1987 - Strike 2! Culverhouse finds "his Lombardi"
Ray Perkins arrived in Tampa with a mandate from Hugh Culverhouse to do whatever he felt necessary to revive the fortunes of the beleaguered Buccaneers. After suffering a 4-28 record over the previous two seasons, Buc fans were happy to see any change being brought to the franchise, and Perkins assumed his roles as head coach, offensive co-ordinator and general manager, with no fear or trepidation from those connected with the team.
His years at the Giants had seen a play-off berth and the seeds sown for Bill Parcells' success, and more of the same was expected in his second NFL coaching position. Culverhouse introduced the new head coach "as my Vince Lombardi" and was hoping for the same amount of success as the legendary Green Bay coach had enjoyed some two decades earlier. Whether Lombardi won his first NFL game by 38 points with a team-record score is not for debate in this publication, but there is little doubt that it was one of the more impressive debuts in league history.
The 1987 draft will go down as one of the most successful in franchise history. Whatever you might think about the selection of Vinny Testaverde with the first overall pick, the depth and quality of the lower selections is impressive with the entire receiving corps for the next five years being drafted in the space of an hour with Ron Hall, Mark Carrier and Bruce Hill.
But 1987 was the year of the replacement players and the second players' strike. The arguments were the same as 1982 but this time, the owners decided not to cancel games. After a one-week absence, the NFL resumed with replacement teams whilst the regular players formed picket lines outside. Attendances fell dramatically and less than 5,000 watched the new Bucs win in Detroit in Week 3. Buc players came from training camp cuts and the former USFL Bandits and posted a respectable 2-1 mark if also being known for an inept offense during those three weeks.
The regulars returned and after a heartbreaking loss to the division champion Bears (after leading 20-0), the Bucs sat at 4-3 and well placed for a play-off berth when they led the Cardinals 28-3 in the fourth quarter of their game at Busch Stadium. One NFL-record comeback later and the 1987 season began to fall apart. Many players put the blame on Perkins and his tyrannical training camp regime of three-a-day full kit practices that left players carrying injuries all year.
Vinny-time began in New Orleans and started with him fumbling his first two snaps leading to Saint touchdowns. But he rallied to throw for a record 369-yards and hope was gained in the losing streak to end the season. That New Orleans encounter was also the one that had T Ron Heller fighting with Perkins in the locker room at half-time and led to the most respected member of the offensive line being traded away for next to nothing at the end of the year.
1987 was a re-stocking year. The influx of new players helped repair some of the damage done by two years of Leeman Bennett, but the problems began once the team assembled in training camp. Perkins had tried to install a tough new attitude in Tampa Bay to turn things around. He unfortunately went too far and his inflexibility to adapt or change would ultimately be his and his team's undoing over the next few seasons.