the past. No mention of the Bucs. They were overlooked.
Right up until the first possession, when Tampa Bay marched down the field on the back of Ricky Bell, and scored a touchdown before the Eagles offense could even step foot on the turf. The domination lasted until the half, with only a end of 2nd quarter Eagle score that made it close.
The Bucs played the Eagles like they played the early half of the season, with tough defense, and ball control offense. Ricky Bell broke a playoff record with 38 carries for 142 yards, and the next day when a Billy Waddy TD catch upset the Cowboys, the NFC Championship game found its way to a place it had never been before; Tampa Stadium, home of the 4 year old Buccaneers franchise.
Fans expected the Bucs to go all the way to the Superbowl. After all, we had beaten the Rams handily earlier in the year in week four 21-6, but that was under the leadership of QB Pat Haden. Vince Ferragamo had taken over instead, and he was less afraid to wing it when needed. The Rams dominated the Bucs, if not for the valiant effort of Tampa Bays scoring defense, the game would have been more lopsided.
Then the game took a real turn for the worse when Doug Williams was forced out with a torn bicep muscle. Despite a few close efforts, including a remarkable Jerry Eckwood to Larry Mucker halfback pass, the Bucs season ended 10 points shy of a Super Bowl date with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The effects of the 1979 season are still felt to this day. The love affair with the Bucs began this year, and fans were treated to a team that relied on defense, something that is still held dear to Bucs faithful. While they would not come this close again for another 20 years, the Bucs remained a competitive team that could beat anyone at anytime for the next several seasons.
If 1979 was a year to watch the Bucs, 1980 was a year to throw your TV out the window. The defense collapsed as teams in 1980 went to the air more, which was the weakness of the Bucs 3-4 defense. Their big linebackers could not cover.
They also had a tougher schedule now that they got fat on the last place menu from ’79.
Bucs faithful had a lot to cheer for in the onset, as the Bucs beat the Bengals in Cincinnati, and got revenge on the Rams by getting the 10 points they couldn’t in the NFC Championship game.
No one noticed both wins came in the last few seconds based on a muffed punt and pass interference penalty.
That luck started to run out- The Bucs had to face the Cowboys, Steelers, Browns this year, and it was Tampa Bay, not the other teams, that had a target painted on their jerseys.
A 5-10-1 record in 1980 was good enough to get the Bucs a top 5 draft pick, which they used to take linebacker Hugh Green, who COULD cover. But ’81 also brought in some defensive line help with the maturation of David Logan. The Bucs defense improved, as did the play of Doug Williams whose stats continued to go up in just about every category from 78-82.
Tampa Bay played a seesaw schedule flirting around .500 most of the year with one of the best Bucs games of all time played in week 14 against the Falcons. The season came down to a winner takes all showdown in the Silverdome where the Detroit Lions had not lost all year.
The Bucs were down 7-3 when Detroit was threatening, but Eric Hipple threw an interception to Cedric Brown, and on the very next play, Doug Williams threw an 80+ yard bomb for a 14 point turn around. The Bucs would get a second half touchdown from a Lee Roy Selmon to David Logan connection to put them over the top. Their reward was a playoff game in Dallas that the Bucs just weren’t ready for.
Despite only a 10-0 half time deficit, Dallas scored on the first drive of the second half and didn’t stop until they had a 38-0 win.
1982 would bring the end of the Doug Williams era, in a season that showed how much will the Bucs as a team had. Before the strike shortened the season, the Bucs found themselves 0-2, and when football resumed after a multi-month hiatus, the Bucs lost a heartbreaker in Dallas that found them with 5 chances in the Cowboy 20 yard line. They came away with only 3 FGs.
Tampa Bay knew they had to win out to make the playoffs, starting with a Monday Nighter against fellow florida opponents the Miami Dolphins. The Bucs won all their remaining games in dramatic fashion in the 4th quarter. Against Buffalo, a 1 point lead loomed as the Bill were driving into FG range. Lee Roy Selmon hit Roosevelt Leaks who fumbled the game away.
Against the Lions and Bears, the Bucs had to come back from deficits late in the game. Placekicker Bill Capece was brilliant making clutch FGS to win against both teams, with the Chicago win coming in Overtme. The reward, another playoff game in Dallas.
This time the Bucs were ready; they did not gawk at the cowboy ring of honor, or at the cheerleaders, they actually had lead in the game. The Cowboys playoff experience was too much for Tampa Bay, and Doug Williams rode off into the sunset as the Bucs winningest QB for the next several decades.
BIRTH OF THE YUCKS and 14 Straight double digit loss season
Doug Williams had lost his wife, and we can all imagine how much negotiating a contract would weigh on our minds if we went through that. The Bucs did not offer Williams the kind of money he was looking for at first. He was already making lower money than more starting QBs, and the Bucs offer was not going to put him too much higher.
In hindsight, the Bucs finally did offer Williams the money he originally asked for, but by this time, it was too late. Bad Blood had spilled. The Bucs were upset the Williams group publicly called the first offer “A Joke”
Today there are no choices for NFL players, but in 1983 you had the fledgling USFL. Williams signed with the Oklahoma Outlaws, and would be a Buccaneer no more.
The Bucs used up their No. 1 choice as an insurance policy, and sent it to the Cincinnati Bengals for their back up to Ken Anderson, the Throwin Samoan Jack Thompson. We all should have forseen what the ’83 season held in store, when journeyman Jerry Goldstein won the starting job with a better preseason. Goldstein had not started an NFL game since 1978, but in the preseason, the competition between the two passers led the Bucs to their first undefeated preseason.
When the real thing started, Thompson held the Bench as Goldsteyn and the Bucs ran and passed down the field in brilliant strategy. They came up short of the 30 after a 4th down play. They wouldn’t come close to scoring again for the rest of the game. The Bucs would go to 0-9 before their first win against the Vikings.
BORN TO RUN
It was week 8 vs the New Orleans Saints, and John McKay had enough of the Bucs anemic rushing attack. It was time to try someone else at the tailback spot. Next up, the Fullback; James Wilder.
Wilder had been with the team since 1981 and he was quite handy, versatile as a runner and pass catcher. Not a bad blocker either, as the Bucs incorporated Wilder into their offense any way they could. McKay decided in week 8 to try Wilder as the tailback, to replace the committee approach from the likes of Melvin Carver, James Owens, and anyone else trying to replace Ricky Bell since his 1200+ yard season of 1979.
Wilder gained 64 yards on 20 carries.
It may not sound too impressive but the performance wasn’t that bad, and warrented another shot in week 9. against the Pittsburgh Steelers intimidating defense, the Steel Curtain. Wilder got a c-note as he toted the ball for 126 yards on 42 carries.
A tailback was born! The next week, the 0-9 Bucs went to Minnesota and Wilder was brilliant; running for 219 yards on 31 carries, and more importantly doing so in key situations, like against the Vikings 4 minute defense, getting first downs to keep the clock moving, giving the Bucs their first win of the season.
As quick as the legacy started, it was over. James Wilder got up from a pile up, and went to the sidelines. He wasn’t seen in a game again in 1983, suffering from broken ribs in the week 11 game at Cleveland. But what the Bucs found was priceless, they got a running back who defenses had to game plan against. 1983 was done, but could Wilder make a difference in ’84 and beyond?
The final years of John McKay as head coach must have been frustrating for him. Contract negotiations left him without his faithful Quarterback and his defense was starting to get old; and replacement parts were not coming because draft picks were being spent to try to replace Doug Williams. Two No.1 draft picks spent on Jack Thompson and now Steve Deberg were wasted as Jerry Goldstein beat out Thompson in 83, and The Throwin Samoan was the started going into the ’84 opener too. But Thompson was not starter material, and midway through the 3rd game of the season McKay went to DeBerg who pulled out the first win against Detroit at home.
