Did somebody say Chokeneers?
Chomp! Chomp! Chomp! That's me eating Chokenee, the word invented here one week ago after the Tampa Bay Bucs had avoided winning three straight games to set up Sunday's opportunity to (1) win the National Football League Choke of the Year Award, or (2) regroup and do what they had to do to win the most important game in the history of the franchise. Chomp! Chomp! Chomp!
It's eaten and digested now and Chokeneer is no more because in its most crucial circumstance yet, Tampa Bay became the Buccaneers again and the champion Buccaneers for the first time as their unyielding defense and patient offense and "had-to" special teams combined for a 3-0 win over a Kansas City team that played harder than should be expected of a team going nowhere.
The most regrettable circumstance of the historic Sunday was that the weather was so rotten - rain and mist - that perhaps only half who bought all the tickets stuck out the 0-0 game and the discomfort until Neil O'Donoghue hit the 19-yard field goal and Coach John McKay asked his defense to check Kansas City for the remaining 7:42. They did their part and, indeed, the Bucs were running out the clock at the KC 9 when it was over and the Bucs were 10-6 and the champions of the National Football Conference's Central Division. "We could have played in overtime, we could have played all month, and Kansas City would not have scored," said a jubilant Danny Reece, who played his first full game as a defensive back since 1977. He played well, too, but then how could anyone on defense not play well when the first regular-season shutout in Buc history was produced.
The fact is, the 3-0 result was judicious. The Bucs deserved to win this day. They outplayed the Chiefs, despite some mistakes, they did what they had to do, and the final result pinpointed the manner of the game's play. It was a 3-0 game. "I don't care if it was 3-0, or 10, or point-five to nothing. We are the champs," said fullback Johnny Davis.
Indeed they are. The 10th win was grudgingly and purposefully and patiently produced, with the John McKay strategy working perfectly. The Bucs had two other opportunities to score before the marginal field goal, but an aborted field goal and a fumble, two Tampa Bay misdeeds so a part of their game lately, muffed those opportunities. But it was to their credit, to the credit of their staff, that they did not panic but played with poise right through the fourth quarter drive to the field goal.
Doug Williams was heroic in the point-producing drive, with surprise bootlegs, with two key passes to Jimmie Giles. And the offensive line did what it had to do and Ricky Bell was simply sensational with one more brilliant performance. Ricky Bell has become one of the NFL's premier running backs, one its premier individuals. McKay was hurried and brief in his post-game comments, saying the players should be the story subjects, not him. He did say: "We are the Central Division champions. I am proud of this team after all the abuse it has taken, some richly deserved."
Of the conservative play in a circumstance not dissimilar to a day on the Scottish Moors, McKay said, "We were not going to take a chance on making the mistakes that had been hurting us. We played a very cool, conservative game." It worked, and it pulled the Bucs out of the pitward plunge that had been going on for three Sundays - against Minnesota, Chicago and San Francisco. Danny Reece said what many thought. "Now we won't have to go home and know that the rest of the NFL was laughing at us," in the wake of four straight losses. Now the Bucs are in and the rest of the league can say, "Oh, No!" Now they have to watch us on television. Hah!"
Kansas City coach Marv Levy was complimentary of the Bucs and their effort. "We played them fair and square and they won," he said. Well put. "You ought to play football games on a weekend, on grass and in the elements and then good teams win," he added. "That happened today." Well put, too. "We were in a slump," said Bell, who worked so hard in the deluge. "Everything was going downhill. Everything, all the adversity was against us but we pulled together. Coach McKay came out early in the week and said we were going to win. That makes him a genius. He made us relax. We were a little tight in the beginning but we knew we were going to get the ball in the end zone. The key to the game, though, was the defense. It has been the key all season."
More facts, though, do not discount the work of the Buc offense in this 3-0 result because one reason Kansas City scored no points, beyond the work of the Tampa Bay defense, was the Buc offense had the ball 40 minutes, 22 seconds to only 19:38 for KC. That suggests teamwork. The defense got the ball for the Bucs and the Bucs kept it.
The Buc locker room was alive and loud and opened to the press, with players keeping on some clothing for 30 minutes after the game's end. No, few said they were concerned abut the fact that Chicago was beating St. Louis at the time the Bucs were struggling against the Chiefs. Their job was to beat Kansas City, linebacker Richard Wood said, not to worry about the Bears. "We played as men today," said co-captain Wood. "I'm proud to be a part of this team and to represent this city. God bless the fans for being with us from the start as well as today." "This is my first championship since high school," said defensive end Wally Chambers, who played a whale of a game and was electric from the start. "We played a good team and we played as a team. No one gave up."
Linebacker David Lewis, who last week publicly admonished the member of the Bucs who were choking, a development that may have had a hand in intensifying the Buc effort against the Chiefs, said making the playoffs is part of an "American Dream." "No expansion team ever did it in four years, not Houston, not Dallas," said Lewis, who omitted Cincinnati, which made it in three years but still does not diminish the Bucs" feat. "I can't say enough about this win," he added. "You don't get a shutout and not play well. But I can't say enough for how Lee Roy Selmon and Wally and Randy Crowder pushed them off the line." "Hey, it was like the night before Christmas Saturday night and Sunday was Christmas," said fullback Davis.
All facts, for the Bucs and their family and their partisans. Co-captain Mark Cotney called it a "dog fight and we don't lose dog fights. In our biggest game ever, we gave our biggest effort and got the biggest thing we can get, a shutout." "Biggest football thrill of my life," said co-captain center Steve Wilson. "We been through the good times and the bad times. Now the good times are back. Three to nothing is as good as 30-0."
More facts. "Wasn't a big score, but it was a big win," said offensive guard Greg Horton. "Had we not won," said offensive tackle Dave Reavis, "all the good things we have done this year would have been for nothing. It would have been like old times, but it wasn't. We sucked it up and did what we had to do."
Linebacker Dewey Selmon said the win and the result are "the products of blood, sweat and tears." And linebacker Aaron Brown said, "Hey, Tom, you gonna write we're not Chokeneers, but Buccaneers again?" Consider it done, Aaron. The Buccaneers and the Buccaneers again. And nobody's laughing at them now. Chomp! Chomp! Chomp!
Tom McEwen The Tampa Tribune December 1979