What if the 1982 season had been played in full?
The National Football League has an August 1 “drop-dead” date for pulling the Bucs-Bears game from London. Additionally, a cryptic non-answer from the NFL regarding when a decision will come on canceling games on the just released 2011 schedule has many wondering how many of the slate of 512 games will take place as scheduled.
If any games were lost, it would be the first time since September 27, 1987 that a regularly scheduled Tampa Bay Buccaneers game was completely cancelled. In Week Three of the 1987 season the Bucs were to host the Green Bay Packers at Tampa Stadium. The game against the Pack, in what would have been the second home game in Ray Perkins’ first year as coach, was wiped clean from the pages of history after the players walked out in Week Two. A spate of replacement games started the next week and a season of 15 games was salvaged.
The replacement games were not universally acclaimed, but they were a significant improvement over the Division III college football and Canadian Football League telecasts that filled the holes left by the 1982 strike.
In 1982 a total of seven weeks of football went the way of the wind as the owners and players engaged in what can only be termed as “The Ritual of Childish Antics.” Out of curiosity, I looked up the Bucs 1982 schedule to see what was missed. What I found was fascinating.
Because this week also gave us the season premiere of “Doctor Who” on BBC America, I was motivated to create my own Tardis so I could go back and view 1982 as though the strike never happened so those seven games could be played.
Being as the United States suffers from a lack of police call boxes, I improvised with a few odds and ends and converted my garage into my own personal Time and Relative Dimension in Space machine. Powered by an old Commodore 64 computer, my Tardis came to life and I found myself in Tampa in late September 1982 in a parallel universe.
I knew it was 1982 immediately when I heard the song “Abracadabra” by the Steve Miller Band blaring through a transistor radio I had brought along. My clue that I had successfully transcended to a parallel universe was the fact that Ronald Reagan was not president but was instead the lead actor in the television series “Dynasty.” I have no idea what happened to John Forsythe, and didn’t care.
But back to the task at hand, seeing how the 1982 Bucs would have fared had the strike never taken place. Even in the parallel universe, the Bucs lost back-to-back games to Minnesota and Washington to open the season.
Then instead of going on strike, the owners and NFLPA agreed that mutually assured destruction was just not the way to go. Shockingly, it was Hugh Culverhouse’s plaintiff cry of “Can’t we all just get along,” during a press conference that was credited with bringing the sides together.
With labor unrest behind them, the Bucs prepared for the rest of a bizarre season.
September 26: @ Detroit Lions
A key road game against the same team the Bucs edged out for the divisional title in 1981 saw the Lions gain a measure of revenge in a 24-21 victory over Tampa Bay. Billy Sims ran wild, gaining close to 150 yards and scoring two touchdowns. The loss dropped Tampa Bay to 0-3 on the season.
October 4: San Francisco 49ers
A Monday Night Football home game against the defending Super Bowl champions featuring Joe Montana’s first trip to Tampa Stadium. The ol’ Sombrero was rocked to its foundation as Doug Williams led a late-fourth quarter drive. With just over a minute to go, Williams’ 23-yard pass to Jimmie Giles gave the Bucs a 21-16 lead.
However, no one could make more out of a minute of football than Joe Montana. The reigning NFL champion calmly led the 49ers on a 7-play, 80-yard drive culminating in a 17-yard touchdown pass to former University of Tampa standout Freddie Solomon in the back of the end zone as time expired. The 23-21 loss seems to be a crushing end to the Bucs chances of a successful defense of their division title as they fall to 0-4.
October 10: Minnesota Vikings
A re-match with the division foe that clipped the Bucs in the season opener was a shockingly one-sided affair. Lee Roy Selmon sacks Tommy Kramer an astounding six times and the Bucs defense forces four turnovers with Scot Brantley returning one of them for a touchdown in Tampa Bay’s 35-3 dismantling of Minnesota. The Bucs record is now 1-4.
October 17: @ Green Bay Packers
The Packers of the early 1980’s were owned by the Buccaneers and this game at Milwaukee’s County Stadium was no different. James Wilder runs for 130 yards and even throws for a touchdown on an option pass to Gordon Jones in Tampa Bay’s 30-10 victory. The Bucs record now stands at 2-4 and head coach John McKay tells the press, “We’ve got everyone right where we want ‘em.”