After a close loss to the Giants on the road, the Bucs discovered they had a serious offense, putting up over 400 yards on Green Bay and winning a shootout with the Vikings AFTER spotting them a 14 point lead. only a year removed from a 2-14 collapse, the Bucs were 3-3; but the defense was just not the defense of old, and a new power was emerging in the NFC Central, one that would be around for the better part of the decade; the Chicago Bears. Monsters of Midway.
McKay was also starting to get upset with owner Hugh Culverhouses more and more apparent frugality; the coach wanted kicker Jan Stenerud who was let go from the Packers. Instead of paying for him, the Bucs got Obed Ariri, who was not a bad kicker, but not the clutch veteran Jan was, who beat the Bucs week 10 by kicking a 53 yarded with ;02 second left. It was too much for the old quipper, who announced his retirement after the game.
The rest of the season was pretty much playing out the line and trying to get James Wilder the NFL combined yardage record.
Last game of the year, the Bucs sent John McKay out in style with a 41-21 pasting of the New York Jets, but poor old McKay couldn’t go out without a little bit of controversy. Still needing about 15 more yards to get Wilder his record, McKay orders his defense to let the Jets score. Linebackers were seen back-peddling as Jets back Hector crossed the goal line with no one near him.
Jets Players were furious. They got a little revenge the next year, but the benefactor of their grief would move up in the box to Vice President status, and the end of the Original Bucs era would soon come to an embarrasing close.
WANTED: RV SALESMEN WITH NFL COACHING EXPERIENCE, APPLY WITHIN.
Leeman Bennett was responsible for perhaps the most successful Atlanta Falcons tenure, but an early exit from the ’82 strike year playoff field would end up costing him his job. Never fear, Hugh Culverhouse and the Bucs are here! Bypassing a hire from within from the Uber talented Wayne Fontes, Bennett got the job, and quickly installed his one back offense. Wilder responded with a 1300 yard campaign,,,,, but that was less yards than the year before, and .2 yards less per carry, with 3 less TDs too. As a result, Steve DeBerg’s numbers were equally down just a tad bit. And a new answer would be presented at Quarterback, straight from the now defunct USFL’s LA Express, Steve Young.
Young added a spark as he was mobile and energetic, but sometimes that and his inexperience would join up against him. Still, Young did not come into the picture until it was too late, because here were the Bucs, now twice in the last 3 years, without a win at the week 10 juncture. The Offense was more than capable of scoring points, as was evidenced by the near upset of the eventual world champion SuperBowl Chicago Bears. Scoring 4 touchdowns in the first half while visiting Soldier Field, you would have thought the Bucs were going to be Super Bowl bound that year.
The defense that was getting old in 83 and 84 was gone, replaced with Culverhouse specials.
The Bucs lost 6 of their first 10 games by 10 points or less, and just like 1983 got the snide off their back in week ten. This time, it was the Cardinals of St. Louis who came into Tampa Stadium and got shut out! Finally the Bucs were playing like we all knew they could. Until the next week.
Tampa Bay at New York Jets. Terry Bradshaw when asked by fellow announcer if the Jets were motivated by revenge, said simply “NO”, “there is no one left on that team that was in Tampa last year”.
4 touchdowns later, and Terry changed his mind. It was 41-21, same score as Tampa Bays margin the year before, but it was only half time. What was really funny, was that Tampa Bay zoomed out to a 14-0 lead at the beginning of the game, a beginning that was postponed for awhile because of power outages. The Jets failed to be part of the power outage.
Final Score Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28, New York Jets 62; still the most points the Bucs have ever given up against them.
Steve Young got his chance to start in week 12 and orchestrated an overtime win over the Detroit Lions, again hope sprung eternal. Yet the next week had nothing to do with spring; a 21-0 loss in the worst blizzard conditions in Bucs history. You could not even see the Bucs in their all white uniforms, only little patches of orange sprinkled among the snow. The Bucs would finish the year 2-14, and Bennett would get one more chance as Bucs head coach to right the ship.
IN 1986 Leeman Bennett basically repeated his ’85 debut with another 2-14 season. The kicker for 1986 however was the ultimate Buccaneer draft history moment. The Bucs had the no.1 pick in the draft, and used it on Bo Jackson, who told the team he would never play for them.
Between Doug Williams warning Bo about Hugh Culverhouse, and his frugal ways (as well as his opinion he was a racist), and the Bucs inept way of handling Jacksons visit to the facility which ruined Bo’s eligibility, and it was no wonder Bo said he knows he wont be playing in Tampa!
The year ended with QB Steve Young playing in every game, but with Bennett getting fired, would the new coach know what to do with incredibly talented yet raw signal caller? And if the new coaching staff would be happy with the young talented QB, he would not have the benefit of a handful of senior stars, as Bennett Purged the Bucs of Kevin House, Jimmy Giles, and Ron Springs, two of which had been heroes here since the early days of the franchise. Now gone, the Bucs would become one of the youngest teams in the NFL.
THE SECOND GENERATION OF THE TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Ray Perkins was comfortable coaching at his alma mater, Alabama. he was the successor the legendary Bear Bryant, and would undertake the task of getting respect back to a franchise that hadn’t had any in many years for the second time in a decade. Perkins was the architect of the New York Giants resurrection into eventual Super Bowl form. It was under his leadership in 1981 the Giants returned to the playoffs. Bill Parcells was his defensive coordinator.
Perkins would be given complete control over the franchise, repeating yet again another mistake made by the Bucs. When Perkins turned the Giants around, he had general manager George Young there to lead the team in personnel decisions. Perkins would be dictator. His first move would be getting his own quarterback, instead of keeping the one he had (who would go on to the hall of fame one day) he spent the no.1 draft pick on QB Vinny Testeverde.
Testeverde was an enormous talent, with a strong arm and a history of success in the University of Miami program. With the Bucs however, he was not surrounded with the same amount of talent he was in Coral Gables. The draft in 87 was a successful one, in terms of quality of starters acquired- most of the picks would be the foundation of the team for many years to come.
The list is a virtual whose who of the Bucs team from ’87 through the Perkins era. Ricky Reynolds, Winston Moss, Don Smith, Mark Carrier, Ron Hall, Bruce Hill all taken in the first 4 rounds, would be the foundation of the offense for years.
The Ray Perkins era was made up of Buccaneers squads that performed well in August and September, mostly because they were in midseason form. Perkins ran 3 a day workouts in the sweltering humid Florida heat, and worked his players hard because he felt the Bucs had faltered for years because of poor conditioning. He may have had a point, but he took it to the other extreme and his players would comment on this for years afterwards including players who are in the media in today’s era.
Bucs teams under Perkins would have winning records in the early months, but would wither away in November and December. Perkins’ teams were 8-8 in first 4 games of the year during his tenure, but 3-13 in the last 4 games of the year during the same span. They were simply gassed and worn out by that point. Worn out of Perkins workouts, and worn out of his attitude as well.
First preseason game of his Bucs career, and late in the 2nd half rookie Vinny Testeverde threw a touchdown pass against the Cincinnati Bengals. When Vinny got to the sideline, he was met with a stern “What the Hell was that” from Perkins who was upset at his signal callers failure to run the proper play. By the time Perkins was let go in 1990, Vinny was well relieved to see his coach go.
A PLAYERS COACH ISNT ALWAYS THE RIGHT IDEA
In week 12 of 1990, the Bucs beat the Falcons. HC Ray Perkins was rewarded by being fired. WR coach Richard Williamson was popular with the players. They lobbied for him, Vinny Lobbied for him. The first game with the interim title next to his name, a free spirited Vinny led the Bucs to a back to back win over the Vikings when he ran for a 48 yard touchdown himself!
