Jacquez Green turned a rare decision into one of the most remarkable touchdowns in team history
Cy Young, a major league pitcher for five teams and 22 seasons, finished his playing career in 1911 and passed away in 1955. And yet, millions of times a year, Young's name rolls off the tongues of baseball fans around the world.
His name, in fact, is synonymous with pitching excellence. Each year, the best pitcher in each league is honored with the Cy Young Award for his accomplishments.
What did Young do to achieve this brand of immortality? Many things, of course. For starters: Three no-hitters, the first perfect game in American League history, 2,803 strikeouts, a 36-win season, even a 24-inning hitless streak. Better than all of that, though, is Young's defining statistic, and maybe one of the most incredible numbers in all of sports: 511 career wins.
How ridiculous is that number?
Well, iron man Cal Ripken played in 2,632 consecutive games, Nolan Ryan struck out 5,714 batters and Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 consecutive games. Those are ridiculous numbers too, right?
Sure. But will Ripken, Ryan and DiMaggio's records stand forever?
Putting it differently, could you imagine a scenario in which those records fall? It seems like there is a new DiMaggio chase every year, even if the chaser usually falls at least 20 games short. Similarly, Ripken's feat was incredible, but it was achieved in the modern era, which suggests that another durable, determined and lucky superstar could come along again and produce a similar streak.
Now, instead, consider Young's 511 wins. Imagine a pitcher breaking into the majors this year at the age of 21. Now imagine that he is an instant superstar and he wins 25 games in his first season, a plateau no one has reached since 1972. Now imagine that this phenom goes on to win 25 games for each of the next 19 seasons, too, blazing away to the ripe old age of 41.
Unimaginable, right? Well, even if all of that happened, this pitcher would still be 11 wins shy of Young's record. The game of baseball has changed so dramatically since Young's era – pitchers would sometimes work both ends of a double-header in those days, and Young had five 30-win seasons – that it is inconceivable that anyone would challenge Young's mark today.
That's what we call "unbreakable."
And that's what we're going to look at now, though we're focusing our gaze much more narrowly. Our discussion today: The most "unbreakable" records in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history.
To be sure, the Bucs have no single mark as momentous as Young's 511 victories, or even Ryan's gigantic K collection. But 32 seasons of play have created some impressive numbers within the framework of franchise history, some of which are likely to withstand the test of time.
We have chosen our list of the Top 10 Most Unbreakable Records in Tampa Bay Buccaneer History, the first five of which you'll see today. After this run-down of the bottom half of that top 10, and the reveal of the top five later in the week, we'll ask you to vote on which one you think will be the toughest to top.
A few notes before we start:
- While we've chose the term "unbreakable," these marks clearly could be broken, just as Young's 511 wins could hypothetically be beaten. What we are not considering are truly unbreakable records, marks that can't be topped due to the restrictions of the game. For instance, Matt Bryant tied the team record this past season by succeeding on 100% of his extra point attempts. Bryant might tie that record again next year, but he's never going to break it. Similarly, a 109-yard kickoff return would be unbreakable, as would a 99-yard reception. * We are discussing only individual records, not team marks. We are also restricting our discussion to the regular season and not the postseason. The sample size for the latter category is too small, and the opportunities too sporadic. * Single-event, single-season and career records are all under consideration, and indeed you'll see examples of all three in our final list. However, in choosing the 10 finalists and then ranking them from one to 10, we tended to assign more weight to a record achieved over the course of a career. A 99-yard fumble return, to take a hypothetical example, might seem like a once-in-a-franchise-lifetime-occurrence, but it only takes one lucky bounce in any given game to create a similar situation. By contrast, it takes years and years of success, good fortune and good health to record, say, 25,000 passing yards.
In formulating the list that you'll see below (the first half, anyway), we originally included Shelton Quarles' 98-yard interception return for a touchdown against Green Bay on October 7, 1981…and, to be honest, that record could still go on the list with little complaint. In the end, it was bumped in large part due to that final bit of criteria above; it certainly would be surprising to see a Buccaneer top Quarles' mark, but it just takes a defender breaking at the right moment on a short out pattern in the end zone to create the possibility. Derrick Brooks, in fact, nearly matched Quarles' record with a 97-yard return of a deflected pass against Baltimore in 2002.
