The Tampa Bay Buccaneers think it is wonderful that some of the hostages in Iran were surprised to learn they had advanced to the National Football League playoffs.
"Yeah, we thought that was kind of nice," Randy Crowder, Tampa's defensive nose guard, said today. "We were talking about it in practice. Some of the guys were kidding that we're gonna win this one for the hostages. Maybe we can surprise them again."
To accomplish that, the NFC Central Division champion Bucs (10-6) must get past the Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) Saturday at 12:30 p.m. (WDVM-TV-9). The winner will advance to the NFC championship game a week from Sunday against either Dallas or Los Angeles.
A playoff game and all the exposure that goes with it is heady stuff for a Tampa team that knows it will live in infamy for the 0-26 record compiled during the first two dismal years of the expansion franchise.
"I don't think we'll ever shake that record, quarterback Doug Williams said today. "Nobody will ever let you forget.But beating the Eagles sure would show people that our football team is for real. And I do mean real. That would turn the boos to oohs."
The Eagles, the NFC East's wildcard team, are favored by four points. But the Bucs hardly are quaking in their cleats as they prepare for a game they all believe can convince the skeptics they belong in the playoffs, despite one of the NFL's softest schedules and three losses in their final four games.
"If we win this game, I don't want to hear anybody saying how easy it was for us," linebacker Dave Lewis said. "Sure, we have a lot to prove, and our players are hyped up for it. We've got a lot of hungry guys interested in proving they can play with anybody."
In addition to 70,000 in the stands, the Bucs also are aware that much of America will be watching the first nationally televised game in the four-year history of the franchise. "This game can really help our image," Williams said. "We win, and there's lots of attention."
To say this area has Buc fever would be an understatement. More than 35,000 tickets were sold in the two days after the Bucs squeaked past Kansas City, 3-0, in the last game of the season to finally win the Central Division championship. Today's game will be the eighth straight sellout of the season.
There is saturation coverage in the local media, with one Tampa newspaper running eight playoff stories in today's sports section, as well as a 24-page special Buc supplement chock full of "good luck, Bucs" advertising from the likes of Richards Roofing and Guido's restaurant.
Tampa Bay Coach John McKay, comfortably casual in white buck shoes, alpaca sweater and dark glasses and smoking a big cigar, reveled in all the hype and hoopla this afternoon. He spewed out his best one-liners for a national media audience that giggled all the way through a 30-minute monologue -- make that press conference.
Asked about his lineup, McKay said, "We'll start the same team we started two weeks ago with the exception of a few people, which we'll keep anonymous until the damned game starts. Everybody is definite, provided they can get away from their wives, their sweethearts and the golf course in time for the kickoff."
Asked how he would try to defend against Harold Carmichael, the Eagles' 6-foot-8 wide receiver, McKay said he wasn't really sure. "If we were playing basketball," he said, "I'd go man to man and put our kicker, Neil O'donoghue on him. He's 6-6."
What about the pressure of Tampa Bay's first playoff appearance? "I love big games, all the people yelling at you," McKay said. "I'm glad Jimmy the Greek is here so I can find out who will win. If I know that, I'll sleep better tonight."
Did he have any special strategy for the Eagles? "Well, I may quick kick tomorrow . . . that's off the record."
On the record, the coach insisted his team's slide at the end of the season was a combination of "trying too hard and playing too poorly."
McKay is counting on the NFL's stingiest defense to stop an Eagle team that relies on the legs of Wilbert Montgomery, the hands of Carmichael and the arm of quarterback Ron Jaworski to score its points.
The Bucs yielded the fewest points (230), the fewest yards (3,949) and the fewest yards per offensive play (3.89) in the NFL.
The Eagles have had difficulty defending against the run this season, and the Bucs are likely to give the ball often to Ricky Bell, who gained 1,263 yards rushing during the regular season.
Williams was the best-protected quarterback in the league suffering only seven sacks. But his 40 percent completion average and 10 interceptions in his last three games are a source of concern. They are also a source for another McKay gem. "Guys are starting to think fair catch every time we throw the ball," the coach said.