No one knows if it was cheapness, or listening to his players, the Bucs decided to keep Richardson and remove the interim tag. He was a players coach, similar to todays modern era. It’s probably unfair to say the record was a direct reflection of Richardsons relationship with his players. The Bucs lost their first three games of 1991 by a combined 6 points. 3 points to the Jets, 1 to the Bears, and 2 points to the Packers. The fourth game was a full touchdown to the Vikings. After a blowout loss to Detroit, the Bucs won their first game, but divided the team in the process.
Vinny was terrible in the week 6 home game against the Eagles. He was replaced in the 4th quarter by Chris Chandler, who proceeded to throw two touchdowns and brought the Bucs back for the first victory of the year. But a Quarterback controversy was created. The Bucs would get beat by more than 3 scores in 4 of the next 5 games. Vinny would recapture his job, and the Bucs would play good in two of the last three games, winning the finale over Indianapolis, but the season, and Richard Williamson’s shot at coaching, were lost.
WAS HE FIRED OR DID HE QUIT? WHO CARES, HE’S THE SECOND BEST CHOICE (AFTER BEING LEFT AT THE ALTER) The Drought would soon be over, or so thought the many Tampa Bay faithful, because SuperBowl winning coach Bill Parcells would become the Bucs 4th Head Coach. Its was all done said Hugh Culverhouse who had dismissed Richard Williamson AND GM Phil Krueger leaving way for Parcells to take over as Coach AND General Manager. The whole show would be his.
That lasted barely a week, as Parcells said he never agreed to take the job, Which led Culverhouse to make is historical statement that he felt Parcels left him jilted at the alter! Well if the best part of breaking up is making up, Bucs fans would be double giddy just a week later, when Parcells said he was reconsidering.
The reconsideration may have been the shortest make up in history. Culverhouse wouldn’t be a one coach man anymore however, as he had scheduled interviews with Floyd Peters, Buddy Ryan, Mike Holmgren and Sam Wyche.
Just think, Raymond James stadium could be on Dale Mabrey and Holmgren Way! Wasn’t to happen….Parcells broke up with Culverhouse again, and Hugh fell in love with Sam Wyche, who too had been to a Superbowl with a Cincinnati team that was full of offense and excitement.
Speaking of excitement though, everyone was too full of it to notice Wyche’s Bengals were a mortal 3-13 themselves the past year, and no one could figure out if Sam got fired, or if Sam quit!!! It would seem that was unimportant to Mr. Culverhouse, he had no coach (and now no GM either) and gave BOTH jobs to Wyche even though he had never been in a GM role before.
Floyd Peters, who had improved the Bucs defense from 25th to 11th in 1991, was brought back to coach the defense, and the combo of Wyche and “Sgt. Rock” would be the leaders of the Orange pants Bucs for the next 4 seasons. The Wyche era is kind of broken up into 3 sections.
1) The Vinny Time was 1992, when Wyche really looked like he was going to do something special here. His first game was a win over the Cardinals and former Bucs QB controversy creator Chris Chandler. Then came the Green Bay Packers in week 2, with their new coach Mike Holmgren, and a back up QB named Brett Favre who would take control of the Packers from this game on. But he came into this game because the Bucs had put a beating on the other Bay. It was a solid win 31-3, and the Bucs looked like they were simply a good coach away from becoming a team to be reckoned with.
The Bucs lost to Minnesota by 6 points before beating Detroit on the road to go to 3-1, but the emotional state of this team was more fragile than people thought. The Bucs lost a week 5 home game to the lowly Indianapolis Colts, right before a bye week. The loss festered with them, and when they came back to play, they lost two straight three score losses. They would spend the rest of the year losing games either by a few points, or by 20, with a win sprinkled in now and again.
No loss was more disheartening than the week 12 Sunday Night ESPN special against the Los Angeles Rams. The Bucs looked brilliant on national television, scoring every way imaginable while building up a 27-3 half time lead. The second half would not be so nice. 3 straight Rams TDs in a 8 minute span of the 3rd quarter would put a damper on the national spotlight mood. With 5 minutes left in the game, the Rams made it official, it was the worst comeback against the Bucs in our history, and it happened on ESPN in front of the whole nation.
2)1993 ushered in the Bucs without Vinny for the first time since 1986, and the QB who mentored him back then, Steve DeBurg was back for another tour of duty with the Bucs, and the youngster from Miami Craig Erickson. But the news in week one wasn’t DeBerg’s latest protegee, but his FIRST protegee, Joe Montana, who took the QB job away from DeBerg back in 1980, was now the focal point in week one of the ’93 season as he begins his renewed NFL Career with the Kansas City Chiefs. The KC team slowly beat the Bucs who were dared to throw the ball by the KC defense who stacked the line to shut down the Bucs running game and see if DeBerg can throw one more than 10 yards. He could not.
Craig Erickson could, and he came into the game and played admirably for his age and experience. Good enough to get the nod the next week against the Giants, and from that point forward Erickson was the QB of the Bucs.
1993 was also the beginning of the modern Free Agency program. When you start talking about the playoff Pewter Bucs of the late 90s, some of the players started to arrive in ’93 and under Wyche. Hardy Nickerson was the Bucs first Free Agent in the modern system. Arriving via the draft was a young safety from Stanford, John Lynch. One could say if it weren’t for Wyche, we may never had heard of John Lynch. Lynch was a QB who was convinced by then Stanford Coach Bill Walsh that he could make it in the NFL if he switched to safety. He was a pretty good one, and with the recommendation of Walsh, the former offensive coordinator of the Bengals whose QB was Sam Wyche, Lynch would become a Buccaneer.
The ’93 season was a mix of playing styles for the Bucs. They were down 10-0 to the Lions in week 4 but came back to win 27-10, only to lose 15-0 to Minnesota and 37-14 to Green Bay after that. It was a very inconsistent team. A halloween win over Atlanta 31-24 and a Sunday Night ESPN 23-10 win over Minnesota showed how the Bucs could play on their best. Tampa Bay went 3-2 over the next 5 games neither winning nor losing by more than a touchdown in any of them, but in what is probably the greatest upset in the history of Bucs football, Tampa Bay in week 15 beat the Denver Broncos with John Elway at the helm In Mile High Stadium. The outlook for 1994 was very positive.
As good as Tampa Bay was expected to do, they instead were plagued with nothing more than the same inconsistencies that plagued them throughout the Wyche era. A close loss on opening day at Chicago, was followed by a thorough beating of the Colts at home the next week. A 2 point loss to the Saints who could not try harder to give the game away to the Bucs was followed by a blow out loss to the Packers and their Blue and Yellow throwback jerseys.
A win over Detroit and 21 point loss to Atlanta caused Wyche to pull the panic plug, and decided to take us to the 3rd and final section of Wyche’s tenure.
3) The Trent Dilfer era began in week 7 when the team was at San Francisco. Why Wyche would start a rookie on the road against a dominant team like the 49ers was beyond anyone’s guess. He would throw for 45 yards. In Sam Wyche’s 3rd season, he was now dedicated to his 3rd starting quarterback. The next week the Bucs were getting killed by the Vikings and the crowd turned on Wyche. Behind the Bucs sideline, the lower section of the stadium were mocking Sam’s twirling finger in the air motion to signal a type of offense, which was nothing to the pair of Binoculars that found their way to the stadium floor whizzing past Wyche’s head first.
Most Tampa Stadium patrons had seen enough of the 1994 season as well as Sam Wyche. He had worn out his welcome, and just when it looked like it was all about to end, something strange happened. The Bucs became winners.
Going back to Craig Erickson, the Bucs lost a prime time road game at Detroit by 5 points. Then, they lost a one point game to Seattle when the refs blew a call that cost the Bucs the game. What happened next would harken back Bucs to the glory days of yesteryear, the second longest win streak in Bucs history.
