TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS v CAROLINA PANTHERS FEATURE
1 October 1995 – the first meeting of the franchises
Nearly two decades after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks entered the NFL, the league went for expansion once more. Two more teams would join the league taking the complement of franchises to 30. Jacksonville and Carolina won the battle to host the franchises, and the two new teams would take their place in the NFL for the 1995 season
But there was a huge difference between the Panthers joining the NFL, and the Buccaneers doing so back in 1976. For in the days of John McKay, there was no free agency, no salary cap and the most restrictive veteran allocation draft one could imagine. Carolina had a lot more of a chance to make an immediate impact in the league and they took full advantage.
The NFL ran a far more appealing allocation draft in the spring of 1995 than the one the Bucs took part in April 1976. and both the Panthers and Jaguars acquired 35 players each from the rest of the NFL. Only DE Shawn Price was directly selected by Carolina from Tampa Bay’s roster, but a recognisable name elsewhere in Panther colours would be Bucs’ all-time leading receiver Mark Carrier. Joining him on the offense would be RB Vince Workman who had spent the previous two years in Buccaneer colours.
The 1995 Buccaneers were Sam Wyche’s fourth team. Coming off a 6-10 season that had featured a four-game winning streak to pretty much save his job, Wyche knew that he had to get off to a fast start to keep the momentum. The Glazer family had taken ownership of the franchise, and April’s draft had brought a pair of defensive first-round picks in Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks who would go on to have just a small part to play in the future.
The Bucs were up 13-7 at the half but were not winning this as comfortably as people had thought. The Panthers had run Atlanta close in their very first game and this was no ordinary expansion team, even if they were starting top draft pick Kerry Collins at quarterback. The game was being played that afternoon in Clemson’s collegiate stadium, whilst their own new stadium was being completed.
And when former Buffalo TE Pete Metzelaars caught a four-yard pass from Collins midway through the third quarter, the game was tied after John Kasay missed the extra point. The Bucs were down to second-string QB Casey Weldon after Trent Dilfer had gone out injured, and the Bucs were being out-played on both sides of the ball.
Weldon helped the Bucs regain the lead for good when he capped an 11-play, 64-yard drive with a one-yard quarterback sneak, his first NFL touchdown on the opening play of the fourth quarter. A 33-yard pass to tight end Jackie Harris (five catches for a game-high 108 yards) on third-and-16 set up the score.
"It's a great feeling," Weldon said after the game, “This the first real chance I've been given. I feel like I made the most of it. It was a good win. It could have been a little more picture-perfect, I guess. But I had some big plays."
There were still some scares late in the game but the Bucs upped their record to 3-2 on the season. "It feels good to get out of Death Valley alive," said DE Chidi Ahanotu, invoking the stadium's nickname. "Even when we thought we had them on the run, they were out there joking around and laughing, like they didn't have a care in the world. They had nothing to lose."
"You've got to drop that word ‘expansion’, " said LB Hardy Nickerson, asked about Tampa Bay's 0-4 opponent. "Let's just call it a team in its first year. Don't say expansion. Expansion leads everyone to believe this team should just get wiped out by the No. 1 high school team in the nation. This was a very good team we played today."
One nice trivia moment in the game came when P Reggie Roby completed his first NFL pass on a fake to S John Booty. It came on 4th and 8 from the Bucs' 40 and Roby barely got the ball to Booty, who raced to the Panthers' 12. "(Roby) wasn't proud of it," joked Booty, who entered the lineup in the third quarter when starting free safety Thomas Everett strained a knee. "He needs to go to quarterback school."
The Bucs took their record to 5-2 before the wheels came off at mid-season and Sam Wyche ended the year at 7-9, not talking to Dilfer or the Tampa media, and ultimately out of a job as he was sacked the day after the season finale against Detroit. The Panthers finished their first season with the same mark, and wound up the following year in the NFC Championship game, the fastest any expansion team had got so far beating ….. the 1979 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
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Paul Stewart, Buccaneers Review, October 2008