1976 - THE FIRST SEASON - NO WINS AND A LOT OF JIBES
By the start of 1976, the Buccaneers had their name, they had their owner, and the renovation of Tampa Stadium was almost completed. A base for the team, One Buccaneer Place, had been completed less than a mile from the airport and stadium, and the front office was taking shape in preparation for that inaugural season.
But who was to coach the team? Building a team from scratch is probably the most daunting task facing any coach, and the Bucs turned to a man who had built a collegiate powerhouse on the other side of the country. John McKay's USC Trojans had won three national championships with their power running game and stifling defenses, enough credentials to bring the popular McKay across to Tampa on one of the biggest contracts then awarded to a head coach. On taking the job, McKay was asked how long it would take to build the Buccaneers into a successful franchise. "Five years" replied McKay. "Because I have a five-year contract. If I had been given a three-year contract, I would make it in three."
There were two drafts prior to the first Buccaneer training camp opening, the regular collegiate draft in which the Bucs and their fellow expansion Seahawks were given additional selections in the second through fifth rounds, and a veteran allocation draft in which the other 26 teams made available lesser talent for selection by the two newcomers. Click here for details of the veteran allocation draft.
McKay decided to place the emphasis on defense in his first draft, and selected the All-America defensive end LeeRoy Selmon with the first selection. No further description of Selmon's performances with the Buccaneers is required at this point, save to say that this was the best draft pick so far utilised by the franchise. LeeRoy's older brother Dewey, was a second round selection, while further good choices lower down came in the form of offensive lineman Steve Wilson (a starter until 1985) and Curtis Jordan (a four-year starter who went on to win a SuperBowl ring with the Washington Redskins).
Several of the plethora of draft picks that the Buccaneers had been given, were traded away for the necessary veteran talent that would be required during those crucial early days. Mike Washington became a fixture at cornerback for the next decade in a Tampa Bay uniform, while the familiar name of Steve Spurrier appears in return for a second round selection passed on the San Francisco 49ers.
Spurrier was a legend at Florida as a college player and won the Heisman Trophy in his senior year. His professional career had never amounted to much, but he would bring the kind of veteran savvy to the quarterback position that McKay knew his team would need. The fact that he remained a kind of local hero from his performances in the late 1960s with the Gators would not hurt the popularity of the team either.
Over 130 players attended the first Buccaneer training camp in July 1976, with the first game being a pre-season encounter back in McKay's old college stomping ground of the L.A.Coliseum against the Rams. Kicker Pete Rajecki booted an 18-yard fieldgoal for the historic first points for the franchise, even though the end result went against them.
The third pre-season game brought the first victory, a sterling defensive performance against the Atlanta Falcons, while over 67,000 people crammed into Tampa Stadium for the first home game, a classic encounter with local rivals Miami, that saw the Dolphins eke out a narrow victory. Things looked promising for the expansion Buccaneers, who would play their first season as members of the AFC West division, and would meet all the other AFC teams, as well as the Seattle Seahawks during the 1976 campaign.
John McKay was never short of a quote or two for the press as some of his classic comments from 1976 would later prove, but one or two things he said before that inaugural season did perhaps come back to haunt him. "Looking at the people on this team, assessing the experience, brings me to say that we shouldn't be bad. If we are a bad team, I'm going to be highly disappointed."
And then the season started. Things did not get off to a promising start when the team coach turned up at the Astrodome for their opening game against the Houston Oilers and were refused entry by their security services. "The Buccaneers ?" asked the guard. "Are they a college team or something ?"
After being shut out in their first two games, kicker Dave Green got the Bucs on the scoreboard with three fieldgoals against the Bills, before the historic first touchdown came on a fumble return against the Colts. Significantly, the first Tampa Bay passing touchdown did not come from the arm of Steve Spurrier, or any of the other Buccaneer quarterbacks, but from running back Louis Carter on a halfback option play.
Defeat followed defeat, the two best opportunities for a first franchise victory coming in the home loss to inter-state rival Miami, and to fellow expansionists Seattle, a game which boasted over 300 yards in penalties between the two hapless teams. "What do you think about your team's execution today ?" asked one Tampa scribe after a six touchdown defeat to Pittsburgh. "I'm all in favour of it" replied McKay (pictured left with Tom McEwen of The Tampa Tribune.
Even owner Hugh Culverhouse got himself into the act after the heavy loss to the Broncos, when the team buses left without him and his wife Joy. A Denver team official took the Culverhouses to the airport to catch up with their team, which was followed by what one Buc official described as the worst tongue-lashing he had ever heard.
No-one had been under any illusions that it was going to be difficult in the first season in the NFL. No-one had expected the Buccaneers though, to go through the whole season without a single victory. Even the expansion Cowboys in 1960, the previous benchmark for expansion futility, had managed a tie in their first season.