1995 - The end of Sam Wyche in a turbulent year
The previous season had ended on a real high with a four-game winning streak in November and December. The off-season saw the Glazers take over as the new owners of the franchise, and finally, some real stability to the front office organisation. This was no more evident than on draft day, when GM Rich McKay and the Buccaneers pulled off some of the finest dealing done in NFL history, let alone that in Tampa. QB Craig Erickson, scheduled to be a free agent at the end of 1995, was traded to the Colts for a first round pick in the 1996 draft, thereby ending any quarterback controversy on the spot.
The Bucs had the seventh overall selection, but traded down with Philadelphia to the 12th spot for an additional two second round selections. The Eagles took Mike Mamula, the Bucs took Warren Sapp. Nuff said. Sapp had been projected as one of the top overall selections going into the draft, but rumours about failed marijuana tests at the University of Miami scared some teams off picking him. The Bucs just said thank you very much and watched him become the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1999.
The selection of Sapp would be enough to make any draft, but the Bucs excelled themselves further. They traded two of their three second round picks with Dallas to move back into the first round at No.28 and merely chose an undersized linebacker from Florida State, Derrick Brooks. Two perennial Pro Bowlers in one season – does it get any better than that?
None of the other selections in the 1995 draft panned out that successful, although Melvin Johnson started at free safety for a while. The free agency process brought an over-the-hill Reggie Roby into punt, and then the first in a series of receiver signings that you just wish they could take back. Alvin Harper had been Michael Irvin’s sidekick in Dallas, but that was all he was actually good for. Two forgettable seasons in Tampa followed and he was cut halfway through his four year contract.
When he returned to Tampa for a pre-season game with Washington, he proudly stated to the gathered press “that I don’t consider I played in Tampa.” “And he’s got the stats to prove it” replied the Tampa Tribune’s columnist and resident wit David Whitley.
The other major off-season activity was the selection of Lee Roy Selmon into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The first Buc so honoured, Selmon was the franchise’s first selection and its greatest ever player. His brother Dewey, who played five seasons alongside Lee Roy for the Buccaneers, gave the traditional introductory speech.
1995 was Trent Dilfer’s first full season as starting quarterback and in one of the amazing stats of our time, only managed to throw four touchdown passes in 16 starts. Two of them came in the season opener in Philadelphia, and he started to become the fans’ favourite whipping boy following Vinny’s ear-bashing years from before.
Sam Wyche was getting more extreme in his play-calling and post-game antics, and when the Bucs somehow upped their record to 5-2 after a lucky overtime win over Minnesota, he took great delight in crowing to all and sundry about his team’s record and that they were 9-3 in their last 12 games dating back to 1994. But the offensive problems started to take a toll on his tea, and the Bucs would only win twice in their final nine games, one an overtime success against the Packers, and the other a one-point squeaker against the expansion Jaguars, thanks to Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin going for a two-point conversion instead of kicking the extra point to send the game to overtime.
Dilfer and Wyche fell out towards the end of the season and Wyche decided to get his own back on the young quarterback by telling back-up Casey Weldon that he would be replacing Dilfer at the end of the first quarter of the season finale, irrespective of how Dilfer was playing. Weldon went along and duly took his spot on the field against the Lions while Dilfer went ballistic on the sidelines. It also led to the two quarterbacks ending up fighting on the golf course the following year as Trent thought Casey should have let him know what was being planned.
The end of the season thankfully brought an end to Sam Wyche’s coaching stint in Tampa. He may well have been an offensive genius, but it got to the point where he would rather be known for designing clever offensive plays than actually winning games. No-one shed any tears when he left. Off the field, Sam was a seriously nice guy who most people liked. On the field, he coached for a decade in the NFL based on one over-achieving season with the Bengals when he wound up in the SuperBowl.
The big story at the end of 1995, was the future of the franchise at all. A Personal Seat Licence campaign was launched to try and secure a new stadium in Tampa, but the final total of 32,557 reservations was way short of the 50,000 minimum the Glazers had expected. As Art Modell announced plans to move the Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore, rumours grew about the Bucs deserting Tampa completely. Thankfully, things were about to change for the better in Buc land on both a stadium and coaching standpoint.