Original Bucs Share Smiles, Memories
Thirty years later, this is what Steve Young, a 22-year-old offensive lineman at the time, remembers most vividly from the Buccaneers' inaugural 1976 season: Sitting in the visitors' locker room in Pittsburgh, preparing to play a team that was winning Super Bowls by the fistful and hearing Coach John McKay's pregame speech.
"McKay," Young remembered, "came in and said, 'If you guys play the best game you have ever played and the Steelers play the worst they have ever played, you are still going to get your [butts] kicked. So just go out and have a good time.' We lost 45-0 (42-0)."
And a fun time was had by all. They just didn't realize it at the time. Now, 30 years of Buccaneers later, Young's recollection brings laughs and smiles from a brotherhood of fellow survivors, each eager to top the last story told with one of their own.
It's Saturday night at the 42nd Street Bistro in Tampa's SoHo restaurant district and some two dozen members of the original Bucs have gathered to rekindle old friendships, reminisce and even chuckle at themselves - all howling, cheering and toasting the DVD showing of "The 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Highlights."
"Pretty amazing what they can do with editing," wide receiver Barry Smith cracked
Though Tampa Bay now has a Super Bowl title and is considered home to one of pro football's model franchises, it's no secret Buccaneers history forever will be defined as much by a winless start as by any championships that came later. Out of the starting blocks they stumbled, 0-14 and with their own library of NFL bloopers. Not only were they winless, they also were called hapless, hopeless and downright awful. "We were about the only friends we had," kicker Dave Green said. "There weren't a whole lot of people who wanted to hang out with us."
But from that hardscrabble beginning grew a bond few outside a military battalion in battle, plane crash survivors or Paris Hilton ex-lovers could ever hope to understand or share.
With McKay figuring the only hope was to work more than anybody else, they went through 10 straight weeks of two-a-day practices together. There were more than 140 players who passed through the locker room as the team shopped for any possible help. The losses - and jokes - mounted.
Nobody with more emotions than a rockpile is going to walk together down that road and not part with a single heartbeat. As a team they may have been a hapless cast of mismatched characters, but they were all in it together. "Just going through having 140-something guys come through that whole season, having to introduce yourself to a guy in the huddle during practice and then he'd be gone the next day with somebody new there," Young said. "For those of us who made it, there's always going to be a bond."
Quarterback Parnell Dickinson feels it. He was channel flipping a while back. It was late. He couldn't sleep. The remote clicked and at 1:30 in the morning, on ESPN Classic, not only was there "The Birth of Buccaneers," but a young Parnell Dickinson in his Buccaneer orange. "I just smiled and thought back to that time," he said.
Why not? It's not as bad as you might think. At least not now. "Anytime you start out like we started out, there has got to be some special camaraderie just to keep showing up every week," Dickinson said. "Back then, it might not have been that good a history, but it is part of where the Bucs have come. And we didn't enjoy losing, but we enjoyed each other."
So they gathered for old time's sake. Richard "Batman" Wood was there. So were Council Rudolph, Mark Cotney and Steve Wilson. Former assistant coach Wayne Fontes showed up. So did wide receiver Lee McGriff and many others. "My memories are bittersweet," said McGriff, the undersized Florida Gators receiver from Plant High. "It was back in Tampa. It was the NFL. It was the inaugural team. But I got cut during the season and it didn't feel very good. But looking back, it was a significant experience. When I heard about this get-together, I knew I had to be here. It's about seeing the guys."
Remember When …? The stories weren't bad, either.
"Like everybody else, we flew charter flights," recalled Smith, the receiver who came to the '76 Bucs from Green Bay. "Except everybody else was flying United or Eastern or American. We were flying McCullough Airlines - like McCullough Chainsaws. We had a two-engine prop plane that [owner Hugh] Culverhouse flew us around in during 1976. The scary thing was that we'd practice at One Buc Place and it sat right there on the tarmac outside the fence and never moved until it flew us. Scared the hell out of us. We really did go through a lot of stuff together."
And always will. The '76 Bucs always will be the ebb to any future flow. They are yesterday's yin to be compared with today's yang. When there is success, the original Bucs always will be the measuring stick to judge from where the franchise came. Like it or not.
"I think what makes it unique is we are the face which everything since is measured by," said Green, who spent three years as the Bucs' punter and holder. I was at some friends' house when the Bucs won the final game to get into the Super Bowl. Everybody at the party went berserk. And wouldn't you know it the next thing that came on was that clip where I'm the holder for the place-kicker and the ball goes over my head and we go chasing after it. All of a sudden, a great night went sour for me. But we're able to laugh at it."
Mick Elliott, The Tampa Tribune 14 August 2006