Specialty Teams - Specially Terrible
Oops! Slips! Hold the champagne! Wipe the STP off the Tampa Stadium goalposts. It had been put there, you see, to cause would-be post-victory celebrants from gaining solid grips. Put the playoff plans on the side burner. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not champions yet because they did not play like champions in their loss to the Vikings.
Instead of putting the Vikings away after taking a 9-0 lead, they blew opportunity after opportunity in the late going to prolong the anxiety and make next Sunday's game with the Chicago Bears all that more critical to this unpredictable young team. When the last indignity was done, when Minnesota blocked an extra point try by Neil O'Donoghue that would have tied things at 23 and forced an overtime, some of the Vikings began heckling the Bucs leaving the field and some of the fans began heckling an already furious Bucs coach John McKay. "CHEESECAKE CHAMPIONS"
He stopped, yelled back and gestured. He then berated virtually every part of his team's effort, zeroing in on the special teams, who may have had their most costly day in the history of the franchise. Two extra points, a short field goal and a punt were blocked. The blocked punt led to a Minnesota touchdown. The other blocks cost Tampa Bay five additional points and therein lay the difference. McKay lashed out at the poor blocking on those situations and at the fans who booed and heckled him, saying he was sick and tired of it all, that he is "tired, very tired."'
Some of the Bucs refused to be interviewed, including usually candid David Lewis. And, of course, Mike Washington, the DB beaten twice for touchdowns, did not present himself. Most eventually stopped their rush for some sanctuary for comment. Most were puzzled at the turn of events, that a game about to be won at least twice was lost. Clearly, it was a punishing defeat because everyone felt with the prize victory offered, the Bucs who played so well in the rout of New York a week ago would maintain that momentum.
The Vikings, to their credit, checked that drive to the championship they have had snatched away by patient play and with the application of superior special teams play. Minnesota has long been known for its special teams and seldom have they had a better day than against Tampa Bay. And when it was done, "they were calling us cheesecake champions,'' said Richard Wood, not a man given to word ward. "They said that because we didn't beat them, I guess. I didn't appreciate the things they said. Hey, I've long been an admirer of the Vikings. But now, hey, I'll be around this conference a long time.''
No one was taking any responsibility for the poor blocking on the field goal, extra point and punting teams. So, McKay put it on the blockers. "I didn't see any today.'' Special teams coach Phil Krueger said he'd have to see the films. One offensive lineman said the Vikings simply outmanoeuvred the Buccaneer scheme of blocking for field goals and extra points. In the quick moments after the agonising setback, some of the Buccaneers sounded as if they'd lost the entire championship possibility. Then they regrouped and, as in the case of Curtis Jordan, said, "We got three shots. We'll be there. We just have to make it exciting, I guess.''
Put simply, the Bucs lost this opportunity to which they have brought themselves because one area did not produce, the special teams. Had they, the Bucs would be 10-3 and champs and the champagne would be flowing. They did not and that was that. Doug Williams said it was a team effort, the loss. Others said the same. It was not. The special teams lost the game, pure and simply. Blocked field goals and blocked extra points and blocked punts lost it. Nothing else and that should be made clear. Whether O'Donoghue's placements left his foot on a lower-than-usual trajectory, or whether the blocking was poor, or the rush good, or the formations improper, that is for the films to show, even as Krueger said.
The game pointed up what McKay, in calmer circumstances, has said for years: that a football team is made up of three units, the offense, the defense and the special teams. One is as important as the other. Sunday established how important the errant, ineffective special team play was. It cost the Bucs, the coaches, themselves, and the partisans, nearly 71,000 of them who sat through recurrent showers, an early end to the Central Division championship and possibly a chance for home-field advantage in the playoffs, providing Tampa Bay makes it.
The upshot sent fans into wails of disappointment and some into berating McKay, causing his loss of temper. He maintained that attitude through a brief post-game interview and as he said was clearly angry and clearly tired. Linebacker Dewey Selmon called it a "mental loss. Our defense didn't play at all. We fell back to two years ago. But we will definitely make the playoffs.'' Bell took no joy in his personal 1,000-yard milestone and said, "I'm not going to lose any confidence. we are 9-4 and still have the greatest opportunity in the world before us.''
"All,'' said O'Donoghue, "I can do is kick it. I can't worry about what's happening up front. I thought I hit the ball well each time.'' He did kick one 20-yarder and he kicked off well. "I'm disappointed in that we let a great opportunity get away from us today,'' said Lee Roy Selmon.
Tom McEwen The Tampa Tribune November 1979