1977 - The winless streak goes to 26 games
If a winless season by an expansion team could be written off for that very reason, a winless record for a second year team was going to be a little harder to bear. And for a franchise which was now building up an infamous history as never having won a single competitive game, the jokes around the nation began to build up about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Johnny Carson announced he was bringing out a book of all of the good things that had happened to the franchise since their inception, and hence produced a blank sheet of paper on his national TV show, while his sidekick, Jay Leno, announced proudly that he had bought the rights to all of the Bucs' SuperBowl appearances in a frenzied auction, one that saw him bidding only against himself.
John McKay remain unfazed by the whole process. He was a little more hardened than in his rookie NFL campaign, a little less likely to make jokes and seemingly laugh the whole thing off, more a man sticking resolutely to his master plan in spite of the ever-increasing total in the losses column. He had built his great USC teams on defense, and continued to add the pieces in his professional building exercise. To the Selmon brothers and Dave Pear, he added linebackers Richard Wood and Cecil Johnson, and drafted one of his former Trojans in David Lewis to mix in to his base 3-4 defense.
This began to pay dividends during the season, only twice all year did a team score more than two touchdowns against the 1977 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. One of the most amazing defensive statistics that the Bucs posted, was that only one runner, Walter Payton, gained more than 100 yards against them in the 14 games that season, and even that was 101 yards on no fewer than 33 carries.
The only problem was, that to even score one touchdown against them, was usually enough to win in the Bucs' second season. Steve Spurrier had retired, leaving the quarterback job between veteran Gary Huff, and the unknown rookie Randy Hedberg, who had led the team to two victories in the pre-season.
When the serious stuff started, Hedberg posted the instantly forgettable statistics of no touchdowns and ten interceptions in his attempts as the starter behind center, while neither Huff nor Jeb Blount could post any points on the board. Indeed after 12 games of the 1977 season, with the losing streak now extended to an all-time NFL record 26 defeats, the Buccaneers had scored 53 points, 23 of which had come in a single game against the Seahawks. The final tally of six shut-outs in one season remains an NFL record that will probably stand forever bearing in the mind the offensive explosion of recent years.
To do Huff, Hedberg and the rest justice, there was not much of a running game to complement their aerial attack. McKay had selected another of his former players, Ricky Bell, to lead the Buccaneers I-formation attack, by passing Tony Dorsett in the same draft who went on to a stellar career with the Cowboys from the second overall selection. Bell joined second-year man Jimmy DuBose in a backfield that could not average even three yards per carry over the season, as punter Dave Green began to see his leg disintegrate from sheer overuse.
One famous play that continues to make the highlight films, came in the defeat to the Detroit Lions in the Silverdome. A long pass from Huff down the left sideline was intended for rookie Larry Mucker. Unfortunately for Mucker, the Lion defensive back slightly obscured his vision and the ball bounced off his face for another incompletion. Incidentally, the other Buccaneer starting receiver for much of the 1977 season, was John McKay's son John Jr, brother of the now-General Manager of the franchise.some two decades later.
But then the impossible happened .... the Buccaneers won a game. It came in the New Orleans SuperDome, as the Tampa Bay defense took the scoring on themselves and returned an NFL-record three interceptions for touchdowns on their way to a 33-14 victory over the Saints, another notorious league whipping-post themselves in their first decade in the league. A crowd of over 6,000 screaming, almost disbelieving fans, welcomed the team back to Tampa Airport as the historic first win went into the record books. Saints' quarterback, Archie Manning, had fired up the Buccaneers before the game, by saying "it would be a disgrace to lose to this team". Five sacks and six interceptions later, Manning had been buried under the white and ff8c00 shirts and was not available for a comment afterwards.
And having waited almost two years for that opening victory, Buccaneer fans waited only another seven days for the next won, as the Cardinals became the first team to lose to the Bucs in Tampa Stadium in the 1977 season finale.
Despite their first two victories in franchise history, the Buccaneers' second season of existence is not one to be remembered with tremendous fondness. Bear in mind that kicker Allan Leavitt, led the team in scoring with a mere 20 points, five fieldgoals and five extra points. Most kickers these days can exceed that sort of total in little more than two games, but this was 1977, and these were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But this season was all part of continuing to build a team, unable to utilise the modern-day traits of free agency to look for the quick route to success. McKay was content to see his defense grow into something special, and knew that within two seasons, he would have enough of an offensive threat to score enough points to win. He thought he had the franchise back that every successful team needed, all he needed now was some form of franchise quarterback to lead his Bucs to the promised land.