So we consider Quarles' amazing moment one of our five honorable mentions. The other four:
- Kevin House's 22.1 yards per catch in 1981. It's an impressive mark, but two things hold it back: 1) It was achieved on only 24 catches; and 2) Horace Copeland nearly broke it in 1993 with a 21.1-yard average on 30 grabs. * Wayne Haddix's 231 interception return yards in 1990. That feat, on seven picks, earned Haddix his only Pro Bowl berth. But Brooks nearly caught him in 2002 with 218 yards. * Hardy Nickerson's 214 tackles in 1993. An enormous number, but can we see someone catching it? Yes. * Vinny Testaverde's 35 interceptions thrown in 1998. In terms of the likelihood that it will be broken, this one could easily make the list. That's more than two interceptions per game. But…well…okay, we don't have a good reason. We just don't like it. Let's focus on the positive!
And with that, on to "Unbreakable" Records 10 through six:
10. Keyshawn Johnson's 106 receptions in 2001
Taken as part of a full NFL picture, Johnson's 106 grabs in 2001 were outstanding but far from groundbreaking. There were six players that topped the century mark in that season, as a matter of fact, and 19 overall from 2000-03. That included a stunning 143-catch campaign by Indianapolis' Marvin Harrison in 2002. There had been another explosion of such seasons in the mid-90s, with Herman Moore, Cris Carter and Jerry Rice accounting for four 122-plus-catch years in 1994 and 1995.
But Johnson's total was historic in terms of the Buccaneers' record book, and it makes this list because it went so far beyond the rest of the field. Johnson improved the previous record of 86 catches, set by Mark Carrier in 1989, by a remarkable 23%. In contrast, when Carrier set his record in '89, he improved the previous mark of 85 by just one catch.
Michael Clayton's rookie season in 2004 and Joey Galloway's sustained brilliance since joining the team that same year have given the Bucs' offense some prolific targets in recent years. During the Testaverde-Carrier-Bruce Hill era (1987-91), the Bucs threw the ball a lot and Carrier and Hill had consecutive seasons in which they topped 50 catches each. Still, Johnson's mark remains 20 catches beyond the next-best mark, and nobody has struck within 21 of that 106-reception total since Carrier.
In addition, that 2001 offense was one of the most unbalanced the team has ever fielded. The Bucs finished 30th in the league in rushing that year, their lowest spot in those rankings ever, averaging just 85.7 yards per game on the ground while the pass offense snuck into the top half of the league at 15th. The Bucs threw a team-record 592 passes that season (since tied in 2003) and yet Johnson was the only receiver who caught more than 40. Running back Warrick Dunn was a common check-down target, with 68 grabs, but Jacquez Green, the starter at receiver opposite Johnson, caught just 36. As the Bucs' seek offensive balance, that's a set of circumstances that isn't likely to be repeated any time soon.
9. Jacquez Green's 95-yard punt return
Speaking of Green, it was his play in Green Bay on September 13, 1998 that essentially knocked Quarles off the list. Though Green's 95-yard return of a punt against the Packers is a little shorter than Quarles' runback of an interception against the same team three years later, the former play strikes as us much less likely to be duplicated.
Why? Well, have you seen a coach's reaction any time his player fair catches a punt inside the 10-yard line, or tries to return one and is trapped at the eight? Generally, punt returners will let a punt hit the ground at the five with the hopes that it will bound into the end zone for a touchback. Players occasionally make mistakes in that situation, but there are still very few punt returns that originate inside the 10. Also, because many punts that come down in this region are kicked from midfield or closer, the punter often tries to hang it very high, giving the cover team time to get down to the returner and force a fair catch.
