These are not your father's or even your grandfather's Tampa Bay Buccaneers the Washington Redskins will face Saturday at Raymond James Stadium in the second round of the NFC playoffs. In the beginning, when they came into the league along with the Seattle Seahawks as expansion teams in 1976, they were John McKay's Buccaneers, and often the only way to keep from crying over their performance was to laugh out loud at the coach's frequent one-liners.
After a loss during the Bucs' inauspicious 0-26 start, McKay was asked about his team's execution that day.
"I'm all for it," he said.
What did he tell his team after another tough defeat?
"Those of you who need showers, take them."
And after being shut out one day, McKay said: "This team couldn't score against a stiff wind."
A four-time national championship head coach at USC, McKay took on the daunting task of getting the Bucs competitive with none of the advantages that recent expansion teams such as Jacksonville, Carolina and Cleveland have enjoyed. There was no free agency to add proven veteran talent in 1976, and only a handful of extra draft choices.
The expansion draft of veteran players from other teams produced virtually no one who could help a team right away, mostly because the Bucs and Seahawks were not permitted to give the players physicals before they picked them. They literally had a choice of the walking wounded other teams wanted to unload, and the results were rather predictable.
"The rules were totally unfair and unfit for human consumption," said Rich McKay, John's son and now the general manager of the team he once served as a ballboy when his father arrived in town. "The league learned a lot from that because they gave those two franchises no chance to win. The sad thing is it gave those two cities a lot of heartache.
"What happened with my dad was that he thought he could compete and maybe win a game or two. But right away, he saw that wasn't going to happen, so he decided to play all his young guys and prepare them for three years down the road."
The Bucs' quarterback that first year was one Steve Spurrier, now the coach at the University of Florida. McKay persuaded him to retire after that first season, the better not to get himself mortally injured. They also had a promising rookie in defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, who became the shining light in some very dark moments for the early Bucs and the only man in franchise history to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"Coach McKay's approach was to give the young people as much experience as possible," said Selmon, now assistant athletic director at Central Florida. "He emphasized to us to try to get better week to week and that winning eventually would happen. He allowed us to cling to other things besides winning and losing. We would lose, but his evaluation would always be positive, and that encouraged us to keep going."
The Bucs' fortunes began to take a turn for the better in 1978, when the team used its No. 1 draft choice on Grambling quarterback Doug Williams. He was taken at a time when talented black quarterbacks were constantly being asked, and most often told, to switch to wide receiver or defensive back. Williams, a classic pocket passer with a powerful arm, was chosen to play his natural position, and he did not disappoint.
In his first preseason game, he threw a tight spiral 70 yards in the air. The pass fell incomplete, but the fans gave Williams a standing ovation. They had never seen anything quite like it.
Said Williams, now the head coach at Grambling: "Coach McKay would always say, 'If the defense can keep it close, Dougie will find a way to win it.' "
In '78, the Bucs were 4-4, obviously the best start in franchise history, until Williams broke his jaw and was lost for a season that disintegrated into a 5-11 disaster. But the following year, the Bucs went 10-6 and made the playoffs. Despite their terrible early years, the Bucs got to the playoffs faster than any other expansion team in history and beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round before losing to the Los Angeles Rams, 9-0, in the NFC title game. The Bucs have not advanced that far in the playoffs in 20 years since.
There were two more playoff appearances in the next three years, including a 5-4 record in the strike-shortened 1982 season. Not only did the Bucs lose to the Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs, they also lost Williams to the fledgling U.S. Football League when he could not reach agreement on a new contract with the Bucs and their penurious owner, Hugh Culverhouse.
"It often appeared that the ownership was not willing to do what had to be done to keep the best players," Selmon said. "When we lost Doug, we were never able to find our consistency. From that point on, we struggled to find out who we were. Players would come in and go out, we lost talented guys because of money, we didn't sign the top people we needed to have.
