WR Karl Williams has 50 of the team's 1,497 kickoff returns since 1976
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' franchise is about to hit another milestone, most likely this coming weekend.
If it's just the same to everyone, the Bucs would just as soon miss it.
Really, it's more of a pleasingly round number than a milestone, per se, but the enormity of it underscores one of the stranger circumstances in team history.
The number is 1,500. Any guesses as to its significance?
All-time touchdowns? Franchise interceptions total? Twenty-six years worth of sacks?
Nope, nope and nope.
Since beginning play in 1976, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have, as a team, returned 1,497 kickoffs (that total does not included kicks out of bounds or touchbacks). The reason we've noticed that number's near-graduation to a thousand and a half is that not one of those 1,497 has gone the distance.
This is not breaking news, of course. The Bucs' strange inability to ever record a touchdown on a kickoff return, in just over 25 years of football, is well known. Tampa Bay buried its similar goose egg on punt returns in 1994, and has since taken six punts to the house, but the door has bizarrely remained closed on kickoffs.
Everybody from Rabih Abdullah to George Yarno has taken a crack at it. Reidel Anthony has run back 95 of those 1,497 kickoffs. A Nilo has given it a whirl, as has an Essex, a Mazio and a Terdell (Silvan, Johnson, Royster and Middleton, respectively). Yo, so has a Yo (Murphy).
Robert Hardy wasn't hardy enough on any of his eight tries. Melvin Carver couldn't slice his way through to the end zone on five attempts. Leon Bright seemed like a good idea, but was shut out 27 times.
You get the idea. It doesn't seem to matter who's back there or who's blocking up front, the 'jinx' remains.
Now batting: Dwight Smith.
Though Head Coach Tony Dungy seemed to be leaning towards Karl Williams as the punt returner before Sunday's game in the Metrodome, it was the rookie Smith who drew the duty in his first regular season game as a pro. Smith, just recovered from a mid-foot sprain, performed admirably in his first crack at the role, gaining 126 yards on five runbacks, or 25.2 yards per try. He runs with a straight-ahead, hard-nosed, bounce-off-tacklers approach.
Perhaps that's what is needed to finally take care of this problem. Who knows? Dungy says there isn't a huge difference between what is required for punt and kickoff returns, so you would expect success in one to follow the other.
"It's really just the blocking schemes and having the holes in the right places," he said. "Obviously, you usually have farther to go on a kickoff than a punt."
Will number 1,500 come this Sunday in Raymond James Stadium against the Packers? Well, Smith had five runbacks in the Metrodome, but the Bucs' defense shut down Dallas in the season opener, leading to just one return in that game. Obviously, the team would prefer to have another game with very few returns, but the fact remains that 1,500 is right around the corner. The Bucs would like to reach a different number first: one.
"Fifteen hundred's a lot," said Dungy with a laugh. "You'd think with the law of averages we'd get one. Hopefully, we'll get it soon."