Head Coach John McKay and QB Steve Spurrier nearly tasted Buccaneer victory for the first time in Week Six of the 1976 season
*Editor's Note: Paul Stewart has forgotten more about the history of the NFL's 27th franchise than most fans could ever hope to know. Scratch that: Stewart seems to have forgotten nothing. His encyclopaedic memory of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' first 32 seasons makes him much more than your average team superfan; at this point, he is something of an unofficial historian of everything Buccaneer-related.
Stewart, a native of Weybridge, some 20 miles southwest of London, is the founder of a thriving Buccaneer fan club known as the Bucs UK, set up in 1984. He also created and now administers an astounding web site called BUCPOWER.COM Among the features on the site are profile pages on every player in team history, a recap of every game the team has ever played and a ridiculously deep database of statistics.
Outside of his day job with IBM, Paul works as a regular presenter of NFL coverage on British television and radio, and also on various Florida-based media outlets.
For each Buccaneers home game this season, Stewart is providing a historical look at one of the games from the team's all-time series with that weekend's opponent. That game review is printed in Buccaneers Review, the team's groundbreaking answer to the traditional game program. For instance, when Tampa Bay played host to former NFC Central mate Green Bay in September, Stewart chronicled the infamous "Snow Bowl" at Lambeau Field.
For the Buccaneers' recent matchup with 1976 expansion twin Seattle, which doubled as a tribute night to Buccaneer great Mike Alstott, Stewart prepared two such reviews. The first one covered Alstott's memorable performance in Minnesota in 1997 and was printed in *Buccaneers Review. The second one gave Stewart's unique perspective on the game that, in 1976, was referred to as the "Expansion Bowl," which pitted the league's two newest teams against each other. That review is posted below for the reading pleasure of all of us whose Buccaneer memories aren't as far-reaching as Stewart'sâ€¦and who may have never heard the cricket-related phrase, "breaking their duck."*
17 October 1976 — The Expansion Bowl
The Setting Ah, the 1976 season — the year that both the Buccaneers and Seahawks joined the NFL. And a season that has gone down in infamy for Tampa Bay fans for one unforgettable reason — the fact that the Bucs lost every game.
0-14. The imperfect season. I don't know about you, but just as the 1972 Miami Dolphins used to always celebrate the last unbeaten team taking its first loss of the season, I always do the same when the last winless team notches up a victory. I want that piece of immortality to remain.
But when the 0-5 Buccaneers met the 0-5 Seahawks almost 32 years ago to this day, someone had to walk away a winner. Or did they?
The Background There was no free agency back in 1976. So the only way that the two new franchises could build themselves up was through the draft. Actually, make that drafts in the plural because there were two. There was an expansion draft held in April of that year but it was so loaded in favor of the existing teams that it became ridiculous.
Both the Bucs and Seahawks were given the lists of available players just before the actual day of the draft and many of the players made available had injury worries or other concerns. Yes, the Bucs did acquire the likes of lineman Dave Reavis and safety Mark Cotney in this way, but they also ended up with the likes of Bubba Bridges, Ira Gordon and Morris LaGrand. Who? Exactly.
The Seahawks also selected 39 veterans, among them future Dolphin defensive back Lyle Blackwood and former Colts' standout linebacker Mike Curtis, the latter being someone whom would go on to play a big-part in this Week Six matchup.
It had taken the Bucs three weeks to even score a point before kicker/punter Dave Green kicked three field goals in a loss to the Bills, and it was only late in their fourth game when narrowly trailing the Colts 42-3 that defensive back Danny Reece scored their first touchdown. The week before the Seattle game, the 1976 Bucs were shut-out again, losing 21-0 in Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium.
The Game This was "The Expansion Bowl." One of the new teams was going to get its first win but neither coaching staff expected to go through the whole year without recording at least one victory. But nobody expected this game to make the NFL record books for its amazing tally of 35 penalties for an incredible 310 yards. There were more yellow hankies thrown in this game than passes caught by the two teams.
The Bucs took an early lead on Green's 38-yard field goal but Seattle quarterback Jim Zorn answered with a 15-yard TD pass to wide receiver Sam McCullum. Zorn had been Dallas' last cut in 1975 and he often scrambled somewhat by design, but mostly to save his life. The offensive line wasn't one of Seattle's strong points.
Neither were their running backs. Of the five on the roster going into the Bucs game, four were added the week of the opener against St. Louis, prompting the Seahawks to go with either one set back and four receivers or five receivers.
But trailing 13-3 late in the third quarter, the Buccaneers did make their own little piece of history with their first-ever touchdown pass, albeit one that has never been repeated in the same style.
On third and goal from the one-yard line, running back Louis Carter went up the middle and was stood up at the line of scrimmage, Before the referee's whistle blew, he two-handed the ball across to his right where WR Morris Owens was standing alone having missed his block. Owens caught the pass and stepped into the end-zone for a remarkable score.
The penalties continued to fly, with holding proving the most popular call, although a few offside, personal foul and clipping calls were being thrown in for novelty value. Trailing by three, the Bucs did have one last chance as quarterback Steve Spurrier hit Owens and then tight end Bob Moore to move inside the Seattle 20-yard line.
Green was again called upon to attempt the potential game-tying 35-yard field goal, only to see it blocked by Curtis. And just to add salt to the wound, a penalty was called on the Bucs that would have negated the kick anyway.
The Aftermath The Seahawks would go on to finish 2-12 in their first NFL season and would defeat the Bucs again the following year in a 30-23 encounter at the Kingdome that would see Seattle's Steve Myer throw four touchdown passes and the Bucs' Gary Huff toss four interceptions.
The Bucs would go on to lose another 20 straight games over the course of the 1976 and 1977 seasons before breaking their duck in New Orleans. And it was Tampa Bay that became the first of the two expansion teams to reach a Conference Championship Game (1979) and win a Super Bowl (2002). But the first bragging rights — currently belonging to the Buccaneers after last Sunday's victory — were secured by the team from the Northwest. *