1989 - "We will win in my 3rd season - I guarantee it
Ray Perkins had promised victories in his third season in charge of the Buccaneers when he took over the post in January 1987. What he did not reveal at that time was just how many games he would actually win that season, but it has to be said that the '89 Buccaneer squad was certainly the best he produced during his stint running the franchise.
John McKay always was quick to admit that the reason he had a five year plan for the Bucs, was because he had a five year contract. Perkins was never that witty or straightforward with the fans or press in Tampa, and although his team produced some memorable performances during the season, it did herald the beginning of the campaign for his removal as head coach/general manager/offensive co-ordinator/quarterbacks' coach, or some combination of those positions.
What 1989 did not bring was a massive influx of new rookie talent to the team. The initial selection of Broderick Thomas proved a solid one for the linebacking corps, but it was not until his second and third seasons that his talent temporarily overcame his immature mentality, but the remainder of the draft was an unmitigated disaster. A third round pick had been frittered away on former Patriot receiver Stephen Starring, who did not even manage to reach single figures in either Buccaneer games or receivers, while the choice of Danny Peebles in the second round was one of the bigger gambles taken in draft history.
Peebles had speed and potential, but unfortunately not a lot of receiving talent. His ability to drop easy passes was matched only by his ability to make it to the injured reserve list, and he never turned into the deep threat Perkins had hoped he would. Chris Mohr had a forgettable rookie season with the Bucs, but managed to use his later experience with the Montreal Machine of the World League to land a plum job with the Bills, one he held for nearly a decade.
The 1982 Buccaneers had become known as the Cardiac Kids for their amazing ability to come back and win games from seemingly impossible situations. Seven years on, this edition of the orange and white did not necessarily always come back to win, but left their fans hanging on the edge of their seats to the final seconds in eight of their 16 games, at one point setting an NFL record by becoming the first team to play in three consecutive one-point games.
The ever-reliable Donald Igwebuike entered his fifth season as the Bucs' kicker and provided the means to victory in a pair of games, despite being lambasted on a weekly basis by Perkins for his shortening kick-offs. But it was a combination of ball-hawking secondary play from Hamilton and Robinson with 12 interceptions between them, and the passing connection of Testaverde to Mark Carrier that gave the Bucs their success during the 1989 campaign.
A narrow victory in Green Bay to open the season was followed by the visit of the SuperBowl champion 49ers to Tampa Stadium for the home opener. After the Bucs took a 16-13 lead into the final minutes, it required one of Joe Montana's patented comebacks to deny the Buccaneers a famous victory, albeit helped by an incredibly dubious defensive holding call to keep the drive alive at a crucial moment. To show how close the team had been to a 3-0 start to the season, the Buc defense whaled the tar out of Saint quarterbacks Bobby Hebert and John Fourcade the following week, in a 20-10 game that was never as close as the scoreline might have indicated.
Vinny Testaverde was still prone to throwing the odd key interception, but his passing pairing with Carrier led to the latter setting franchise records with 1,422 yards on the season, at the time the 13th best season in NFL history by a receiver. The fact he only received an alternate position on the NFC Pro Bowl team remains one of the greatest travesties of justice ever.
Week 5 saw one of the Bucs' best-ever wins, racking up 42 points on the 4-0 Mike Dikta-led Bears. Lars Tate rushed for over 100 yards and two scores, and it was summed up on the game commentary after Chris Mohr had run a fumbled PAT snap for the extra point, in that "these Buccaneers can do no wrong". A week later, missing the injured Testaverde, Joe Ferguson had the Bucs 16-10 up inside the final two minutes against the Lions, only for Rodney Peete to break the team's heart with a fourth down scramble for the winning touchdown.
This set off a five-game losing streak in which the Bucs managed to record just one yard rushing in the loss to the Redskins, seven touchdowns to the Wyche-led offense in Cincinnati, and home defeats to Cleveland and Minnesota that were greater than the score indicated. The Browns game featured James Wilder's last great performance in the orange and white, catching 11 passes for 126 yards, a fitting end to a magnificent nine season career with the Buccaneers.
The single point victory in Chicago was summed up by the fact the Bucs led 23-10 with seven minutes to play. Touchdown followed touchdown in a great encounter, but Testaverde led the Buccaneers downfield inside the two minute warning to set Igwebuike up for his game-winning fieldgoal. Seven days later, Testaverde led a final drive against the Cardinals, twice connecting on fourth down to hit Bruce Hill for the winning score, bringing the Bucs back to a 5-7 mark on the season.
However, the team was robbed of victory over Green Bay by an unbelievable penalty on Shawn Lee after the Packers had failed on a fourth down play, allowing Chris Jacke's 47-yard fieldgoal to sneak over the crossbar by inches. In Houston a week later, the Bucs were driving to at least the tying fieldgoal inside the final minutes when Wilder fumbled inside the Oiler 20, denying another potential victory.
1989 was a season that could have been so good for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but alas it was not to be. The team was a lot better than the 5-11 mark it finally posted, but the fans in the stands did not want to be nearly good enough any more. Now it was win and nothing else would do.