Move over King Edward, Bucs are here
On Dec. 11, 1936, British King Edward VIII abdicated his throne to marry an American citizen, Wallace Simpson. On Dec. 11, 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. On Dec. 11, 1972, Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmidt landed on the moon. On Dec. 11, 1977, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers abdicated as kings of losers, declared war on the New Orleans Saints and created for themselves, their coaches and patient fans, a circumstance every bit as new and rewarding for them as the moon landing was for the astronauts. "Let this be the cornerstone," said linebacker Dewey Selmon. "Let it all start again from here."
The "here" Selmon called the cornerstone, was the 33-14 hallmark Bucs" crunch in the Superdome of a New Orleans Saints team Tampa Bay made look like an expansion team and not a product of 11 years architecture. The first, precious regular-season NFL Buc victory was so decisive that losing Coach Hank Stram called it the "worst experience of my coaching career." "We're ashamed for our people, our fans, our organisation," said Stram.
Stram best go easy with his slams at the Bucs. It Was A 43-Man Win It was a crack by Saints quarterback Archie Manning (he said it would be a disgrace to lose to the Bucs) that Coach John McKay used to fire up his defense. And how that worked, because poetically, while both offense and defense produced this coveted Bucs" victory, it was the DEFENSE that made it possible. And get this: It accounted for three touchdowns with pass interceptions. "Some people have been telling us to score, and so we did," said premier rookie linebacker David Lewis around the Bucs" bench as the game was winding down and the victory spirits were winding up. "I can't wait to get into the dressing room so I can cry," said linebacker Richard (Batman) Wood. "A grown man ought not to cry out here in front of these people."
Wood went 10 yards with an interception for a touchdown, defensive back Mike Washington went 45 yards to make it 20-0 and break the game open, and tackle Greg Johnson caught a Manning pass deflected in the end zone by Glenn Robinson late in the game. Moreover, the defense intercepted three other passes by either Manning or the equally hounded Bobby Scott, recovered one fumble and just flat played its guts out. "But," said center Dan Ryczek, and he was certainly right, "this was a 43-man win. Everybody on this squad contributed to what happened today."
What happened was the Bucs won their first game in precisely the best way. The defense led it, it was convincing, it involved a 71-yard touchdown drive by the Gary Huff-quarterbacked offense and it gives the Bucs hype for the final against the St. Louis Cardinals in Tampa Stadium next Sunday. It gives the Bucs a great opportunity for a two-win finish and still allows them to possess the No. 1 college draft pick. "This is a habit I could grow accustomed to," said McKay, after the game, his voice cracking several times.
He was swept up in the emotion and the significance of the moment, all the more affected because his team had been ridiculed by Manning last week and his team had gotten more than its measure of revenge. It beat the coach who wanted the job McKay got. It won with some derring-do, on the field of the enemy (only 300 Buc fans saw this one live, but they were certainly heard), and it won by a fat margin of points. More than anything else, it won. It won, won, won. It won, won, won. Won, won, won, won, won. It won, won, and it won before tying or breaking that most ignominious of records, the all-time 29-game losing streak of the old Chicago Cardinals. Like old Richard Nixon once said of the press, McKay could say the comedians won't have the Bucs to kick around anymore.
On the sidelines, around the Bucs" bench, when victory was assured and the Bucs on the field were so impatient for it to end and victory to be theirs that they began to make a few mistakes, those out of the game were relishing the moment. Many of them kept looking at the scoreboard. "There's the story, up there," said defensive back Mark Cotney. The big board read then 33-7, Bucs. Why, the Bucs had scored 53 points in all their previous games and this day they had scored 33 and were beating a team favoured by 11 points. "It's our Super Bowl," said Lewis.
Indeed, the Super Bowl will be played on the same artificial turf, and in the same grand sports palace in a month's time. The Bucs won't be in it, "but, hey, we ought to be ready for it about the time it's held here again," said Wood. "Hey, can we play this team 16 times next year?" asked kicker Dave Green, whose two field goals (45 and 20 yards) gave the Bucs an uneasy 6-0 lead.
It was not until the Bucs went that 71 yards for a touchdown - a 5-yard pass from Huff to Morris Owens - that a more secure feeling prevailed in the Bucs" camp and a feeling of doom surrounded the Saints. "We wanted to get ahead and put the pressure on them," said Stram. "Instead, they did it to us," and the nightmare began.
"My nightmare ended," said running back Jimmy DuBose, who played so well. "Now I can go to the team party and have sweet dreams." "We kicked their cans," said Lewis, a plain-spoken sort who, incidentally, spoke the truth. "And we kicked away that record losing-streak talk, too." Correct. So, it being a positive and historic occasion, let it be known the New Bucs are 1-0. And let it be known the all-time NFL winning streak is 17 games. One down, Bucs, and 16 to go.