"We all knew how important Doug was to the team. His skills and his leadership ability spoke volumes. It had a definite effect on all of us. You'd think, 'If they can't keep him, what does it say about me?' It had a ripple effect. 'Will we be here ourselves if they can let a guy like that go.' It was not the kind of atmosphere you want on a football team."
Said Rich McKay: "The franchise never recovered from that, until now."
McKay retired after the 1984 season, and Selmon, after playing in the Pro Bowl, discovered he had a herniated disk in his back that needed surgery. He missed the entire 1985 season before announcing his own premature retirement.
Meantime, talented players came and left. Steve Young was a Buccaneer. He ran around the field trying to avoid getting killed before being traded to the 49ers for second- and fourth-round picks. Bo Jackson was the team's first-round pick in 1986, but opted for baseball instead. Quarterback Vinny Testaverde was the first overall pick in the 1987 draft, but didn't blossom until he got away from the boo birds with a trade to Cleveland in 1992.
Following McKay's retirement, there was a parade of head coaching nonentities. Leeman Bennett was fired after two years and a 4-28 record. Culverhouse actually called a new conference after the 1986 season to announce he would give Bennett one more year. Culverhouse had told Bennett the same thing, but by the time the owner got up in front of the cameras, he had changed his mind and announced Bennett's firing while he was sitting in the room.
Then came Ray Perkins, introduced by Culverhouse as "my Vince Lombardi." He was fired in 1990 with a 19-41 record. Richard Williamson followed and was 4-15. Sam Wyche was 23-41 before getting a pink slip.
Culverhouse died in 1994, leaving behind an estate in total disarray, not to mention scandalous revelations of past indiscretions and lavish spending on a mistress, which further muddled the team's financial well-being. The Bucs eventually were sold to financier Malcolm Glazer, a native of Rochester, N.Y., who had tried and failed to secure an expansion franchise for Baltimore.
Conventional wisdom at the time was that Glazer bought the team specifically to move it, either to Baltimore or Cleveland. But after a somewhat contentious campaign, voters approved an investment tax to fund a new stadium and practice facility in 1996. Things began looking up, especially with the hiring earlier in the year of Tony Dungy as head coach.
"The darkest days were in the midst of the stadium fight," Rich McKay said. "Sam was the coach, we didn't have a very good team, we were trying to hold it together, but we weren't good enough to win. We didn't know if we'd be in another city the next year. I wasn't very confident the team would wind up in Tampa, and I knew if we moved, we wouldn't be a very good team for many more years."
When the stadium funding was approved, "we felt the advent of a turnaround," McKay said. "We knew where we were going to be. We knew who our coach was [Dungy] and we could build toward winning football games. Our agenda had been survival, and that doesn't give you a legitimate chance to win."
It initially looked like more of the same when Dungy's 1996 team lost its first five and eight of its opening nine games. But the Bucs finished with five wins in their last seven starts that year, then went 10-6 and won a wild-card game against Detroit in the franchise's first playoff appearance since 1982.
This year's team won the Central Division title for the first time since 1981 and will host the Redskins Saturday in an NFC semifinal game.
"I was very concerned about the mentality of the players," Dungy said of his first season with the Bucs. "I thought we had competitive guys who were very frustrated. The atmosphere of the town wasn't good. They'd had a losing team for a long time, and things weren't good. There was not a lot of enthusiasm, people were down on the team. It was something we had to change.
"We started right in our own building, telling our players this is what we're going to be about. The main thing was to win with good, solid fundamentally sound football. If we do that, we felt that everything else would fall in place."
CAPTION: Coach John McKay already was wringing his hands in franchise's first game in 1976. Coach Ray Perkins and quarterback Steve DeBerg (top) went 4-11 in '87, and Trent Dilfer (bottom right) quarterbacked another loser in '95. Coach Tony Dungy and Shaun King (top right) have had twin grins in '99.
CAPTION: Coach Sam Wyche tries to inspire team in 1995 season finale. He was fired three days later after going 23-41.