Extreme Losing Was “A Plus For Tampa”

November 23rd, 2016



If you don’t have access to NFL Network, go to a buddy’s house tonight.

At 8 p.m., you can catch a one-hour show that will generate laughter, surprise and perhaps even a few tears as NFL Films presents the story of the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Call it must-see TV.

As usual, NFL Films does a first-class job interviewing the key people involved — from Steve Spurrier and Dewey Selmon to Ron Wolf and Tampa Bay civic leader Leonard Levy, who helped convince the NFL that pro football could work in the Bay area.

“What struck me the most in putting this show together were the mixed emotions these people had in reminiscing about a franchise that started out 0-26,” said NFL Films producer Ryan Kelly. “A lot of players look back at what happened with a mix of warm memories and a feeling that you’d never want to go through that experience again.”

Bad Recipe

Original Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse lured head coach John McKay away from Southern Cal, where he won four national titles, and installed Ron Wolf as head of football operations.

Wolf, who later helped build the Raiders and Packers into Super Bowl champions, now has a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as an executive.

“First-time owner, first-time head coach, first-time general manager … that is a recipe for disaster,” Wolf says on the broadcast.

The 1976 Bucs were inept from the start, dropping a 20-0 decision at the Houston Astrodome.

Before the game even began, the visitors looked lost. A wrong turn coming out of the locker room led to a false start.

“We looked up and we were underneath the stands,” said Rich McKay, whose brother, John McKay Jr., was a wide receiver on the expansion Bucs.

As the losses mounted, John McKay’s renowned sarcasm cut a little deeper, borne of frustration. He began regretting his decision to leave the Trojans for the opportunity to build the Bucs from the ground up.

Even The Tonight Show host Johnny Carson ridiculed the Bucs on national television and it didn’t help when the Bucs arrived in Denver in Week 9.

Broncos coach John Ralston couldn’t beat McKay when he was on the Stanford sidelines, so this was his chance for revenge. In the final moments of a 48-13 rout, Ralston ordered a reverse.


McKay was livid after the game and couldn’t wait to get on the team charter flight. The only problem was the bus left the stadium so hurriedly, two people were left behind in the parking lot, luggage in hand.

Mr. and Mrs. Culverhouse.

They had to catch a ride with the equipment van to make it to the plane before it took off for home.

The expansion Bucs finished 0-14, suffering five shutouts while scoring only 15 touchdowns. Spurrier lost all 12 of his starts and took a physical beating that spurred him to try coaching.

“We were players nobody else wanted,” said John McKay Jr., who caught 20 passes as a rookie.

The archival footage of that first season is terrific. There are some great shots of the huge crowd that turned out to cheer the Bucs when they returned from New Orleans on the evening of Dec. 11, 1977 with their inaugural victory.

“It’s finally over,” John McKay told his coaching staff and players after a 33-14 triumph at the Superdome.

After 40 years of Buc football, Levy supplied needed perspective on the birth of a franchise.

“You know what? As bad as 0-26 was, it was a plus for Tampa,” he said during a recent home game. “We got more visibility for our area from Johnny Carson and our fans stayed with us. Overall, I’d say the 40 years have been disappointing — we expected better. But we wouldn’t have had four Super Bowls in Tampa without the Bucs being here. All in all, they’ve been a great asset for our community.”

17 Responses to “Extreme Losing Was “A Plus For Tampa””

  1. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    Most of you know that I was there……the fans would get excited when we completed a pass or scored a field goal…..we were just terrible but it was our team.
    There isn’t anyone who came through that experience without becoming an extremely loyal Buc fan.
    It was very special.

  2. D-Mac Says:

    I’ve been a fan since that inaugural season in ’76 when I was 8 years old. That team was screwed over by the lack of opportunity the NFL gave them to build a team. (See what Jacksonville and Carolina were both able to do in just their second year due to the NFL realizing how little the Bucs were given.)

    As a side note, I attended my first Bucs game in ten year against Chicago after having moved away. It was so quiet in that stadium. I’m not big on Mike Grimes, but she wasn’t kidding about how it was like a funeral during the defensive introduction. The crowd was nothing like it used to be. I hope things start improving. One things I always appreciated about Bucs fans was their enthusiasm…even through the losing.

  3. tdtb2015 Says:

    Why would a Bucs fan watch this? Only those who didn’t grow up as a Bucs fan would have an interest on this to laugh or shake their head as the rest of the nation would.

    I’ve been a Bucs fan since the 1980 when I started watching pro football. I have no interest on wasting my time on this production.

    But I understand Ira is doing what is expected of him. I still love your work Ira.

    Go Bucs!!!

  4. tdtb2015 Says:

    I rather watch a replay of our SB win and then the game in 2003 when we had to travel to Philly to show the NFL is not a fluke our ability to beat Philly with Gruden as a coach.