BUCS WIN, BUCS WIN, BUCS WIN, BUCS WIN! But are they the Tampa Bay Bucs? Or Baltimore Bucs?
The Bucs were keeping it close in Minnesota, something then defensive coordinator Tony Dungy would warn his Purple team against doing. Tampa Bay got the game into overtime, and the Vikings fumbles a Punt return automatically in FG range, and Michael Husted gave the Bucs a road win.
The next week the Redskins came to town, and the Bucs behind the running of Errict Rhett beat them too.
A win streak!
On came the LA Rams, who found themselves losers to the Bucs…and suddenly Bucs fans were paying attention. The Bucs had won 3 games in a row! They took off to RFK to take on the Redskins, and just like the month before, Rhett ran all over Washington, and suddenly Sam Wyche had saved his job.
Hugh Culverhouse had passed away, and the trust that was operating the team had been told they had to sell. They did NOT have to sell to an owner promising to keep the Bucs in Tampa. In fact, most of the suitors wanted to take the Bucs to various places.
It was a dark day for Bucs fans, teams were moving all over the place. The Browns left Cleveland, the Rams left Los Angeles, as did Houston, St. Louis, and it seemed Tampa could be next.
Instead they were bought by restauranteur Malcom Glazer. The catch? The Glazers needed a new stadium to help pay for the now record price they paid for the Bucs. A New stadium with club seats, would have to be approved by the voters.
The Glazers felt it would be best to stick with Sam Wyche, who seemed to have the team on the move with the win streak that stopped at 4. The finale at Tampa Stadium was a Green Bay Packer playoff clinching victory. Another thing a new stadium with a long season ticket waiting list would solve…no more opposing teams celebrating division championships in front of Tampa Stadium crowds.
FIVE DASH TWO
The Bucs traded away Erickson, and gave the team to Trent Dilfer. He threw two touchdown passes as Tampa Bay won the opener against Philadelphia, but only threw two more TD Passes the entire season. The Bucs won a lot of really close games in late last minute fashion, but Sam Wyche didn’t see it that way.
In a Press Conference in week 7, he let the local press know his team was now 5 dash 2. Well those close wins stopped. Gone was Defensive Coordinator Floyd Peters, replaced with Rusty Tillman. Wyche bet the farm on ’95 as he knew if he didn’t get a playoff team, he would be replaced by new owners. The Bucs won a huge prime time game in week 14 over the Green Bay Packers to go to 7-7, and ensured the Bucs would not have a double digit losing season for the first time since 1982. It would not be enough.
The Bucs lost the last two games, including an embarrassing season finale in which Wyche was going to have his team go out in orange pants and tops, until Senior Bucs put their foot down and said ” Oh no were not”. Wyche then caught the ire of Dilfer when he benched him for Casey Weldon, but it came out that Weldon had already told Dilfer he was going to be pulled in the first quarter no matter what the score or situation. Some things should never be talked about during golf games!
Sam Wyche was fired, and the Bucs were looking at either Bill Parcells or Jimmy Johnson. Johnson took Miami over Tampa, acknowledging the Dolphins were a little in better shape than the Bucs, who had Dilfer while Miami had Marino.
Defensive Coordinator Tony Dungy was hired as the Bucs new head coach, and he assembled a staff of coaches who would implement a new defensive system that would change the league.
THE BIRTH OF TAMPA TWO
A new stadium was approved, the Bucs would stay in Tampa, although fans weren’t sure if that were good news or not. The Bucs got killed by Green Bay with sloppy play in their opening debut. The Bucs were young, and they got younger, and they needed to learn a new system that sounded quite strange Im sure. As the weeks went by, the players started to believe and started to catch on a bit. Finally, after 6 weeks, Dungy would get his first win over his old coach Dennis Green.
A losing streak had started, and the Bucs were 1-8. But that was nothing to get Dungy upset like finding out his players had disgraced their team and names. One forgot to show up for a Book signing. The other forgot to show up to a school, which was a second appointment because he forgot to show up to the first one. Now Tony was beside himself, and did not even talk about the upcoming opponent or football in general.
His message to the team was simple. If you cannot be disciplined enough for off fields things, you could not be trusted to take care of on the field either.
The Bucs beat the Raiders in Tampa Stadium when Raider kicker Cole Ford missed a simple kick before the end of regulation, and the Bucs would win in overtime.
Then came the game almost everyone including John Lynch considered to be the turn around for the franchise.
Week 11 1996 Tampa Bay at San Diego. The Chargers got off to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. The Bucs answered with a FG in the first, and then got the game to within one point 14-13 by halftime.
In the second half, Tampa Bay would overtake the Chargers, and John Lynch who was playing in front of his own friends and family (Lynch was from the San Diego area) helped in the effort. The result was a dominating effort by the Bucs who A) won a game on the West Coast where they never win, B) Came from behind down 14-0, something the Bucs could never do either. Usually Tampa Bay crumbles when they are faced with adversity. Now the team is playing like their coach, something that would be helpful at this stage of the game, but not so later on.
PEWTER POWER IS BORN IN A NEW DAY in TAMPA BAY!
After winning 5 of the last 7 games to finish off the ’96 season, anticipation was high for the Bucs in the offseason. The Glazers had the new stadium under construction, and new uniforms were created. Gone was the winking pirate of Bucco Bruce, replaced by the skull and crossbones. A football was placed where the swords meet. Swords were chosen instead of bones, and the main colors would be blood red and pewter, the Pirates chest main ingredient. Orange was kept to tie into the teams past, it would only be a trim color now though.
The first game of the season, the Bucs took off where they left; Dominating defense. Warren Sapp single handedly took Steve Young and Jerry Rice out of the game against the San Francisco 49ers, and while the offense wasn’t lighting up the scoreboard, they were doing enough to win. Tampa Bay started out the year with an impressive upset of the 49ers 13-6, and held the team from the other bay area to without a Touchdown for the first time in a generation. The next week, the Bucs went up to Detroit and put on a show with rookie tailback Warrick Dunn. Dunn, who had 134 yards on 24 attempts was more like Barry Sanders than Barry was. Finally the Bucs defense held him in check, 20 yards on 10 attempts.
If running was the feature for week 2, it would be the highlight of week three. Another win, 3 in a row for the Bucs would be accented by perhaps the greatest Mike Alstott highlight reel TD ever. This is the game he hits the line, then turns around and takes Ed Brady and another Viking for a free ride into the end zone. A Buzz was taking over the Bay area.
If it was a Buzz in the first three games, week four would be the bell ringer for the NFL; the Bucs announced themselves to the nation on a TNT live Sunday Night game vs the Miami Dolphins. The game was so meaningful in so many ways. For decades the Dolphins were the class of Florida, and this game signaled the change of power in the NFL sunshine state. The Bucs handled Dan Marino and outclassed the Dolphins.
In the Victory formation, Trent Dilfer downed the ball, then harkened over to Dolphin Head Coach Jimmy Johnson, almost as if to say “im having mercy on you”, for his comments about Dilfer and not wanting the Bucs job because of no.12. The Bucs were 4-0, and it was Dilfer’s year.
A week 5 wake up call was needed, and it was answered by Karl The Truth Williams, who took a fourth down catch and took it all the way to the winning TD. The Bucs had tied their own best 5 straight wins to start a season, something they hadn’t done since 1979! But the three games they would lose next would test their resolve.
OVERCOMING ADVERSITY, ONE QUARTERBACK AT A TIME
Without a doubt, Trent Dilfer was having his best season, and he was voted to the Pro Bowl for it in 1997. Dilfer made that ProBowl on the his play from the end of 96 until the end of ’97. By the 15th week, Dilfer was back to being the old Dilfer. The Bucs lost three in a row, and at 5-3 let a 21 point lead evaporate, but pulled out the win in the RCA Dome of Indianapolis to go to 6-3. There would be no collapse this time; the Bucs were for real.
