A Bucs Pro Bowler Passes

July 16th, 2020

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By the end of the 1977 season, you could feel the Buccaneer defense coming on.

Lee Roy Selmon, the first Tampa Bay player inducted into Canton, was the obvious star, but a rookie out of Southern Cal made an immediate impact.

His name was David Lewis and John McKay would later call him the steal of the draft.

Lewis, who passed away this week at the age of 65, played a key role in a 3-4 defense that became very good very quickly. Lining up over the tight end at his left outside linebacker position, Lewis proved to be equally adept as a run stuffer and a drop back defender in coverage.

“I remember how good he was,” Ron Wolf told me Wednesday from his home in Jupiter. “Lewis started right away and he helped us right from the jump. We had four pretty good linebackers — and he was the best of ’em.”

Lewis played five years in Tampa before finishing out his career with the Chargers and Rams. He was a beloved coach at Tampa Catholic and a frequent visitor to Raymond James Stadium on game day, cheering on his Buccaneers.

That 1977 Buc defense shouldn’t be overlooked, despite the team’s 2-12 record. McKay’s offense wasn’t bad … it was terrible.

Historically terrible.

How about averaging 7.4 points per game? How about scoring seven offensive TDs in 14 games while being shut out six times?

But despite an embarrassing lack of production on the other side, the Bucs yielded an average of only 15.9 points per game, good for 12th in a 28-team league.

Calling It Straight

During their 0-26 start, the Bucs emerged as national jokes. They prompted ridicule on talk shows, including this jab from Johnny Carson: “Name two disasters that were accompanied by band music — the Titanic and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.”

Former Bucs architect Ron Wolf (right) remembers David Lewis.

Such was the backdrop when Tampa Bay players took the field Dec. 11 in New Orleans. They strutted out with a 33-14 victory on the strength of a defense that scored three times and forced seven turnovers.

“That ’77 defense was really good and Tom Bass did a heck of a job with our linebackers,” said Wolf, who was in charge of football operations during Tampa Bay’s first two seasons. “A big part of that was Lee Roy Selmon, but don’t forget about David Lewis. He was a big-time football player.”

Back in the day, the Bucs were dubbed “USC East,” for their penchant for drafting Trojans that McKay was familiar with. In 1977, Ricky Bell was the first overall pick and the Bucs kicked off Round 2 by grabbing Lewis, who joined Richard Wood, Dewey Selmon and Cecil Johnson in a formidable linebacker corps.

Lewis and McKay shared a tight bond, although the relationship was slightly frayed toward the end of the 1979 season.

Following Tampa Bay’s third consecutive loss, setting up a must-win situation in Week 16 against the Chiefs, Lewis used the word “choke” to describe the team’s performance. McKay lashed out at Lewis, who responded by leading the Bucs with eight stops in a 3-0 victory against Kansas City in a deluge at the soggy Sombrero.

Lewis earned a Pro Bowl berth a year later.

“There was nothing phony about the man,” Lewis said. “With Coach McKay, the best players played. He told you what was on his mind, in an honest and straightforward manner. He took the brunt of criticism in the early days, but he had the last laugh. We came a lot further a lot faster than any team in NFL history.”

Once Lewis arrived in 1977, he always considered Tampa home. He made many friends in the community and his presence was always welcome at One Buc Place. When he got together with former teammates on Alumni Day during training camp, the good times rolled.

He’ll surely be missed, even as we remember him so fondly.

Enjoy Mike Alstott’s June interview on the Ira Kaufman Podcast.

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Ira Kaufman’s column is presented by Bill Currie Ford. Click on Ira to visit BillCurrieFord.com. GM Sean Sullivan will help you personally in every way he can. Superior service and body shops, too. Joe has used both!

14 Responses to “A Bucs Pro Bowler Passes”

  1. August 1976 Buc Says:

    David Lewis was definatley the best linebacker during his time here with the Bucs. Batman Richard Wood was a good linebacker and fan favorite but I always thought David Lewis was a notch better. RIP David you were an excellent player for the Buccaneers.

