1980 - A new decade and a letdown for Buc fans
After the euphoric heights of the 1979 season, Tampa Bay fans had every reason to be excited about their team's fifth season in the NFL. Their coach had spoken in jest of having a five-year plan for success at the outset, and they had come so close in the fourth season. Would 1980 bring a SuperBowl for these young pretenders in the oramge and white?
In a nutshell, no. This was a complete season of disappointment for Buc supporters, a season that was nowhere near as bad as the final 5-10-1 mark indicates, but one that was a long way from the predictions of 10, 11 or even 12 wins that many football pundits had been anticipating from John McKay's team for the regular season. When one looked at the team on paper, you were taking the best defense in the NFL, a youthful offense that was only going to get better with experience, and a coaching staff that contained three future NFL head and assistant head coaches. Surely this would be enough for a winning season and second straight NFC Central Division title ?
There has been widespread discussion since these early days of the Buccaneers, that the reason for the team's decline in fortunes in 1980, came from certain players being on drugs during the season. It is no secret that one of the team's starting players and indeed team-leaders, linebacker Cecil Johnson, is now serving time for cocaine distribution, and Randy Crowder had been arrested earlier in his career for attempting to buy drugs from undercover Miami police officers. .
Doug Williams maintains however, that the front office and coaching staff should shoulder a lot of the blame, describing their off-season activities of "six months of golf", whereas other teams would be undergoing workouts, coaching clinics and offensive re-structuring. The probable answer is that both are partially the reason for the lack of success that season, although there is no doubt that the Buccaneer defense probably exceeded its natural abilities during 1979, and simply slipped back to its realistic playing level the following season.
Picking 22nd in the draft, the lowest position that the Buccaneers have ever chosen without trades being involved, John McKay went for offense with his first and second selections. Ray Snell was a solid line blocker for four seasons before moving on to Pittsburgh, while Kevin House became the Bucs' all-time leading receiver until Mark Carrier came along some years later. During Tampa Bay's best offensive season, 1984, House was joined at the wideout position by 1980's 9th round selection, Gerald Carter. The soft-spoken Carter spent eight seasons with the Bucs and also ranks in the franchise's top 10 for receptions and yards. Another low-round draft steal came in the form of linebacker Andy Hawkins, another solid starter for the team, while seventh rounder Jim Leonard, proved a solid back-up at center for several seasons.
The 1980 campaign starter with a pair of narrow victories, giving Buccaneer fans hope of a quick return to the play-offs. Doug Williams hit Jimmie Giles with a touchdown pass inside the final two minutes of the season opener against the Bengals, while Williams himself scored the game-winner on national TV against the Rams a week later, the 10-9 scoreline being some revenge for the NFC Championship defeat the previous January. However, a three-game losing streak followed, including a shutout at Soldier Field on Monday Night Football against the Bears, and defeat was only avoided against the Packers, when Green Bay kicker Tom Birney missed a host of chances in regular and overtime. This remains the only tied game so far in franchise history.
The Bucs' kicker during 1980, was Garo Yepremian, a Greek Cypriot who had won a SuperBowl ring with the Dolphins during their perfect season of 1972. Indeed it was Yepremian, who once stated that he had attended "Bald State college" due to his lack of hair, who had thrown an interception in the 14-7 win over the Redskins. No such passing disasters befell him with the Bucs, but his game-winning kick against San Francisco inside the final minute, still remains as the only time Tampa Bay has overcome the 49ers.
Ricky Bell again led the Bucs in rushing for the season, a 130-yard game in the win over the Giants being his best of the year, although Doug Williams' best effort, 486 yards passing against Minnesota, was not enough to avoid a 38-30 defeat that led John McKay to suggest "that both teams burn their defensive tapes of this game". Williams' total still ranks as one of the 10 highest in NFL history, and is top of the Buccaneers' single-game passing totals.
A 24-21 loss to the World Champion Steelers prevented Tampa from beating both conference champions in the year, a blocked punt being the difference between the two sides at Tampa Stadium, and during the final seven games, only a late Johnny Davis touchdown run in Green Bay put John McKay's team in the winners' column. The season finale against the Bears was a perfect summary of the 1980 campaign, as Yepremian's 32-yard fieldgoal with 40 seconds remaining was blocked, leaving the Bucs 13-14 losers on the day, and with just five wins on the year in total.
Individual recognition went to LeeRoy Selmon and Jimmie Giles, both selected as starters to the NFC Pro Bowl team, and to linebacker David Lewis who made the trip to Hawaii as a reserve. Ray Snell made the All-Rookie team, but this was scant consolation for Buccaneer fans who had expected so much more. It was not that long before, that five wins would be have been enough reason for great celebration amongst the Tampa faithful. Not any more - this was a franchise that could, should and would, produce a lot more.