BELIEVE IT! BUCS REMAIN UNBEATEN
You can believe it. The Los Angeles Rams do. Those National Football League players leaving rain-drenched Tampa Stadium on Sunday with fingers pointed in No. 1 fashion were the undefeated, untied Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The fourth-year Bucs came from six points behind to upset the Rams 21-6, moving them into a two-game lead in the NFC Central Division and leaving them among an elite group of five unbeaten teams in the NFL. Most of the stadium record crowd of 69,497 fans (a sell-out 72,126 tickets were distributed) waited through two rainstorms and lapped up every succulent moment of the team's greatest win at home. The Rams, an elite team that had made it to the playoffs the last six years, fell to 2-2 after their first-ever visit to Tampa Stadium.
They were done in by a three-touchdown barrage in the second quarter and a vicious Buccaneer defense that provided four turnovers and shut out the Los Angeles offense. The Rams" lone touchdown came on a 31-yard pass interception runback by linebacker Jim Youngblood in the first quarter. Frank Corral's PAT kick was no good.
Doug Williams made up for that interception by firing touchdown passes of 15 yards to wide receiver Larry Mucker and 29 yards to tight end Jimmie Giles in the big second-quarter rally. Running back Ricky Bell, the NFC's leading scorer prior to the game, notched his fifth touchdown with a high-stepping 5-yard run for the other TD. Neil O'Donoghue kicked the three extra points. The last time the Rams were shut out offensively in a regular season game was on Monday Night Football in 1976 - 16-0 by the 49ers. They were beaten 28-0 by the Cowboys in the 1978 playoffs. "We played as good in the second quarter as we can play football," Bucs coach John McKay said. "Our offense actually scored all 27 points. As long as we are healthy, I think we can play with most people. I don't see anybody we play that I know will beat us."
Apparently, the Bucs emerged once more without serious injury. "We have no excuses," Rams coach Ray Malavasi said. "They beat us. We couldn't put it together. We missed blocks. We fumbled. We couldn't execute." Actually, a comment Malavasi made in a telephone conference call to Tampa Bay media Thursday may have fired up the Buccaneers. Malavasi said he didn't fear Tampa Bay. "I didn't fear anybody out there myself," Williams said. "Their coach didn't fear us, but like Coach McKay said, he wasn't going to play in the game. It was probably one of the biggest statements. Coach McKay said we respected them. I don't think their team respected us."
The game, televised into more parts of the country that any previous Tampa Bay game, apparently gave the Bucs the national attention they've been wanting. "We've come through the darkness and now we're in the sunshine," said Bell, who rushed 18 times for 69 yards against the NFC's No. 1-ranked defense. "This win means a lot to us. It gives us some national attention and we deserve it."
The win was tremendously satisfying to left guard Greg Horton, who was traded to Tampa Bay by the Rams in 1978. The offensive line protected Williams well - not a single sack - and opened good holes for Bell, Jerry Eckwood and Johnny Davis. "No sacks just goes to show the continuity we now have," Horton said. "A lot of people say we haven't beaten anybody. But you have to start some place and we play them game by game. I love this. We're still growing and we have a way to go. But we can't be overlooked anymore."
Rain fell for the first time after the Bucs went up 14-6, then it rained again in the fourth quarter. Williams said the Bucs didn't turn conservative with the lead. "We were calling the same plays," he said. "You can never be destined to win, though, until it's over. A turnover here, a big play there and it can change. But the law of averages catches up with everybody. "Things that weren't going our way last year are now going our way."
Giles said the Bucs used some of the same motions that were employed in the 21-10 win at Green Bay, but plays were changed off them several times and that fooled the Rams. The Bucs drove 27 yards to score on Williams" 15-yard pass to Mucker - his first regular-season TD - after Lee Roy Selmon knocked the ball from Lawrence McCutcheon's hands and Bill Kollar recovered on the next-to-last play of the first period.
Then the veteran Rams team lost its cool. On the following Tampa Bay drive, the Rams were penalised three times for 35 yards for running into punter Tom Blanchard and for unnecessary roughness. Those penalties aided a nine-play, 84-yard drive leading to Bell's touchdown. Bell did some fancy stepping to score. "I had great blocking," he said. "All I had to do was step over a couple of guys and I was in the end zone. The game goes to our defense."
Mucker said Williams made a perfect throw to him. And he did. It was a strike into the corner with Rod Perry defending. "The man played me inside," Mucker said. "I wanted to get that little edge so I just cut." A six-play, 70-yard drive, set off by a 25-yard Williams pass to Eckwood, ended when Williams hit Giles on a post pattern shot for the 29-yard touchdown. "It was a "Rose 95," " Giles said of the play. "I had it all the way. It was a perfect throw. I looked it all the way in."
Many NFL teams make a big thing out of awarding game balls after victories. It is not one of McKay's policies. But that policy was broken Sunday and it appeared to be an appropriate time. An especially prepared ball, including the final score of the big win, was presented to McKay in the dressing room by linebacker Richard "Batman" Wood, one of the defensive captains.
Jim Selman The Tampa Tribune September 1979