October 24: @ Chicago Bears
The Bucs and Bears during this time engaged in very brutal defensive battles. The winning team usually left happy to still be breathing. In this case the Bears live to tell the tale after a 10-7 victory in which Doug Williams is knocked out of the game with a concussion after a late hit by future wrestling heel Steve McMichael.
Williams is replaced by Jerry Golsteyn, who even in a parallel universe couldn’t move the offense. Bucs fall to 2-5. John McKay tells the press after the game, “Ok, we’ve got everyone right where we want ‘em, except for the f@#$ing Bears!!”
October 31: @ Baltimore Colts
Usually a third straight road game spells doom for the visitor. However, the 1982 Colts were arguably a worse team than the 1976 Bucs. The real 1982 Colts went 0-8-1 in the abbreviated season. In the parallel universe, they went 0-15-1. On Halloween, the Bucs look downright scary in beating Baltimore 42-14 to improve their record to 3-5.
November 7: Green Bay Packers
The beginning of the Bucs “Cardiac Kids” roller coaster during the second half of the season begins on this day in Tampa Stadium. The Packers enter the third quarter leading 28-7. With any chance for the playoffs riding on this game, Doug Williams throws caution to the wind and the football all over the place.
Williams completes a ridiculous 17 consecutive passes in the fourth quarter for almost two hundred yards and three touchdowns. The Bucs defense forces four consecutive three-and-outs by the Green Bay offense and Tampa Bay ties the game as the clock expires on a 53-yard Hail Mary from Williams to Terdell Middleton of all people. Shockingly,
Middleton wore jersey number 45 into the huddle, but emerged from the huddle wearing jersey number 44. This so confounds the Packers, that they leave the erstwhile running back all alone on the play. In overtime Bill Capece kicks a 37-yard field goal prompting John McKay to exclaim “Capece is cold-blooded. The game is as good as kaput when he lines up for a game-winner.” The Bucs improve to 4-5.
November 14: Chicago Bears
A “sick-out” by the air traffic controllers in retaliation for the action taken in 1981 by President Charlton Heston cancels all commercial aviation for four days prompting the cancellation of Week Ten games. The Bucs-Bears game is scheduled to be made up in January of 1983.
The Bucs spend the free weekend watching the Florida State Seminoles dismantle the Louisville Cardinals 49-14 at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee. When asked why they didn’t go to a Gator game, an anonymous Buc said, “The Seminoles have better uniforms and are generally a lot more fun. Besides, have you ever been to Gainesville? There is nothing going on there!” (This may or may not have happened in the parallel universe, but sometimes things get lost in translation.)
The remaining games in the parallel 1982 season went on as they did in the real history of that year. The Bucs came amazingly close to losing out on a playoff berth, but a fantastic string of games over the final month gave the Bucs a 9-7 record and first place in the NFC Central. Unfortunately, the parallel Bucs also bowed out to the Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs.
When the season ended, I jumped back in the Tardis and came home a happier man knowing the 1982 would have been magical. The comeback from a 0-4 start to playoff team was unprecedented and wouldn’t be matched again until the 1992 San Diego Chargers pulled off the feat.
Now for some fun reality-based defenses of my time-traveling findings:
The home game against the Bears was the only scheduled game lost to the strike that was played as a make-up game. When the strike was settled, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and many other league officials scoured the list of cancelled games and selected a handful to be “made up” the first weekend of January. As many of you know, the Bucs won 26-23 to make the playoffs.
Now the Bucs finished the abbreviated season 5-4. The extrapolation to a 9-7 record is not inconceivable considering the schedule was relatively weak. Also, being declared champion of the NFC Central with a barely better than .500 record is not out of the realm of possibility. The 9-7 record of the Bucs would have kept in line with the mediocre at best NFC Central of the time. In 1981 the Bucs won the division at 9-7. In 1983, the Detroit Lions won the division with yet another 9-7 record.
Far-fetched? Maybe. But aren’t you all fans of “Doctor Who?” I’m no expert on temporal relativity and parallel universes, but I say, “What the Hell?” There’s very little NFL news going on now and this was a fun way to while away time on a slow day.
For the purposes of clarification, a September 16, 2001 home game against the Philadelphia Eagles was also not played as scheduled. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks the NFL postponed the entire slate of Week Two games and tacked them on at the end of the year. The Eagles came to Tampa in January and played the Bucs in primetime rather than at the originally scheduled 1:00 pm.