The famous first Buccaneer touchdown pass
Sometimes associating the words "Buccaneers" and "touchdown pass" can be pretty difficult. Remember 1995 when Trent Dilfer went the entire season with just four touchdown passes, two of which came in the very first game? Or Tampa Bay's run of playoff scoring disasters under Tony Dungy? Or perhaps even the time Doug Williams slipped dropping back to center and still threw a two-yard scoring pass to TE Jim Obradovich in 1979?
But the ultimate story on Buc touchdown passes is the very first one of all in franchise history, back in that memorable expansion season of 1976. And naturally for that inept offense, it took them five and a half games to record it and no quarterback was involved in the play at all.
The '76 Buccaneers opened on the road in the Astrodome and were shut out 20-0 by the then-Houston Oilers. Czech kicker Mirro Roder hit the post on a fieldgoal attempt and blew his chance at franchise scoring history, whilst WR Lee McGriff missed his chance for similar notoriety when he dropped a potential scoring pass from QB Steve Spurrier in the endzone. Only the 1976 Bucs could have a receiver in McGriff, who could start three games and not have a single reception.
After a scoreless performance the following week against San Diego, the Bucs did manage three fieldgoals against Buffalo in Week 3, the nearest they came to actually penetrating the endzone was when Steve Spurrier's pass for Morris Owens in the first quarter fell incomplete.
The memorable first touchdown came with three minutes left of Game 4 in Baltimore with the Colts narrowly clinging on to a 42-3 lead. Danny Reece picked up a fumble and returned it 46 yards for his place in history. And after an onside kick and WR option pass from McGriff to fellow WR Barry Smith, Charlie Davis scored on a one-yard dive inside the final minute.
Normal service was resumed the following week in Cincinnati (21-0) and hence the long-awaited match-up of the two expansion teams came in Week 6 at Tampa Stadium when the slightly-less inept Seahawks took a 13-10 win over John McKay's team in a game that saw a record for the most penalties in an NFL encounter. But it also saw that first memorable Buccaneer touchdown pass - but in circumstances no-one could have forseen.
Late in the third quarter, with the Bucs down 13-3, they drove inside the Seattle 10-yard line and had first and goal. After another Spurrier sack, a Seahawk holding penalty gave them a fresh set of downs, followed by a personal foul penalty giving them first and goal at the one. McKay sent RB Louis Carter up the middle - no gain. On 2nd down, FB Ed Williams got the call with a similar result. The Bucs' coach was nothing but stubborn so unsurprisingly, called for another running play on 3rd down. And you thought Mike Shula was unimaginative!
Carter again got the call and was stopped at the line (top picture). He stayed on his feet and instead of doing a Mike Alstott and trying to bounce it outside, he looked up and saw WR Morris Owens standing alone on the right hand side of the pile having missed his block. Carter two-handed shovelled the ball over to him (middle picture) and Owens stepped into the endzone for the most amazing one-yard TD pass in probably any franchise's history (bottom picture).
Owens had a chance for another TD pass late in that game but could not hang on to a Spurrier pass on the Bucs' final drive and after Dave Green's game-tying fieldgoal attempt was blocked, the Bucs were 0-6 in the record books on their way to an 0-14 season mark.
The first "proper" TD pass came the following week when Parnell Dickinson made his one and only NFL start in place of Spurrier against Miami. He led the Bucs on a 74-yard, nine-play drive that culminated in an 18-yard scoring strike to Owens. When Dickinson went out injured, Spurrier came in and threw two more scores to Owens setting a reception record for Tampa Bay that would last another 19 years until Jimmie Giles caught four in a 1985 game ironically also against the Dolphins.
Louis Carter would go on to play three years with the Buccaneers and completed another three option passes in his time under John McKay. But none would ever be as memorable as that first scoring strike in franchise history.