  2. DoooshLaRue Says:

    A great player and a nice guy.
    He gave me an autograph at the Shriners dinner in 1978 and gave me a high 5.


  3. dbbcpa Says:

    Got to know David the last few years bowling in some leagues at Pinchasers. He was open to anyone, friendly, always having fun, enjoying life, and would always say Hi. He was a huge regular guy who always had a smile on his face. Even when his health started limiting him, he would still come support his team even though he could not bowl. I will miss his handshakes and his laughter. He had the hands of a grizzly bear. They were just huge. RIP David Lewis.

  4. Jerseybuc Says:

    Was an intern in the PR department during the 78 season and I interviewed David for the gameday magazine. He was a good dude. He was one of 3 or 4 USC guys McKay brought to Tampa and that season we went back out there and played The Rams on the same field that the Trojans played on. McKays return to Los Angeles was big news out there, but the story of
    That game was Doug Williams getting his jaw broken and essentially the season went down the tubes. Interestingly enough guess who replaced Doug at QB?
    Mike Rae, former QB of where else-USC.
    Monday morning I sat in a room with Doug, who had his jaw wired shut, and we were looking at some Newspaper stories that called for Mike Rae to take
    Over permanently for Williams. He was furious and I am sure McKay never entertained doing that. That 78 team was the turning point from national joke to playoff team a year later. One other thing of note was the outstanding coaching staff McKay had that year. Future Head coaches Abe Gibron and Wayne Fontes, and hall of famer Joe Gibbs was the o line coach. Another hall of famer was Ron Wolf in the front office. The next year it would again be the Rams who kept us from getting to the super bowl. What a great time that was to be a Buccaneer fan, watching us go for laughingstocks to legit playoff team. Didn’t last but that 79 80 team was solid.

  5. rrsrq Says:

    David Lewis was that guy

  6. Mike Johnson Says:

    I remember Mr. Lewis. My dad took me to a lot of those early games when I was a Kid. He never gave up on a play and was a hard hitter. Rest in Peace sir.

  7. '79Defense Says:

    Great piece, Ira.

    Very sad to hear that he passed away. I fondly remember watching the Bucs against the Saints in December of ’77 and seeing the defense totally destroy the Saints. Three interceptions for TDs (not referred as a “pick six” back then). What a glorious afternoon and evening that was for a 10 year old kid who watched 26 losses before that day.

    Thanks David and to the rest of that defense (and Coach McKay and the rest of the team) for the memories.

    Looking way ahead, I really hope in 2027 the Bucs organization plans an incredible ceremony honoring the players for the 50th anniversary of that first win.

  8. Buczilla Says:

    Great article Ira.

    Rest in peace Mr. Lewis.

  9. Jorge Villanueva Says:

    [Joe does not have pop-up anything. If you are getting some type of a pop-up ad, that is coming from an independent ad feed likely based on something in your computer’s cookies. — Joe]

  10. Buc4evr Says:

    Thanks for the memories Ira. David was part of the best LB corps the Bucs have ever had. He was one of the hardest hitters in the game. It’s sad many Bucs fans today have no idea who he was and never got to see the type of defense we once had. RIP #57 you will be missed.

  11. »=Delusional Intelligence=« Says:

    [Joe thanks you and Ira thanks you! — Joe]

  12. «Delusional Intelligence» Says:


    Thanks for the look back. I appreciate these articles, as I didn’t become a Bucs Fan until like Hardy Nickerson, I moved from the Steel City to The Bay in 1991.

  13. Bruce Blahak Says:

    Great tribute Ira. Lewis was a tremendous player in his first few years with the Bucs. He and Cecil Johnson were outstanding rookie starters on that 77 team that took a giant leap from 76 to near the top of the league in defensive units.

  14. Capt.Tim Says:

    David lewis. Richard Wood. Dewey Selmon. Cecil Johnson.
    My Lord, those guys brought the pain.
    Incredible group. I will never forget their playoff win against Philly
    Harold Carmichael and especially their running backs didnt want to catch the ball, by the end of the game.

    And David Lewis led them!
    RIP sir. True Buc fans will always appreciate your efforts.