The 1976 Buccaneers v 1982 Colts
I am a lonely, lonely man. Another off-season is here and I am looking for things that will keep me out of trouble while my wife is immersed in her spring semester duties at Youngstown State University (Fear the Penguin!). I have started research on a sequel to McKay’s Men that could very well take until the next decade but still, I long to find interesting stories that have escaped the notice of the majority of football “experts.”
I, along with most of you, was extremely happy for Tony Dungy winning a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts. My wife and I lived outside of Indianapolis for a brief time before moving to Ohio. That time frame coincided with Dungy’s first year as Colt head coach. I became interested in the Colts and have pulled for them out of respect for Dungy with the exception of the torturous second half collapse the Bucs suffered against them in 2003.
Because I actually watch the Super Bowl for the game rather than the commercials my mind wandered during beer advertisements to past Buc-Colt match-ups. The one that immediately leaped to mind was that painful 38-35 loss in Tampa Bay on Monday Night Football three season’s ago. In addition to that game, the Bucs and Colts have had numerous other memorable match-ups.
The Bucs first official touchdown was against the Colts in 1976, a fumble return by Danny Reece. The 1979 contest featured what was up to then the greatest comeback in team history. The Bucs beat the Colts 29-26 in the first overtime victory in franchise history. The Colts clinched their first playoff berth in over a decade by defeating the Bucs 24-6 in the 1987 season finale and the Bucs beat the Colts in 1991’s REPUS Bowl. The series record stands at 6 -4 in favor of the Colts.
However, and this is the “interesting” angle I would like to investigate, the Bucs hold the edge over the Colts in perception of futility. As everyone knows the Buccaneers have the NFL record 26 game losing streak. But did you know that the 1976 Tampa Bay squad was NOT the last team to go through an entire season winless?
You may be shocked to learn that this fall will be the 25th anniversary of a Baltimore Colts squad that went 0-8-1 in the strike-shortened 1982 season. We Buccaneer fans take a perverse pride in our 0-fer’s but if you look at the statistics it could be argued that the 1982 Colts were even worse than the 1976 Bucs. It is not my intent to upset anyone, but I feel it may be necessary to adjust common NFL wisdom.
With a lack of motive I will simply lay out the case and hope it is forgotten because if people figure out that the 1976 team was not the greatest example of ineptitude, than the NFL may just spin out of control and miscreants and criminals like Lawrence Taylor and Michael Irvin could be voted into the Hall of Fame. (cough)
Anyway, let’s take a look at the key parts of each team and see which club was truly the best worst team in modern football history. Because I am the one coming up with article ideas while shoveling the snow out of my driveway, I get to make up the categories. The four I have chosen are Starting Quarterback, Total Offense, Total Defense and Coaching. I reviewed the stories and statistics of both seasons and have judged who I felt was better at being bad. Keep in mind that the Buccaneers did get to play five extra games so mere numbers can’t be the overriding factor.
Starting at quarterback the 1976 Bucs employed the hallowed triumvirate of Steve Spurrier, Parnell Dickinson and Terry Hanratty. These three men combined for 1,870 yards, 8 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. The 1982 Colts employed David Humm, Mike Pagel and Art Schlichter. The Colts QB’s had five total touchdown passes on the season (all from Pagel), 10 interceptions and 1,608 yards.
These statistics are pretty comparable but I have to say the Buccaneers had better talent at quarterback. Spurrier was a Heisman Trophy winner, Hanratty possessed Super Bowl rings and Dickinson was a running threat. The most notable aspect of the Colts field generals was Schlichter’s infamy as a number one draft choice turned addicted gambler and jail resident. Take that notoriety away and no one would have heard of any of the Colt QBs.
Worst Group of Quarterbacks: 1982 Colts
The 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers ranked 28th in total offense in 1976 and dead last in points scored with 125. Averaged over 14 weeks that breaks down to just fewer than nine points a game. The 1982 Baltimore Colts also ranked 28th in total offense and dead last in points scored with 113. Keep in mind the Colts only played nine games that year so they were prolific compared to the 1976 Bucs.
The Colts average per game breaks down to just over 12 per game. The nod for worst offense goes to the 1976 Bucs but honorable mention should be given to the 1982 Colts for their game against Buffalo that year. In a 20-0 loss the Colts did not cross mid-field for the entire game! For one game they were worse than Tampa Bay, but not for the season.
Worst Total Offense: 1976 Buccaneers
The 1976 Buccaneers finished 24th in total defense and 27th in points allowed, surrendering 412. That is an average of just under 30 a game. The 1982 Colts also finished 24th in total defense and 26th in points allowed, surrendering 236. The Colts average per game comes out to just over 26. Much like the quarterbacking these statistics are pretty comparable so I needed to look inside the numbers. The Bucs defense was bad but had future Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon as well as future Pro Bowler Dave Pear.
Additionally, Dewey Selmon, Richard “Batman” Wood, Mike Washington, Mark Cotney et al would one day form the number one defensive unit in the National Football League. The roster of the 1982 Baltimore Colts included such luminaries as Sanders Shiver, Nesby Glasgow, Johnnie Cooks and Donnell Thompson. Not exactly Murderer’s Row. So based more on the talent of the men on the defense than the statistics I have to give the nod to the Colts as the worst defense.
Total Defense: 1982 Colts
The 1976 Buccaneers were coached by John McKay. By now most of you know my feelings about Mr. McKay. I think he was a very good coach that was vastly underappreciated by the fans of Tampa Bay. A legend at USC, McKay overcame the adversity of 1976 and built a division championship out of an expansion team in just four short years. The 1982 Baltimore Colts were coached by Frank Kush. Like McKay, Kush came out of college with a reputation.
Unfortunately for Kush his reputation was tarnished whereas McKay’s was stellar. Kush was fired after 21 years as head coach of Arizona State when it was alleged that he punched one of his players. Kush would be found not liable for the incident, but he had a well-deserved reputation as a punishing coach. A regular practice of his at ASU was to have players run up a steep hill in the desert heat whenever they made a mistake in practice. The hill came to be known as Mt. Kush.
Apparently that type of motivation didn’t work in the NFL as the 1982 Colts, already demoralized by the strike, got progressively worse as the year went on. If not for a 20-20 tie with Green Bay they would have been 0-9. Kush would win only 11 games in three years with the Colts. Kush’s tenure did include their first year in Indianapolis but the change of scenery did nothing to improve the club. Given that McKay was a champion in college and a winner in the NFL, the Colts win the nod for worst coach thanks to the bully from the desert.
Worst Coach: 1982 Colts
I’m sorry to say Buccaneer fans that the 1982 Colts out-goofed the 1976 Buccaneers in three of four important categories. I understand that the losing streak record is ours, and proud we should be of it. However, when it comes to the team that without a doubt provided its fans with a season from Hades unlike any other it has to be the 1982 Baltimore Colts.
This could come as a shock to many around the National Football League. Perhaps it is because the season was so short. Perhaps it is because we all want to forget the 57 day player walkout. Perhaps it is because I am the only man on the face of the Earth to compare the two seasons statistically!
Whatever the reason, the 1976 Buccaneers have wrongly worn the title of worst team ever. We owe it to the men of the 1982 Baltimore Colts to set the record straight. We should let them know that their season was worthy of them being mentioned as the worst football team ever. Let the word spread forth from both sides of the Atlantic, the 1976 Bucs were only #2. If it makes you feel better, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are infinitely worse than the Orioles.
Denis Crawford, March 2007