Bucs' bubble bursts
What's wrong with the Los Angeles Rams? A week ago, they disposed of America's Team, the Dallas Cowboys. Sunday, they beat the World's Team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. So, the Rams are no longer the National Football Conference's bridesmaids. They defeated the Bucs, sentimental favourites around the world, including the hostages in Iran. Los Angeles prevailed 9-0 on three field goals by Frank Corral in the NFC Championship Game at Tampa Stadium and will play the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIV, Jan. 20, at Pasadena, Calif.

It is small consolation for the Bucs that they do not have to concern themselves with the massive Steelers, the three-time Super Bowl champs who knocked off Houston 27-13 for the AFC championship earlier Sunday. But as things developed Sunday, it surely feels that way. The Bucs not only lost to the Rams, they were physically beaten. Left in the wake were quarterback Doug Williams with a torn bicep in his right arm, All-Pro defensive end Lee Roy Selmon with a sprained left ankle, defensive end Wally Chambers with a swollen knee and linebacker Cecil Johnson with a sprained ankle. How bad was it? Williams completed only two of 13 passes for 12 yards. The Bucs gained only 177 net yards. Selmon was not credited with a tackle.

Four times in the last five years, the Rams had been one step away from the Super Bowl, only to be denied. But they came to play Sunday and it was not the Rams" team that lost 21-6 at Tampa Stadium on Sept. 23. "We've waited for this day a long time," declared Rams coach Ray Malavasi. So 1979-80 ends 11-7 for the fourth-year Bucs, who would have been the youngest team ever to play in the Super Bowl. Although disappointed in defeat, an 11-7 record and the championship game were more than many expected of this team. "We got to the NFC Championship Game and most teams don't get that far and we are an expansion team," said linebacker Richard "Batman" Wood. "I'd like to accomplish one thing before I retire and that is to go to the Super Bowl."

But the Rams thoroughly dominated this game. They had the ball for 37 minutes, 49 seconds to only 22:11 for Tampa Bay. They had 369 yards of offense against the No. 1 defense in the NFL. Corral's foot was the difference between these two teams once before - in 1978 when his field goal beat the Bucs, 26-23, at Los Angeles. Sunday, he kicked the Rams into the Super Bowl and the Bucs out of it with field goals of 19 and 21 yards in the second quarter and 23 yards in the fourth. He missed one of 37 yards in the third period.

The Bucs were not without their chances. A 42-yards halfback pass from Jerry Eckwood to Larry Mucker caught the Rams flatfooted and gave Tampa Bay a first down at the Rams" 34 in the third period when it was 6-0. Mike Rae had replaced Williams at quarterback, but the Rams stopped the Bucs at the 29. However, on third down, the TV replay showed that there was contact between Rams safety Eddie Brown and Bucs tight end Jimmie Giles in the end zone before the ball arrived. Had a penalty been called, it would have been first down at the 1-yard line. A 27-yard Rae touchdown pass to Giles was wiped out by an illegal procedure penalty in the fourth quarter. "The penalty came because of the timing on the motion," Rae said. "We were just a little off in our timing on the ball. It was not their fault (line). Maybe it was mine for not being in there (playing very much)."

Rae completed only two of 13 passes himself and that meant the Bucs were five of 27 overall. "We had a great season for how old we are and it's just a crying shame that we couldn't even get seven points," offensive tackle Dave Reavis said. "I'll bet if we had gotten ahead, our defense would have held them." "We let them convert third and long too much," said linebacker Dewey Selmon. "They changed their offense some. They ran a bunch of traps. They are a much improved offense from when we played them before."

Rams quarterback Vince Ferragamo, who replaced the injured Pat Haden in the 12th week of the season, completed 12 of 23 passes for 163 yards. But it was the Rams" ground attack that controlled the game. Cullen Bryant ran 18 times for 106 yards and became only the second player all season to gain 100 yards against Tampa Bay. Wendell Tyler got 86 yards on 28 carries. The Rams had 77 plays to the Bucs" 54 and rushed 53 times to the Bucs 26. The stats were about as one-sided for L.A. as they had been for the Bucs in their 24-17 divisional playoff win over the Eagles the week before. The shutout was only the second of the year for the Bucs. But the other came just four games earlier. It was the first game in the history of the NFC championship (and before 1970, the NFL championship game) in which no touchdowns were scored.

The margin of victory could have been much more. The Rams drove from their 37 to the Tampa Bay 18 on their first possession when Tyler fumbled on a hit by Chambers and Wood recovered at the 16. On their next possession, a 35-yard Ferragamo pass to Preston Dennard helped move the Rams from their 31 to the Bucs" 4. Bryant scored from there, but L.A. was penalised for illegal formation and Corral had to kick his 19-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter. On that penalty, the officials said tackle Doug France reported in as a tight end, but a wide receiver covered him to the outside. Ferragamo completed all five of his passes for 62 yards in a second-quarter drive that got to the Bucs" 4 before Corral had to hit his 21-yard field goal. For a moment, the Rams thought they had a third-quarter touchdown on a 20-yard Ferragamo pass to Dennard. The official raised his arms, then ruled it no good. Corral missed his 37-yard field goal after that.

Tampa Bay stopped another scoring threat when Wood dropped Tyler short on a fourth-and-two at the Buccaneer 25 in the fourth period. However, Mike Fanning sacked Rae and Eddie Brown returned Tom Blanchard's low, line-drive punt 16 yards to the 50, setting up Corral's 23-yard field goal. The effort by the Rams was typified by the performance of All-Pro defensive end Jack Youngblood. He played despite the pain from a hairline fracture of the left fibula, which he received in the Dallas game. Before kickoff, Youngblood confided that "it hurts like hell." "He wasn't 100 percent healthwise, but he gave us 100 percent," Malavasi said. "He was a great inspiration to his team-mates."

Jim Selman The Tampa Tribune 7 January 1980