    Go Bucs!!!

  5. ben Says:

    I have had season tkts since 1976. If would be nice to go down memory lane by telling fans about our 1st heroes and their lives after football.

  6. R.O. Says:

    I live in Charlotte now… my 1st Bucs game was in 1979 vs. the Chiefs. I was at the Raiders game and the Falcons game and bought club seats for both. Club Seating has ruined the game experience. Either they are empty because the seats are too expensive or the morons are inside watching it on TV. It’s dead at the beginning of the 3rd qrtr. It’s every modern stadium. I only go to the Bucs games in Charlotte and it’s the same thing. Don’t for 1 sec believe it’s just RJS.

  7. Locked In Says:

    I’ll be watching. Loyal fan since ’76 when I was 14 years old. I remember spending many Sundays at the park, listening on the radio because the games were blacked out. Used to go to the Lions and Packers games every year, but that’s about all we could afford.

  8. Dlavid Says:

    Great read Ira ! Have the show on the DVR since last week ! I was 10 years old and from Bradenton when the Bucs came into the league and have been a long suffers since ! I just can not quit this team . Absolutely love your podcast !

  9. SeanyMacinSC Says:

    I was 14 when I saw the Bucs play the Falcon in their a pre season game in Jacksonville in 1976. The Bucs won that game 17-3, and then went on to lose 26 regular season games. I’ll be watching this broadcast just for old time sakes.
    I’m thankful the Bucs got their Super Bowl victory in 2002 as several teams that have been in the NFL longer still don’t.
    Go Bucs and I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving!

  10. Owen Says:

    The Sombrero was the place to be. I’ve been a fan since ’76. I remember those men who would suit up and get shot down week after week. And yes, we who have been through the highs and lows, remember all the players who represented Tampa Bay. There were many Sundays the stands had more Packer or Bear fans than Buc fans. All the snowbirds would come down from up North and fill the joint. We still showed up, took our beating and marched back to our cars, thinking a better day was on the horizon. These players, wearing creamsicle uniforms, are the history this franchise was built upon. Don’t forget them.

  11. ThunderSack Says:

    Wow! A bunch of old timers here!

    It must be amazing to see them come into the league and finally start winning.

    I moved to the US from Canada and had no idea what football even was. I didn’t want to play soccer anymore so decided to play football. Which lead me to doing research by watching the Bucs on local tv. That would be around 1990 when DeBerg was still our QB and was about to give it up to Craig Erickson. It was right when Wyche came in!

    A lot of fond memories cheering and cursing over the years!

  12. Mike Johnson Says:

    Can’t say losing was a plus for our Bucs. Like Tampabaybucfan, I was there. Me and my pops set thru 3 straight season when we 1st took off. Its was horrible and exciting at the same time. The fans were vocal and loud. And my dad (God rest his soul) even let me have a few sips of Beer! I won’t watch the program though. Its to painful. But for you youngbloods, its an amazing history Buc course. And I know parts of it are gonna be hilarious. Man we had one beast though..Leroy Selmon. What a player. Even when we lost, he kicked but..every game.

  13. Buccfan37 Says:

    Yeesh Buc fans around for the entire haul of Buc losses know a few things about losing pro football.

  14. Dave Pear Says:

    Yep. Been a Bucs fan since day one and proud of it.

    Go Bucs
    GO BUCS!
    GO BUCS!!

  15. Miko Says:

    Not to blow my own horn…but I might be the most “unique” diehard fan of all. I live on a small island in Canada. My father took me to a bucs game in 1978 on vacation and I’ve been hooked ever since. We only had local patriots games on tv back then, the closest NFL team near us. I used to pick up the odd bucs game on the armed forces radio and only until the 1979 playoffs saw them on tv. Haven’t missed a game since Sunday ticket arrived…. thank god. The magical 1979 run is still one of my favourite teams. It truly was worst to first and oh so close.

  16. cometowin2 Says:

    I am a bandwagon fan. Jumped aboard after that first win in 1977. Was at the KC game in the driving rainstorm when we clinched the first division title in 1979. I was there when we won our first playoff game in 1979. I live in Albuquerque now and remain a rabid Bucs fan. I even saw games this year live in Atlanta and Phoenix. Win or lose will be a Bucs fan till I hit the exit. I just want to live long enough to see the Super Bowls, Jamies and Koetter will bring to Tampa and Jamies and Mike Evans eventual induction into the HOF. Go Bucs!!!

  17. BuccoBruce76 Says:

    Watched the timeline last night… I loved it saw my first bucs game in 1976 bills game and became hooked at the dolphins game….got season tickets in 1977 till 1990 then ran out of money for them….still a diehard try to make it to a game a year….I look back with love and admiration at our roots and really miss the throwback games….I think of 0-26 as a badge of honor and fond of those memories. Go Bucs