The had moments of dominance, such as taking on the powerful Patriots offense which did not get a first down until well into the third quarter. They stifled the NY Giants up in the Meadowlands, a place they had never won. Despite being outcoached, Giants HC Jim Fassel was named coach of the year in 97 instead of Dungy, who had to settle for a playoff spot!
Tampa Stadium was bustling for its last game of its life, and the home team showed up like never before. The Bucs defense shut down Barry Sanders, and Detroit was down 20-0 before they even had a chance to get back in the game. The measure of this team however was the Green Bay Packers; the Bucs couldn’t beat them in two tries, and they tried once more in the playoffs. All three were valiant efforts, but in the end thats all they were. The Bucs had to get past the Packers if they wanted to do some damage in the NFL playoffs.
If 1997 Brought out the best of the Bucs, 1998 brought out everything that was not so good. The defense had trouble getting off the field on third downs, and teams put up yardage. The Offense was having problems as Trent Dilfer was regressing as a QB. At times Dunn and Alstott were injured too and thus ineffective. New Wide Receiver Bert Emmanuel was brought in to help the passing game, but he was not enough. The Bucs wound up needed to win in the last week of the season, and hoping for a Giants win and Cardinal loss. The Giants obliged, but Arizona played with the Bucs as they let San Diego score late to tie it up. Jake Plummer drove Arizona in FG range and broke our hearts while sending us home with an 8-8 record. Still, it was not a losing season for the second year in a row.
The end of Trent Dilfer would occur in 1999 in two steps. Week one he was responsible for every point on the field. Problem was he scored more points for the NY giants, even though the Bucs held the Giants to less than 125 total yards. By week 6, Dungy had seen enough. A 6-3 home victory over the Bears would cost the beleaguered QB his job, by missing wide open receivers and being careless with the Ball. Dungy would bench him in place of Eric Zeier, who fared better statistically, but could not get a win in Detroit. Not only that, but Zeier was injured and the Bucs had no choice but to go back to Dilfer. What they did then was amazing, they started a win streak. From being 3-4, the Bucs beat 3 teams before taking on a Seattle Seahawk team that wasn’t playing half bad. They sacked Dilfer hard on his shoulder though, and Dilfer saw his last action as a Buc.
LED BY A KING
St. Petersburg native Shawn King grew up a Bucs fan playing football for Gibbs High. As a third string QB, no one could know when he was leading the Bucs in the Preason to wins, he would be doing it for real in November and December! His first start, Monday Night Football vs the Minnesota Vikings. A respectable 11 of 19 for 93 yards, but more importantly 2 touchdown passes. Finally the Bucs had a QB who could manage the game. He did the same in a winner take all contest for first place against the Lions, and the Bucs won their 6th straight game, still a record.
And then it all went away in a flash. Worst loss ever in franchise history; Tony Dungy vs Jon Gruden, and the Raiders caught the Bucs napping, and beat Tampa Bay up 45-0! The Bucs regrouped to beat Green Bay at home, and Chicago at home to win their first division title since 1981. The Bucs finished the year with the no. 3 defense, but acted like it was no.1
A Playoff home game over the Redskins found the Bucs down 13-0 at the start of the second half. The offense was sparkless, and couldn’t find one either until the end of the 3rd quarter, John Lynch picked off a ball on the sideline and spiked the ball down right in front of the bench of the offense.
They responded with two amazing plays. In the first, King fumbled the ball, but an alert Warrick Dunn found the ball and took off for a first down. After a touchdown, the Bucs drove again, and Shawn King was hit just as he threw the ball toward the endzone. He had no idea what happened to the ball, but could tell by the crowd noise. Back up Tight End John Davis scored a TD to set up an exciting last second FG attempt by Washington. Snapper Turk sent the ball back but could not be handled, and the Redskins went home for the year. The Bucs moved on to the NFC Championship game for only the second time in twenty years, exactly 20 years after playing the then Los Angeles Rams in ’79, the Bucs were to play ‘the greatest show on turf’ in 1999.
Kurt Warner, Issac Bruce, Marshall Faulk, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Hardy Nickerson, it was the battle of Offense vs Defense. With 4 minutes to go in the game, the Bucs were not only winning the game, they were doing it by forcing the Rams to play Buc Ball. Keeping it close in the 4th quarter. The Bucs hit the Rams like they had not been hit all year long. Ram receivers who were used to getting their yards on Yards after the catch, were suddenly limited to just the yards they got up to that moment and nothing more.
But with only minutes to play, Shawn King was intercepted, and a few plays later, Warner hit Rickey Proehl for a winning TD just over the outstretched arms of Brian Kelly. John Lynch was two steps too late. The Bucs lost 11-6.
THEY LEFT THEIR HEARTS IN ST.LOUIS, AND IT COST THEM THEIR COACH
The Buccaneers began the 2000 season in unfamiliar territory; odds on favorites to go to the Super Bowl. They traded their no.1 draft pick for one of the best wide receivers in the game, Keyshawn Johnson. The acquired the interior of their enemy’s O-line, Getting pro bowl guard Randal McDaniel and Center Jeff Christy. But it was the changes on defense that would make the most difference.
The Bucs would end up letting go DT Brad Culpepper, going instead with second year man Anthony Booger McFarland. The least popular move was not bringing back linebacker Hardy Nickerson, probably most responsible from a players point of view for bringing the right attitude for the turn around.
There was little sign of a problem at the beginning, the Bucs beat the Patriots week one on the road, then returned to wipe out the Bears 41-0. A clear improvement from the 6-3 win over the same team in the same place the year prior. A road game at Detroit also was not even close. I recall some fans talking 16-0 at this point.
Perhaps in some alternate universe, this would be so. But in this universe, Mike Alstott was in the middle of a fumbling problem. In a week 4 battle of the unbeaten teams, the New York Jets came to town for “Keyshawn Bowl”, and Bucs fans found themselves stuck in the middle of some New York Drama.
Down 17-3 with only minutes left to play, Vinny Testaverde threw a TD pass to Curtis Martin to bring the score to 17-14 Bucs. Two minutes were left to play, a first down would end the game, three runs would leave no time on the clock, and a whole field to travel against the Bucs defense.
Mike Alstott fumbled. Jets ball.
No one saw Curtis Martin take off his glove.
Testaverde handed the ball to Martin, who threw to an open Wayne Chrebet, Keyshawn’s nemesis. The Bucs hearts were broken. The next week in Washington the Bucs were down and out but Shawn King picked up his own fumble and hit Reidel Anthony for a 46 yard TD, then the Bucs would get the ball back and get into Gramatica FG range and tie it up to send it to overtime.
Once there, Deion Sanders returned a punt 57 yards and former Buc Michael Husted got his revenge on his old team.
On Monday Night Football, trailing 23-26, Mike Alstott threw a 4th down fake kick pass, but over threw a wide open Todd Yoder who would have scored. Then on Thursday Night Football, it all went away from the Bucs. A blocked punt that would have been picked up by Ronde Barber 99 of 100 times, could not be controlled, and instead of a TD, the Bucs got a safety. Instead of a 13-0 lead, the Bucs had an 8-0 lead.
Detroit would score two touchdowns in the last 5 minutes of the game, and after a brilliant 3-0 start, the Bucs were 3-4 for the third straight season. Following their coaches calm demeanor, the Bucs would win more games than they lost, and put themselves in prime shape for a playoff birth.
The 2000 season happened to be the most exciting Bucs game of all time. A Monday Night Football game no less, a rematch of the 99 NFC Championship between the Bucs and Rams, this time at Raymond James. Like the 99 game, the first possession was a Ram turnover. That was all the games would have in common. Instead of a defensive struggle this one was a shootout. The game ebbed and flowed like a colossal heavyweight match.
