Television Debuts
The recent pre-season victory over the New England Patriots was a historic win for the franchise. It was not historic because the Buccaneers beat New England. Tampa Bay has been more than happy to pummel the Patriots in pre-season (pardon the alliteration) for almost two decades.

No, the Buccaneer win was historic because it was Tampa Bay’s debut on the NFL Network. It might be a bit of cheating to call a pre-season game a debut, but the wonderful people at NFL Network have not deemed any of the 2008 Buccaneer games worthy of their schedule. For that reason, I am calling the 27-10 beat-down of the Pats Tampa Bay’s NFL Network debut.

The Bucs have had mixed success when it comes to making a debut on a network. The very first game in franchise history was also the first time the Buccaneers appeared on the National Broadcasting Company. NBC probably televised Tampa Bay’s 20-0 loss to the Oilers at the Astrodome to the Tampa Bay market and a couple of minimum security prisons in Texas, but that still counts as network television.

CBS (the Columbia Broadcasting System) probably needed some polish to clean up after the first Buccaneer appearance on the “Tiffany Network.” In 1976 the NFL assigned Tampa Bay to the American Football Conference (AFC) and scheduled the Bucs to play the other 13 AFC teams with one game against Seattle (assigned to the National Football Conference or NFC).

When an AFC team played an NFC team, the network with the contract covering the conference of the visiting team got to broadcast the game. Since the NFC’s Seahawks traveled to Tampa Stadium, CBS had the honor (?) of broadcasting the Expansion Bowl. CBS probably would have preferred to air 6 straight reruns of “All in the Family” in Latin. Tampa Bay’s 13-10 loss to Seattle set professional football back one-hundred years. If Edward R. Murrow hadn’t already been dead, this game would have killed him. It would be four more years before the Buccaneers made another network debut, but they would make it count.

In 1980 the Buccaneers premiered on ABC (American Broadcasting Company) Monday Night Football (albeit on their Thursday Night Edition). Dandy Don Meredith, Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell broadcast one of the greatest comebacks in team history as Doug Williams scored the game-winning touchdown with under one-minute to play. The 10-9 Bucs victory was the high-point of a bad season, but it was a view of the future.

A little over twenty years later the Bucs and Rams would play another memorable grudge-match in Tampa and once again, the Bucs scored a last minute victory! Memo to Monday Night Football: schedule Rams at Bucs the year after they meet in the playoffs. It is a guaranteed shoot-out victory for Tampa Bay!

Until 1987 the only three networks to cover the NFL were ABC, CBS and NBC. But with the advent of cable it was only a matter of time until pro football became a quasi-pay-per-view operation. In 1987 the NFL sold ESPN the rights to some games and in 1990 did the same for Turner Network Television (TNT).

Although ESPN started airing games first, it was TNT that hosted Tampa Bay’s cable television debut and once again Tampa Bay participated in an exciting down to the wire contest. When John Harvey scored on a Vinny Testaverde pass, the Bucs had a 23-20 victory over then division rival Detroit. The nation was stunned for weeks by the acrobatic Gary Anderson TD that preceded Harvey’s score. Anderson scored on an 11-yard touchdown run, but should only have gotten credit for a seven-yard gain as he jumped over three Lion defenders and four yards of real estate to score. Talk about “Must See TV!”

The next season, the Buccaneers made their ESPN debut in a 26-24 loss to Minnesota. The game was a rare respite from the blow-out losses that plagued Richard Williamson’s year as coach. I remember that the ESPN ad campaign for football that season was “Pig-Out.” Arguably the worst television ad campaign in the history of sports.

Do you like the clock in the corner of the television screen telling you not only the score, but the time remaining in the quarter? If so, you can thank FOX for that innovation. In 1994 FOX outbid CBS for the rights to NFC football and the Buccaneers opener against the Bears at Soldier Field marked the first time TB CHI was superimposed in the upper right hand corner of television screens.

Of course, now there are entirely too many graphics on the screen. Not only do you know how much time is left in the quarter, the down, the distance, the official shipping company of the NFL and what a second-string tailback for the Bengals has gained in another game, but you can also see if your laundry is done. Ok, maybe not that last bit but there is a lot of information on the screen. In the 1994 opener, Buc fans probably wished the entire screen was covered as the Bucs looked bad in losing 21-9.

1994 was the last network debut for the Bucs until this past weekend on NFL Network. Where is the future of TV heading? Who knows. I am just looking forward for the debut of live Buccaneer football on TV. Maybe one day we’ll just log onto this site and watch live games to our hearts content. Let’s get to work on that Paul!