Mike Tierney
One normally foolproof method of discerning the winners from the losers in a post-game locker room setting is by what the players are smoking. Customarily a loser puffs on a cigarette, a winner sucks on a cigar. As much as champagne, trophies and ear-to-ear grins, the cigar has become a symbol of victory.

Thus bowing to sports tradition, seasoned Tampa Bay Buc offensive tackle Mike Current came equipped to Sunday's game at Tampa Stadium against the Seattle Seahawks with a stogie. Current understandably was suffering from a nicotine fit, not having lit up under such circumstances all year long for the winless Bucs. He lit up Sunday. But the cigar tasted lousy. "This was a victory cigar," said Current. "Now it's just a cigar."

THE BAY Bucs had been smoked again. They certainly were no overwhelming favorites, but the game was being promoted as a wide-open evenly matched touchdown fest involving the expansionists. Based on such billing, it fell on its face. Current had an explanation, "Penalties ruined what could have been a helluva game," he said.

Indeed the most potent attack was not by the local wearing white-and-orange nor by the visitors in blue-and-gray, but by the boys in black-and-white stripes. And the officials only had six guys on their team. They stepped off 35 penalties two short of the National Football League one-game record for 310 yards. The Bucs offense collected 285 yards while Seattle's punched out 253.

'The officials didn't indicate any obvious preference, nagging down Tampa Bay 20 times to 15 for Seattle. But the Bucs were hurt by an inordinate number of offensive holding penalties, so much so that quarterback Steve Spurrier said, "It just to the point where every time I threw the ball, I got to looking around for a penalty."

"It was ridiculous." said veteran tight end Bob Moore, who was fingered a few occasions. "l know what holding is. That No. 29 (back judge Stan Javie called every one. I just don't believe there were that many."

"It makes it a little gooey," added Current, "when you want to block. You're not sure what you can get away with."

Head coach John McKay, wary of an NFL commissioner who is wont to pass out fines like parking tickets when officials are criticized, answered "no" to invitations from reporters to comment about the nag dropping. In fact, McKay resembled a stuck record album with his one-word replies on a variety or topics while whirring TV and radio tape recorders documented mostly silence. McKay did seem willing to inform about one of the Bay Bucs' penalties, an unsportsmanlike conduct call against himself for disagreeing with another infraction. "But," McKay said, "you couldn't put it in a family newspaper anyway."

Seattle had just chased down its initial victory, and McKay's brain was picked on which the Seahawks or Tampa Bay was the better team. "They must be," he said of Seattle. "They won."

SPURRIER WAS not so sure. "I think we probably have a little better team than Seattle," he said. Spurrier was sacked four times by Seattle rushers, but he did shake off a query about Terry Hanratty, the Bucs' new quarterback who is expected to suit up next Sunday against Miami and challenge Spurrier for starter's duties. They did complete their first-ever touchdown pass Sunday but Spurrier was only a spectator on the play.

Appropriately the pass, a two-hander by halfback Louis Carter, resembled a basketball jumpshot, seeing as how the officials judged the game as if there were five men on a side and hoops on each end of the field. On a third-and-goal play, Carter failed to soar the required inches for a touchdown, so upon bouncing back, he went into his Julius Erving imitation and pumped the ball to wide receiver Morris Owens. Owens was standing idly, hands on his hips, expecting a ball no more so than a guy in the 47th row bleachers.

"Yeah, it was taking a chance everything you do, you take a risk," said a nonchalant Carter, no longer excited about tossing TD passes. He had several as a collegian at Maryland. "HE (OWENS) was more or less standing there, looking back at me."

Earlier in the series, the Owens sure-fingered a Spurrier pass in the end zone for nearly a second, but when he returned to the earth, he dropped it. "l knew that would happen when my elbows hit," he said.

Danny Reece nearly brought the Bucs a victory when he eluded all but the last tackler punter Rick Engle, on a 30-yard return to the Tampa 47 with 2:37 left. "The KICKER." He moaned. "He really surprised me."