Towards the end it looked as if the Bucs would win, but they let the Rams hang in too long, and St. Louis took the lead. The Bucs had time on the clock, time for one of the most ‘Buccaneer’ plays of all time.
King handed the ball to Dunn, who with no where to go, tossed the ball back to King. The QB ran around right end for a first down. It electrified the crowd, and the Bucs would score a Warrick Dunn TD and a John Lynch interception would seal the greatest win in Bucs history. It would set up a possible division championship and first round bye if the Bucs could put their Cold demons behind them, and Minnesota needed to lost. The Vikes did their part, they were down by a 3 touchdown lead when they got word of what happened in the Bucs game, and pulled their starters.
The Bucs it would seem would come back from a 14-3 4th qtr deficit by scoring 11 consecutive points in freezing Green Bay weather. Martin Gramatica would line up for an easy 40 yard FG. It would have given the Bucs the NFC Central. Instead the Bucs would be the wild card team, and travel to Philadelphia to face a young Phily/Donovan McNabb dynasty. The Bucs would be sent home early for the holidays.
2001 found Warren Sapp publicly speaking the Bucs would ‘tear this thing up and start over’ if they didn’t get deep into the playoffs, but Dungy had received word that he would not be let go if he didn’t reach the Super Bowl. Problem was, everything he would see, would point to him being relieved of his duties.
Yet again for the 4 straight year in a row the Bucs started a season out behind the 8 ball, 3-4. Instead of Shawn King, the new QB was free agent Brad Johnson. They were forced to play catch up again. They were able to do it, but only achieved a Wild Card. In a dose of irony, the Bucs were making up their Septermber scheduled game vs the Eagles at the end of the season in a game where the winner was meaningless. The Bucs and Eagles would play a virtual preseason game for the ESPN cameras.
Then the Bucs would go to Phily and play like it was preseason, again, this time losing to the Eagles 31 to 9. Phily simply beat up the Bucs in every way. The Bucs stopped doing the little things they used to do right, and were never the team they left on the Carpet in St. Louis ever again under Tony Dungy.
It was the little things that gave Tony clues about his fate. In 2001, his wife, who was always in charge of wives events with the team suddenly was in charge no more. The Glazers always took the flight with the team on the road. The morning of the playoff game, Rick Stroud broke a story in the St. Pete times that Tony Dungy would be fired if he did not win the game against the Eagles. Dungy brought a copy to discuss with the Glazers on the plane.
They never showed.
Dungy had given ground in 1999 when the Glazers put pressure to get rid of Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula. What the Glazers didn’t know, or didn’t realize, was it had nothing to do with Shula. It was Trent Dilfer.
Shula was running the offense exactly the way Dungy wanted it to run, and Dungy did not want to fire him. He talked to Shula about this, and Shula being the stand up guy he is, resigned, and saved Tony the dilemma. Dungy wrote in his book he always felt that was the first CHINK put in the Bucs armor.
While the Bucs performed fine under OC Les Steckle, the new Offensive Coordinator was an outsider amongst insiders. He tinted his office, closed himself away, most coaches did not like him one bit. Dungy Let Steckle go after one year for TE coach Clyde Christensen. He felt the move would be a good long term one. Had he known of the Glazers plans, he would not have made the move. The owners reiterated to their coach his job was safe at the onset of the 2001 season. Dungy stated in his book he just wish he knew it was all or nothing, he would have done things differently.
Modern urban history claims Dungy was fired ceaselessly by the Glazers via an email. This is not true. He was called to Rich McKays home for a meeting with the Glazers, who told him simply they decided to go in a different direction. To the Glazers credit, hindsight has proven their moves were the right ones. While this subject is fodder for great debate, the Superbowl Season that would follow would not be possible without Tony Dungy, Rich McKay, Or Jon Gruden combined.
THERE GOES THE DAGGER, THE BUCS WIN THE SUPERBOWL
With a fired Dungy, the Bucs expected Bill Parcells to come in and assume the team. But Parcells had not heard word from his GM Tannenbaum who looked over the Bucs books and determined the window of opportunity had primarily passed with this team, that perhaps only one or two years were left in the chance to win a championship. Parcells thus goes on record of jilting BOTH Bucs owners in his life!
Rich McKay was almost fired when we put all his eggs in Marvin Lewis’s basket only to be countermanded by the Glazers who insisted on an Offensive Coach. In the end, after looking like fools somewhat, the Bucs got their man. They convinced Oakland Raiders Owner Al Davis that with Gruden having only one year left on his contract, as did Mariucci, that Gruden would be gone the next season anyways, going to San Francisco, and would get nothing for compensation. Davis accepted the offer, and gave up Gruden for Money, 2 First round draft picks, and 2 second round draft picks. A Kings ransom.
McKay would be instrumental in putting this team into San Diego for SuperBowl XXXVII basically completely rebuilding the Offense. People who say the Bucs won the Super Bowl with Tony Dungys team don’t know what they are talking about. New to the offense were LT Roman Oben, LG Kerry Jenkins, TE Ken Dilger, TE Ricky Dudley, RB Michael Pittman, WR Keenan McCardell, WR Joe Jurivicius, more than 60% of the offense was replaced! How do you call that Tony Dungy’s team?
It was Tony’s defense, and defense got them to the big dance…but defense didn’t help them in Philadelphia in 2000 or 2001. The Bucs went 3 straight years without scoring an offensive TouchDown. Thats not a defensive Problem. Thats a problem with Offense. Thats why Gruden was brought here.
In the beginning though, it was all defense that saved the Bucs. The opener in Raymond James was a disaster. Brad Johnson was running for his life. The line played better later in the day, and the Bucs scored 10 points in the last part of the 4th quarter, only for the Bucs to lose on a special teams Gaffe in the end zone.
Defense took over after that game, as the Bucs would score on defense four straight weeks in a row! Derrick Brooks brought back 3 for Touchdowns in what would be his Defensive MVP of 2002 season. His returns of 97 and 35 for touchdowns preceded a Shelton Quarles TD in week 4, and another Brooks TD via a Warren Sapp lateral.
Mike Alstott had an incredible game against Cleveland, and the Bucs thought they were ready at 5-1 to take on the Eagles. They were not; but the Bucs had learned a thing or two about Jim Johnson’s blitzes. Derrick Brooks would end up being prophetic on NFL Films when he states “We’ll be back. We’ll be back.”
Brad Johnson missed the @Carolina game where FGs won it for Tampa, and when he returned, Brad Johnson and the Bucs offense showed they finally got it!
A 38 to 24 win over Minnesota in which Johnson threw for 5 touchdown passes (just tied last year by Josh Freeman) was followed by a 23-10 sweeping of Carolina. This set up the game of the week, two 8-2 teams with the Best record in football, the Battle of the Bays. Green Bay said once again, they could not find the time to get their offense untracked.
Johnson’s offensive leadership wouldn’t be enough to prevent a sweep by the Saints. The offense however continued to preform against the Falcons, and a tighter game than expected against the Lions in which Brad Johnson hurt his back. He was available to play the next week, but Gruden kept him out.
The Bucs were embarrassed by the Steelers when presume shenanigans by Warren Sapp led to Pittsburgh being the more fired up team. The Steelers ran up a 17-0 lead in the first Qtr, and Shawn King was horrible in his last attempt to look good in a Bucs uniform. Rob Johnson didn’t look much better, but scored at least. With Rob Johnson in command, the Bucs finally overcame the cold weather jinx, and beat a team with only FGs to show for their scoring. The Bucs had won the NFC South for only the second division championship since ’81.