All of that said, there was Green, a rookie playing in his first regular-season NFL game, sprinting 95 yards down the left sideline at Lambeau Field after a punt by the Packers' Sean Landeta. How did this come to be? Well, for one thing, the Bucs were trailing 23-0 with nine minutes left in the game, so a risky maneuver like fielding a punt at the five-yard line was probably justified. In addition, this wasn't one of those short and high kicks mentioned above. Landeta was punting from the Packers' own 43-yard line, and he hit it 52 yards in the air; Green had to back up to field the kick.
Green's runback remains the longest return of a punt or a kickoff in team history, even after Micheal Spurlock's drought-ending kickoff return TD this past season. Spurlock's runback was 90 yards but many kickoff scores are longer. Very few punt returns cover as much ground as Green's, which bested Karl Williams' previous record of 88 yards. In fact, there have been only 17 punt return TDs of 95 or more yards in NFL history.
8. Vinny Testaverde's 88% single-game completion percentage
It is a pure coincidence, though a strangely pleasing one, that so many of the records we've discussed so far have come at the expense of the Packers.
The Bucs did quite a number on their then-NFC Central rivals on this September 13 afternoon in 1992, walloping the visitors, 31-3. The game may be remembered as the last start for any other Packers quarterback other than Brett Favre, as Don Majkowski opened the contest but was knocked out of the game by a merciless Bucs pass rush. Favre subbed in and finished the game, and the following week began his incredible streak of starts.
It was also a memorable game, quarterback-wise, from the Bucs' point of view. Testaverde completed all eight of his passes in the first quarter, helping the home team jump out to a 14-0 lead. He finally saw a pass fall incomplete early in the second period, though it did glance off running back Stanford Jennings' hands. Shortly before halftime, S LeRoy Butler broke up a third-down pass in the end zone to force the Bucs into a field goal attempt, but Testaverde still completed 14 of his 16 first-half throws.
The third quarter, like the first, saw no Buc incompletions. After Testaverde completed a 41-yard flea-flicker to Lawrence Dawsey in the fourth quarter, he had completed 20 of his first 22 throws. The Bucs got the ball back with 10 minutes to left, already leading by four touchdowns, and Testaverde completed an eight-yard curl to Courtney Hawkins. At that point, the Buccaneer passer had completed 21 of 23 passes, for a 91.3% rate that would have broken the all-time NFL single-season record. Though team officials in the press box tried to get this information down to the coaches on the sideline, it wasn't received until after Testaverde had thrown his third incompletion of the day, losing grip on the record in the process. After one more completion to Gary Anderson, Testaverde was replaced by Steve DeBerg.
Testaverde ended up 22-of-25, which was at least a Buccaneers record, and still is. The closest another Tampa Bay passer has come to that mark since it was established was the 84.2% mark posted by Brian Griese on October 10, 2004, when he completed 16 of 19 against New Orleans.
The Bucs certainly have had, and currently still have, quarterbacks capable of throwing with amazing accuracy. In fact, Griese, Brad Johnson, Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown and Chris Simms have combined to record the seven best single-season completion rates in team history since 2001. But hitting close to 90% of one's passes in a single game takes more than skill; it takes skill plus the perfect combination of circumstance and good fortune. Had just one of Testaverde's 22 perfect passes been dropped that day by a receiver who lost his concentration, the record would have slipped away. Twenty-one of 25 would have led to "just" and 84% completion rate.
Postscript: Even though the record slipped away from him in 1992, Testaverde would get it anyway, just a season later. In 1993, starting for the Cleveland Browns, Testaverde completed 21 of 23 passes for a 91.3% against the Los Angeles Rams, still the best mark in a regular-season game in league history.
7. James Wilder's 2,229 combined rushing and receiving yards in a single season
One could argue that this record deserves to be farther up the list. The most compelling factor in favor of that argument: The rest of the top 10 list.
In 1984, Wilder was Tampa Bay's offense. He carried the ball a ridiculous 407 times, which was an NFL record at the time and is still the top mark in Buccaneer history. He also caught a team-leading 85 passes, which set a new team record at the time and is still the third-highest total in Buc annals. His 2,229 combined rushing and receiving yards represented, at the time, the third-best mark in NFL history and fell just 16 yards shy of passing both O.J. Simpson (2,243) and Eric Dickerson (2,244) for the top spot.
