1988 - A record-setting season for a Buc QB
Ray Perkins had spent his first season in Tampa making wholesale changes to the team he had inherited. Malcontents were dispatched away in trades or simply via the waiver wire, new players brought in by the score through the massive 1987 draft class and in short, a whole new attitude installed at One Buc Place. However, it was during 1988 that everyone connected with the team, both on the field and in the Tampa Stadium stands, realised that the new attitude was either totally in synch with Perkins, or not even on the same team.
At the end of the previous season, Ron Heller had been heard to comment about a lack of professionalism while in the locker room. Perkins flew off the handle and immediately traded the Bucs' one quality lineman to Seattle before he realised Heller had been referring to the Bucs' opponents, rather than making a disparaging remark about the Buccaneers themselves. The coach's doghouse became a luxury kennel during 1988 and while most members of the Tampa press remained resident for all of Perkins' tenure in charge, Buc players moved in and out of the kennel with great frequency.
The 1988 draft did bring three real quality All-Pro level players to the Buccaneers, although two of them went on to their successful days in the NFL with other organisations. Paul Gruber though, remains the best offensive lineman to have ever worn the orange and white and his record of playing five seasons without missing a single snap, could be one that stands in the Buccaneer record books forever. Reuben Davis and Shawn Lee both appeared in SuperBowl XXVIII for the Chargers against the 49ers, and remain part of San Diego's feared defensive line. Davis was always a powerful run-stopper in his four-plus seasons with the Buccaneers, but neither he nor 6th round pick Lee, showed anywhere near their current ability while in Tampa Bay.
The remainder of the draft brought the entire Buccaneer running attack for the next two seasons in the form of Lars Tate, William Howard and Kerry Goode, whilst the one ultimate draft bust came in the selection of punter Monte Robbins in the fourth round, the Bucs here acquiring a punter who could not handle NFL hang-times, NFL kick rushes and ultimately the NFL itself, and disappeared without ever playing a game in the pro ranks.
Steve DeBerg was dispatched off once again to pastures anew, Kansas City being the latest destination for the ultimate in journeyman passers, leaving the Buccaneer quarterback job totally in the hands of Vinny Testaverde. With only Arena League signal-caller Mike Hold in camp apart from the second-year starter, the Bucs made a deal for veteran Joe Ferguson to back-up Testaverde, the plan being that Ferguson had enough experience to help the youngster with his development, but not enough to create a quarterback controversy in Tampa Bay.
DeBerg's trade brought in starting safety Mark Robinson to the defensive backfield, where he teamed with former Jet Harry Hamilton to give the Bucs a pair of solid safeties that ranked with anyone else the franchise had ever put out to defend against the deep pass. Ricky Reynolds on one side of them was developing into a solid and reliable cornerback, but with Rod Jones on the other, it was not difficult to anticipate where opposing passers would aim their passing attacks once games started.
The 1988 Buccaneers ended up winning five games, and three of them were totally down to the strong right foot of Donald Igwebuike. Game-winning kicks in the two games with Green Bay provided the Bucs with their only wins in the first 10 games of the season, although his coup-de-grace came against in the Silverdome where his 53-yarder inside the final minute signalled the end of Darryl Rodgers' coaching tenure with the Lions and provided former Buccaneer assistant, Wayne Fontes, with his first NFL head coaching position.
But in amongst these late kicking heroics were some pretty horrendous defeats, all with one thing in common - interceptions from Vinny Testaverde. Terry Bradshaw's NFL mark of interceptions in a season was shattered by the former Heisman Trophy winner, and by season's end, and 15 starts, Testaverde had completed 35 passes to the bad guys and finished as the lowest rated passer in the league. After throwing six in one game to the Vikings, Testaverde was benched for the Miami game, supposedly under the pretence of having injured his back in the shower. His return brought no let-up in the pickings for defensive backs, and by the final game victory over Detroit in which he added three more to his total, the Tampa crowd had firmly established him as their latest whipping boy.
There were some real memorable moments from 1988 however, none more so than the loss in the Metrodome in Week 6. Vinny hit Stephan Starring for a 57-yard pass inside the final few seconds down to the Viking 20-yard line, which led to a mad dash to get the offense to the sideline and the kicking team onto the field. Igwebuike's kick was good albeit a second too late, but the sight of William Howard diving through the air to the sideline to avoid a penalty was one of Channel 4's highlights of the season. Testaverde passed for 469 yards in a late comeback in Indianapolis, while the receiving attack of Bruce Hill and Mark Carrier started to establish itself in the professional ranks as the season wore on. Hill could easily have had the sort of long-term NFL success that Carrier has had to this day, but a combination of injury and residence in Perkins' doghouse always made his career in Tampa a tenuous one.
The win over Buffalo in Week 14 was the one fine defensive performance of the year, stopping Kelly, Thomas, Reed and co. on a magnificent goal-line stand to preserve the victory, while Perkins gained nation-wide criticism for his decision in overtime to kick rather than receive in New England, suitably embarrassed when the Patriots drove the length of the field to win with a fieldgoal. The Bucs' head coach remained unmoved by any criticism, undaunted that his way was the only way to success in Tampa. His second season with the Buccaneers had certainly left no doubts of that intention.