The Battle Flags were out for the divisional playoff game against the 49ers. San Francisco played catch up with the Giants the week before, but had backups in their secondary. After the easy win, it set up a return to the city of brotherly love for the NFC Championship.
The game could not have gone any worse, the Eagles return the kickoff DEEP into Bucs territory, and score a TD on the second play of the game. But Gruden had a masterful game plan, and told his team to be patient even if they fall behind. Brad Johnson wore gloves for the first time ever, but looked comfortable in them like he had worn them forever. The Bucs quickly answered with a drive for a FG to answer. It wasn’t a TD, but it was a quick answer saying “were not rolling over’.
A couple possessions later, the big play happened. On third and short, the Bucs called a play with trips receivers to the right. One should float across the middle and find himself going against a slower linebacker. In this case, it was Jurivicius who caught the pass in stride and hauled down the sideline out inside the ten yard line! The Bucs rammed it in with Mike Alstott, and thus scored the first TD against the Eagles in three years! The game would go back and forth for a little bit, it was 10-10 for what seemed like the longest time. But a TD pass to Keyshawn put the Bucs up for good, and once up by ten, it set up the perfect play of the century for the Bucs. Donovan McNabb had time left to score and get an onside kick back. But Ronde Barber baited McNabb by faking a coverage inside then bouncing out to the slot. Barber intercepted the ball, and an image no one needs to see because its etched in our minds forever; Barber pumping his fists down the sideline of the VET! The Bucs closed Veterans Stadium in style by kicking the Eagles out of the playoffs, and putting themselves in the Super Bowl.
It was something hard to repeat on my breath. The Bucs are going to the Super Bowl. It was almost anti-climactic. Gruden knew the Raiders offense and Raiders QB Rich Gannon. His lessons to the Monte Kiffin led Bucs defense were invaluable. Safety Dexter Jackson learned not to be fooled by Gannons pump fakes, where he would usually fake out safeties to pull them away from the intended target. Jackson stayed on the mark and got his early two interceptions that changed the flow and momentum of the game. While only 3 actual points were scored via them, the second pick changed field position, and after Oakland punted, the Bucs got the ball around the 50. Tampa Bay scored a Touchdown.
Of course the now famous radio calls of this game are comic legend. Bucs radio man Gene Deckerhoff proclaimed the Bucs “Dagger” was in on no less than at least 4 occasions that proved to be too early. Then Derrick Brooks intercepted the pass from Gannon, brought it back for yet another Touchdown, and put a 27 year oddessy to rest.
LEAPING? WHAT KIND OF A CALL WAS THAT?
Many players reflected on the 2003 season with the hindsight that they just didn’t want it as bad as they did before. Also true was the fact that a lot of the Bucs players were playing past their prime now that new ‘older’ blood had been brought in.
John Lynch was having more injury problems as he was in his 11th season. Warren Sapp was not getting the sack totals he was getting before, although he would end up getting a 10 sack season down the road with his new team. Then you have the guys that were brought in, McDaniel, Christy (whose last game was the Super Bowl), Oben, Jenkins, who were arguably past their prime when they were brought in.
When the Bucs shut out the Eagles on Monday Night Football on opening day, effectively ruining not only the VET send off but the LINC welcoming party, it looked like a back to back was possible. But it only took a few weeks to see this Bucs team was not destined to repeat.
Week 2 saw the Bucs furiously fight back to score a TD with no time left, only to botch the extra point that would have won it. Tampa Bay was beaten by eventual Super Bowl participant Carolina. Bucs fans had no idea how long it would be to get revenge on the Panthers at home.
Then came what is now known as the greatest comeback on Monday Night Football ever. The Return of Tony Dungy to Tampa with his Indianapolis Colts. Everything went right for the Bucs that night, at first. Brad Johnson gets picked off but during the return there is a fumble that falls into the waiting arms of Keenan McCardell, who scores with it! The Bucs had a commanding lead, and with just over 6 minutes left in the game, Ronde Barber picks off a Manning pass and returns it for a score.
It was 35-14 Bucs and Tony Dungy was about to pull Manning from the game, except their kick off returner got a good one and brought it out to the Tampa Bay 12 yard line. A 90 yard return gave Dungy the reason to keep Manning in the game. The Colts scored with 4 minutes to go in the game.
Then Vanderjagt preformed an excellent onside kick which the Colts recovered, and a few plays later, Manning hit Marvin Harrison for a Touchdown, and now the Bucs were up by one score with 2:29 left. The next onside kick was unsuccessful.
The Bucs had lost two key players in the game to injury, Mike Alstott, and corner Brian Kelly. It was the loss of Kelly that was the most detrimental, because rookie backup Tim Wansley was not up to par. And where the safety help was on some of these deep plays no one will ever know.
With Alstott out, the Bucs were running the ball now with Aaron Stecker, who was more of a scatter back than a bruiser. He had no gain on first down, and lost two yards on second. Then on third, Right Tackle Kenyatta Walker had one of his moments when he was called for unnecessary roughness. The 3rd and 27 play would gain only 11 yards, and the Bucs would have to punt.
Unable to achieve a first down, the Colts took over at their own 15 with a mere 1:41 to play. A 12 yard pass followed by a roughing the passer call on Sapp got the Colts moving, then came the 52 yard completion to Harrison with Wansley in coverage. The Colts ran the ball in and tied the game.
It was absolutely stunning to be at that stadium that night, most of the people had gone home after what was thought to be an insurmountable lead. My friend called it the worst comeback against the Bucs ever when we were still up by 7. He was right.
The Bucs got into Gramatica FG range for a long 62 yarded, but it was blocked, they would go into overtime. There the game got even crazier.
The Bucs would get the ball first, and moved to the Colts 47 before the drive fizzled out. Indianapolis got the ball only one time, and the Colts would eventually get into Vanderjagt FG range on that drive for a 40 yard attempt.
The kick was NO GOOD, and fans were going nuts. But hold on, there was a flag.
Simeon Rice was called for Leaping.
Leaping. When a player leaps and comes down on other players, its leaping. The John Madden and Al Michaels TV crew were beside themselves. “What kind of a call is that?”
Vanderjagt repeated his kick 15 yards closer, and hit the upright……but the kick went through. The Bucs were close to being 5-0, but instead were 3-2, and then it seemed more like 1998 than anything. Close loss followed by close loss. In week 17, and Tennessee, John Lynch and Warren Sapp would play their last games as Bucs, losing to miss out on the opportunity to go 8-8. Instead the Bucs were 7-9, losers again, just like when the guys first started.
THE FUTURE IS SO BRIGHT, YOU GOTTA WEAR SHADES
In 2004 the Bucs were retooling for another Super Bowl run. They had some younger blood on defense, Booger McFarland would take over for Sapp, and the hard hitting Jermaine Philips would replace Lynch. The only problem was this time, the plan didn’t work.
For 2002, the Bucs went out and got some slightly over the hill guys, and they really worked out well. But in 2004 they got more over the hill guys, but this group was TOO FAR over the hill. Veterans like Todd Stussie, Charlie Gardner, Matt Stinchcomb, Tim Brown and Derrick Deese. It worked in 2002 but it blew apart in 2004, and on top of that, GM Rich McKay doing what he had done his whole career, rewarded what he thought were the core Bucs with new contracts. Simeon Rice was made the richest Defensive End in the league, yet he would only play one more year at that level. Martin Gramatic was rewarded too, but in 2004 his problems continued and progressed so far, that Gruden had to cut him. An abdominal injury and surgery were most likely the cause of Gramatica’s increased inconsistencies. Brad Johnson too was rewarded, but in 2004 he would be benched, given his job back, and pulled for good, all in the first 5 weeks.
