At Looooong Last!
One-thousand, two-hundred ninety eight days later - a win. Zero and 26 finally became a thing of the past Sunday for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they finally found their pot of gold. And when the defense finally pried off the pot's tightly sealed lid, inside was that long-sought first National Football League victory, which had waited there since the awarding of the 27th franchise on April 24, 1974.
The Buccaneers crushed the New Orleans Saints 33-14 to end the second-longest losing streak in NFL history at 26 games. And when the victorious Buccaneers trooped - whooping and yelling - to their dressing quarters in the magnificent Superdome, they were men free of the terrible 0-26, can't-win stigma. Breaking the Chicago Cardinals" 29-game losing streak will not be forthcoming for Tampa Bay in 1978. It was a total victory. It belonged to them all.
The offense didn't exactly blow the Saints off the carpet, but neither did it turn over the football in its own territory, an important goal accomplishment for QB Gary Huff. The defense, incensed by remarks attributed to Saints QB Archie Manning, stung Manning and his backup, Bobby Scott, with six pass interceptions, including three for TDs, plus a fumble recovery and 5 sacks. And how's this for a football team that has been the subject for stand-up comics everywhere:
The three interceptions for touchdowns tied an NFL record shared by seven other teams. It has been five years since a team scored three times on interceptions in one game. End Lee Roy Selmon had the fumble recovery, plus three of the five sacks. End Council Rudolph, playing on a sore ankle, and outside backer Cecil Johnson had the other two sacks. Left corner Jeris White had the other interception. White's was poetic justice. It came on the game's final play. The touchdowns were the first scored by Washington and Johnson since their high school days and Washington's touchdown off an interception the first in history for Tampa Bay.
The defense rose to an emotional peak because Coach John McKay, in his pregame talk, reminded that Manning had said losing to Tampa Bay would be a "disgrace." But the Saints were not up. They were down and the Buccaneers put them there. "I didn't think it set too well with anybody when Coach McKay told us what he (Manning) had said before the game," Lee Roy Selmon said.
The coaches were a study in contrasts. McKay could justifiably have left the field singing the song "They Did It My Way" because the 5-year-plan Buccaneers beat the classic example of an NFL team which tried and failed to initially build in 1967 with established players past their prime. Saints coach Hank Stram, on the other hand, will wear the stamp of the man first beaten by Tampa Bay. "We were strangled by the trauma," Stram declared. "We were so anxious to do well and get on top early. As soon as they got on top, you could feel it. The harder we tried, the worse it got. Our whole team was tight. We thought it would change at halftime, but those interceptions killed us."
Stram switched from Manning to Scott in the third quarter and the move pleased the disgruntled Saints fans in the crowd of 40,124. But his first pass lost 4 yards and the second, intended for John Gilliam, was intercepted by Washington for the touchdown. That ran the score to 20-0. Manning was knocked out once on a hard tackle by Lee Roy Selmon. For a while, it appeared to be another day of missed opportunities.
The Buccaneers" offense was handed the ball in New Orleans territory four consecutive times at the start of the game - at the 36 on Selmon's recovery, at the 28 on Danny Reece's 20-yard punt return, at the 43 on another 20-yard punt return by Reece plus a 15-yard penalty for spearing and then at the 24 on Isaac Hagins" 29-yard punt return. But all it produced were six points on 40 and 25-yard field goals by Dave Green.
The first time the Bucs really cranked up was when Huff drove them 71 yards in six plays to a touchdown capped by a 5-yard pass to Morris Owens. Green's first field goal, 5:48 into the game, provided the Bucs with their first points in 10 quarters, and the Owens touchdown was their first in 11 quarters. That was the only offensive touchdown. But the Bucs did have 238 total yards. Huff was not intercepted. The average gain per play was 9.4 yards against 4.1 for the Saints" offense, which had ranked eighth in the NFC. Tampa Bay controlled the ball for more than 32 minutes.
Offensively, Tampa Bay played conservatively. Huff passed only nine times. Also, the attack felt the absence of running back Ricky Bell, who suffered a rib injury and did not play in the second half. He ran 14 times for 34 yards, but Jimmy DuBose picked up much of the slack with 59 yards on 17 carries. The defense kept New Orleans from getting its initial first down until 5:30 remained in the first half. Manning did have a hand in the Saints" two touchdowns. He rolled out for 2 yards and a score with 7:12 gone in the third quarter and passed 11 yards to Gilliam for another just before the game ended.