Not only has no other Buccaneer ever reached the 2,000-yard mark in combined rushing and receiving, but Wilder is the only one who has even cracked 1,600 yards. He owns the second-best total on the list with his 1,641 yards from scrimmage in 1985. The first non-Wilder mark on the chart belongs to Warrick Dunn, who put up 1,555 in 2000, followed by the 1,511 posted by Ricky Bell in 1979.
In other words, Dunn has made the closest stab at dethroning Wilder in this category…and he fell 674 yards short. That's another 42 yards a game, a tall order when one considers that Dunn already averaged nearly 100 yards per game in 2000.
And yet, while we give Wilder his due by putting this record on the "unbreakable" list, we still have him all the way down at the seventh spot. Why?
Essentially, the reason we give this record a chance to fall is that there is nothing in the development of the NFL game since 1984 that would prohibit. In fact, dual-threat pass-catching backs are thriving in the game like never before, as evidenced by the fact that the top three marks in this category on the NFL's all-time list have all occurred in the last nine seasons. Marshall Faulk set the record at 2,429 in 1999 and Tiki Barber (2,390 in 2005) and LaDainian Tomlinson (2,370 in 2003) have since come close. Barber and Faulk have retired but Tomlinson remains a threat every year and the Rams' Steven Jackson had 90 catches and 2,334 yards just two seasons ago.
The Rams drafted Jackson 24th overall in 2004. Perhaps if that had been the Bucs' pick, Wilder's record would have already fallen. Chances are, the next great threat to Wilder's mark in Tampa Bay's record book isn't even on the team's radar screen yet, but it could just be a matter of time.
6. Danny Reece's 70 punt returns in a single season
This one has the distinction of being the only mark on our list that is also a current NFL record.
Reece set this record in 1979, the fourth season of the franchise's existence and the breakout year in which Tampa Bay made the playoffs for the first time. During the team's first three seasons, the defense made a noticeable improvement each fall but the offense had a more difficult time getting up to NFL speed. As such, the Bucs of 1976-78 had a better shot of creating oversized punting records (hint, hint…Part II) than punt return records.
However, the 1979 Bucs emerged as the league's best defense and the offense improved to middle of the pack. That combined to give Reece plenty of opportunities in the return game. Well, that and Reece's utter fearlessness.
On the Bucs' all-time punt return average chart, Reece ranks just 15th, with a career mark of 7.0 yards per runback. He does rank second on the team's career punt return yards list, though at 1,556 yards he is a full 723 yards behind Karl Williams' 2,279.
However, Reece remains the Bucs' all-time leader in sheer number of punt returns, and a quick look at the top five on the list makes it clear as to why:
Rather than just compare Reece and Williams, we fleshed that out to the top five to make it clear that Reece's numbers are unusual, not Williams. When you combine the fair catch and return totals, the other four players all executed fair catches on between 23.0% and 30.2% of their totals. Reece only called for a fair catch on 3.1% of his. The man simply never met a punt he didn't think he could return – or a special teams headhunter that scared him.
In 1979, the Bucs' outstanding defense forced 104 punts. Reece returned 70 of them and made exactly one fair catch. One. Running back Tony Davis returned one punt that year, and made one fair catch.
The second-highest single-season punt return total in Buccaneer history is 57…by Reece, in 1980. The only other player in team history to crack 50 is Mark Jones, who had all 51 of the Bucs' punt returns in 2005. Even had Jones thrown caution to the wind as thoroughly as Reece, his 18 fair catches, if turned into returns instead, would have given him only 69.
We're thinking Reece's record will stand for awhile, particularly since the second-highest total in the history of the NFL is 62, by Fulton Walker for two teams (Miami and the L.A. Raiders) in 1985.
Can you guess which players and which records will make up the top five on our list? Return later in the week for an answer, and for the chance to vote for the record you think is the most "unbreakable."