The Bucs fell back to losers once again. They could not settle on a QB until it was too late. Gruden Decided the time was to go with Chris Simms, but on his second series a late hit crushed his collar bone. IN came 3rd stringer Brian Griese and he took the team by the horns. Griese would end up with the highest QB Rating for a season ever for a Bucs QB. But four straight losses at bookends of the season doomed the team.
Still, the basis of the Tampa Bay team was its defense, and it was still led by Monte Kiffin. The Unit preformed one more time, in 2005, finishing with the leagues No. 1 defense again. New tailback Cadillac Williams caught the Bucs by surprise, running for over 100 yards in each of his first 3 games; Something that had never happened before. The hall of fame came calling for Cadillac, and put his cleats on display! He broke Alan Ameche’s record first three games.
The 05 season featured the exact opposite for Chris Simms and Brian Griese. Both the kids of hall of fame QBs, Griese was the one that went down this time and Simms came in and stole the spotlight, after about two games of bad play, he got it down. His coming out game was the exciting game of 05, home against the Washington Redskins.
A last minute TD pass to Edell Shepard set up a dramatic conversion sequence. On the one point tying conversion attempt, two Redskin special teamers were offsides. Now half the distance to the goal, Jon Gruden decided to go for it. Mike Alstott was having a renaissance type of game with two flying over the top Touchdowns. He rumbled his way in for the 2 pointer, supported by review, and the Bucs won. Simms had arrived.
As quick as 2005 came and went 2006 went by as slow as possible. Simms started the season out terribly, and in week three was injured and had to have surgery to remove his speen. It was the end of his career as he would not be able to throw the ball correctly for two years. With Luke McCown injured too, the Bucs had to turn to rookie preseason sensation Bruce Gradkowski.
He played good in his first game, but regressed every step of the way. The Bucs lost their defense, as Defensive Line coach Rod Marineli, and Defensive Backs coach Mike Tomlin as well as his assistant Raheem Morris would leave for better opportunities elsewhere. Their replacements did not fare as well.
The QB situation was a complete mess, and when the Bucs finally made the move from Gradkowski down 24-3 to the Bears, backup Tim Rattay led the most remarkable 2nd half rally in a long time. The Bucs would score 4 touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough. The Bears would eventually win, but it was obvious Gruden made a bad choice for QB for the year.
When asked how he felt about the future of his team, Gruden looked at the Bucs reduction of the Salary Cap, and knowing he could finally get some players the next year said, “The future is so bright, you gotta wear shades”.
END OF AN ERA IN CAROLINA, BUT A PRODIGAL SON RETURNS
Assistant Raheem Morris did not know Mike Tomlin was leaving, or he would have stayed, but Morris spent a year as Kansas State’s defensive coordinator, and the experience would prove vital to the Bucs future. Morris came back as DB’s coach, and the Bucs got some veterans. Gruden finally got his QB, Jeff Garcia, a west coast master.
One long time Bucs caveat that every reporter had to say at some point of the game, was that the Bucs had NEVER returned a kickoff for a touchdown in their history. That ended when the Bucs took on the Atlanta Falcons, and a rookie QB from Mississippi named Michael Spurlock did the unbelievable. It was a shining moment.
The defense got some new old blood too. The pressure wasn’t there like the old days, but the linebackers and secondary were very good. The offense was just good enough to provide another first place division championship, and a home playoff game against the NY Giants.
While the Bucs rested starters clinching playoffs early, the Giants played all their starters week 17 against the undefeated Patriots. The G men did not roll over and die, they played a tight game but lost. Meanwhile Joey Galloway had been hurt since week 15, and in the playoff game, the Bucs were able to dominate the Giants with running of Earnest Graham, as the Giants were respecting the big play ability of Galloway.
Once they realized Galloway was injured and was not a threat, the game turned around in the second quarter with two Giants TDs. Getting the ball back first in the second half, KO return hero Michael Spurlock fumbled the ball right in front of Gruden on the sidelines. The Giants would recover, and win, That was the last playoff game the Bucs have been in to this point.
Spurlock could not hold onto his job, as the Bucs drafted a speedster out of App state, Dexter Jackson. But the Jackson draft typified the poor work done under Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen drafting. Jackson spent the first half of the season running backwards, and a free agent returner named Clifton Smith when given a chance took it all the way back against the KC Chiefs to get the Bucs back into that game. Then weeks later, he returned a punt for a TD, marking the first time a Buc had done both deeds!
Tampa Bay had a 2008 record of 9-3 setting up a showdown with fellow 9-3 Carolina on Monday Night Football. gruden had no idea this game would mark the end of one Buc career, and the beginning of a new one for him.
The Bucs defense was torn to shreds, giving up 300 yards of rushing offense. Monte Kiffin had announced to the team he would be leaving after this season to join his son and be the D coordinator for Lane. Raheem Morris would be promoted to the new DC job, a promotion that would not last long.
Sitting at 9-3, the Bucs suffered the worst collapse of a playoff possible team in losing their last 4 games of the year. The Bucs finished 9-7 and out of the playoffs.
Gruden had a meeting with the Glazers who approved his plans for the coming year. Secretly thought they were having other meetings, with players, asking about Grudens approval within the teams rank and file. The Glazers had heard enough. They had spent years watching the Bucs toil in obscurity. Playoff appearances that were problematic at best, it was a far cry from the foundation that Tony Dungy and Rich McKay had built.
One night in January, a caller on WDAE’s 620 The Big Dog show called host Steve Duemig to ask him if he had heard anything about Gruden getting fired. Duemig pointed out that he had been hearing little whispers, but nothing big enough to mention, or talk about just yet.
Not even 20 minutes later the word came down. Bruce Allen and Jon Gruden were fired. The Bucs only Super Bowl winning coach was let go. The guy most known for his relationships with Quarterbacks, in 7 years was unable to develop one.
His successor would not have that problem.
Mike Shanahan was the popular choice for most Bucs fans. The Glazers had other ideas besides hiring retreads. They had seen enough! Raheem Morris was hired as head coach, and Mark Dominik was promoted to General Manager. Dominik had been with the team since 1995, and had worked under McKay, Jerry Angelo, Tim Ruskel and Bruce Allen. Morris had the experience at Kansas State, and his experience there prepared him by giving him time to meet the future of the Bucs franchise.
QB Josh Freeman impressed Morris so much, he moved up in the draft to get him. Freeman would not be rushed into the starting lineup, he would go in when ready.
The 2009 season was a rocky one for the Bucs. They had an offseason purging of veterans, and Derrick Brooks was among them. Brooks was a fan favorite, but his last view in a Bucs uniform was gimping down the sidelines in pursuit of Raider running back rushing for a Touchdown. The team needed an infusion of youth, and it got it.
At the end of 2009 a light appeared in the tunnel. Josh Freeman had won his opening start, and the Bucs beat the Seattle Seahawks and upset the New Orleans Saints, eventual Super Bowl champs, both on the road.
2010 would pick right back up where they left; and the Bucs pulled off one of the greatest drafts in its history. Nearly everyone from the 2009 draft was contributing, well only two from 2010 didn’t really make the grade. The team won its first two games, and would stretch its record to 5-2.
Even a few midseason losses weren’t enough to detract from the team. And if the Bucs couldn’t draft the talent, t hey knew how to pick it up off the free agent wire, or other teams. LeGarrett Blount has become the Bucs feature running back, and Rookie Mike Williams along with Arrelious Benn are taking over the Wide Receiver position.
The Bucs have drafted defense too, filling in its need for Defensive tackles with two of colleges best.
Only time knows what the future of this article holds. But the fan outcry in 2009 was an embarrassing stain on being a Bucs fan. The short sightedness of so many people made the turn around that much sweeter for those of us.
In 2011, the Bucs contend for a playoff spot just missing one in 2010 by tie breaking formulas.
At any rate, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are back to playing winning football once again.