BERTH OF THE BUCS
The "do it yourself" Tampa Bay Buccaneers required no outside assistance Sunday and walked straight into the National Football Conference Central Division championship. By virtually the slimmest margin, the Bucs defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 3-0 on Neil O'Donoghue's fourth-quarter 19-yard field goal at rain-swept Tampa Stadium in the final game of the regular season. That clinched a Dec. 29 playoff game at Tampa Stadium against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Bucs and the Chicago Bears finished the regular season with 10-6 records and tied for first place. Since they split with each other, the Bucs winning 17-13 at Chicago and the Bears winning 14-0 at Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay won the championship on the National Football League's next tiebreaker priority - division records. The Bucs were 6-2 and the Bears 5-3. Tampa Bay saw a three-game lead vanish with consecutive losses the last three weeks. But the Bucs could have backed into the championship without beating Kansas City if the Cardinals had won at Chicago. As it developed, they needed no help for these key reasons:
The defense held the Chiefs to their lowest total yardage ever, 80 yards (104 was the previous low), and recorded its first shutout ever. The Bucs likely won the NFL's triple crown of defense - first in total yards, passing and rushing. The Chiefs managed only four first downs. Linebacker Richard "Batman" Wood had one interception and picked off another fumbled pass. Strong safety Mark Cotney, Pro Bowl defensive end Lee Roy Selmon and nose tackle Randy Crowder all sacked Chief quarterback Steve Fuller. The defense, place in a hole at its 34 on cornerback Tim Collier's 40-yard interception return of a Doug Williams pass in the second quarter, held the Chiefs to one first down there and forced a 39-yard field-goal attempt, which was blocked. Ricky Bell rushed 39 times, a stadium record, for 137 yards and finished the season with 1,263 yards. The 39 carries were only two short of the NFL record.
The offense, playing cautiously in the rain, which inundated parts of the field, had 269 total yards, rushed for 224, passed for 45 net, ran 76 plays to Kansas City's 38 and held possession for 40:22 to the Chiefs" 19:38. The special teams muffed a 32-yard field-goal opportunity for O'Donoghue when holder Tom Blanchard couldn't handle the center snap in the first quarter. But then Lee Roy Selmon blocked Jan Stenerud's 39-yard kick in the second quarter. It was Selmon's third blocked kick of the season. Finally, the field-goal team provided the game's only points in the fourth quarter. This time, Blanchard somehow got the ball up after a low snap from center Steve Wilson.
It could be considered poetic justice for O'Donoghue and the special teams to provide the winning points. Three weeks ago, the Minnesota Vikings blocked four kicks to send the Bucs into the nosedive that did not end until Sunday. O'Donoghue also kicked the winning field goal, 31 yards, in an overtime 29-26 win at Baltimore in the second week of the season. Tampa Bay drove from its 35 to Kansas City's 2 before O'Donoghue kicked the three-pointer. Eleven of those plays were on the ground.
Williams threw only two passes, a 17-yard toss to tight end Jimmie Giles on a third-and-three to move the ball to the KC 30 and a critical third-and-six throw to Giles at the 9. Williams pumped once, started to run, then connected with Giles, who made a sliding, sloshing catch in the water. Bell ran nine times during the crucial series and, as he did after afternoon, made much of the yardage himself. The defense protected that three-point lead by not permitting the Chiefs a first down after O'Donoghue's kickoff went through the end zone.
The offense ran out the last 7:42 of the game on the ground, moving from its 44 to the KC 9. Williams simply fell on the ball on the last two plays and the madness of victory erupted on the Bucs bench. However, many of the original 63,624 rain-drenched fans weren't around to enjoy it. "We are division champions and I am proud of the team," Bucs coach John McKay said. "We didn't want them to win on our mistakes. We played a very cautious and cool game. Bell ran well. Go talk to the players - they're champs."
The Bucs opened their dressing room to the media for the first time this season (it previously was closed because of female reporters). Chiefs coach Marv Levy said, "We played four quarters of football and the Buccaneers won. As I always say, we play from week-to-week and then on the afternoon of the game both teams play in the same elements and, today, the Bucs were just three points better than we were."
The Chiefs missed their chance at a .500 season and finished 7-9 - their best record since 1973. Williams, who successfully ran naked reverses several times and had seven carries for 25 yards, said his running wasn't in the game plan. "They have such a great pursuing team that I told Coach McKay we should fake some of the runs and just keep the ball," he said. "I'm no better than the people around me. I don't block and I'm no running back. Our guys blocked today and our defense, who can play with anybody in the league, shut them out and these are the kind of people you like to be with."
Williams said the American Conference is supposed to be tougher than the NFC, especially the Central Division. "They're in that tough Western Division and they had beaten Seattle and Oakland twice, so they are pretty tough," he said of Kansas City. "We beat them, so I don't know what that makes us. I know we did something nobody else did against them. We ran the ball on them."
Offensive tackle Dave Reavis, who suffered a painfully bruised shin, said, "I figured we could move the ball on them. But their front seven is as good as we have played this year. We seem to do better against the better teams. You think about it. There's got to be some potential there to do that." "The way we did it, waiting until the last game, was hard on the nerves, but it was worth it all," said offensive lineman Darrell Austin.
Jerry Eckwood said he fumbled on a long run because he was trying to cut behind tight end Jim Obradovich, who was running interference. "The ball was wet and my jersey was very wet," he said. "I was running behind him and was trying to cut in behind him. I think we bumped a little. But let me tell you, Tampa Bay is a division champion and it probably is the best time of my life. So many players never experience this and it has happened in my first year. There is no better feeling." "I think we learned something," linebacker Cecil Johnson said. "We stuck with each other and won." Linebacker Dewey Selmon, who became a father for the first time Saturday, said, "it was probably our best defensive game and I'm glad we won at home." Wood said, "it's going to be hard keeping us out of the Super Bowl. We've just got to realise what our goals are. God bless us."
Tom McEwen The Tampa Tribune December 1979