LB Dewey Selmon and the Bucs were offended by pregame comments that Saints QB Archie Manning may or may not have made
(by Sal Maiorana, NFL Insider)
Archie Manning wasn't sure what surprised him more: The fact that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had just defeated his New Orleans Saints for the first victory in franchise history or that he was being given credit for motivating the Buccaneers to their landmark triumph.
In the days leading up to the Dec. 11, 1977 game, Manning was quoted as saying that losing to the Buccaneers -- who had dropped 26 consecutive games since joining the NFL in 1976 -- would be "disgraceful."
Dutifully inspired by Manning's words, Tampa Bay jumped to a 13-0 halftime lead and increased the margin to 27-0 early in the fourth quarter. Though the Superdome was half-empty, the chorus of boos raining down on Manning and the Saints could be heard in the farthest reaches of the Bayou when the 33-14 romp was complete.
After the game, as the Buccaneers celebrated the end of the longest losing streak in NFL history, they chastised Manning for his remarks.
"We just read the article to (the players) where Archie said it would be disgraceful to lose to Tampa Bay," Buccaneers coach John McKay said. "He said it would be a disgrace to lose, and it is."
Added linebacker Dewey Selmon: "He has his disgrace and now he has to sit on it. Archie has to suffer the consequences for that remark."
Manning wanted to know just one thing: What remark?
"I didn't know anything about that until after the game when McKay said something about it," Manning recalled 24 years later. "None of that surfaced in New Orleans before the game because I never said it."
Manning's side of the story goes like this: He and Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton had spoken by phone that week because the Bears had just played Tampa Bay and escaped with a hard-fought 10-0 victory. Payton said something to the effect that even though Tampa Bay had improved as a team, becoming the Buccaneers' first victim still would be disgraceful, and Manning figures he must have flippantly agreed.
Payton then mentioned their conversation to some Chicago reporters and it somehow got out that Manning had said losing to Tampa Bay would be disgraceful.
"I wasn't that type of interview, and we weren't good enough to be saying that," Manning says. "It turned out that's what motivated them. It's bad enough to lose and have a bad game, but then you find out that something you said instigated it."
Tampa Bay had been making obvious strides on defense, but its offense was simply anemic. The 0-12 Buccaneers had been shut out in five of their previous seven games and had scored a meager 53 points on the season.
There was no reason to expect a Tampa Bay victory except for the fact that the Buccaneers were overdue and the 3-9 Saints were nearly as inept.
"We weren't playing well and they were actually getting better," Manning says. "They had almost won a couple other games and they had a good defense that became a very good defense."
Dave Green kicked a pair of field goals to get Tampa Bay started and quarterback Gary Huff threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Morris Owens to make it 13-0 at the half. Manning threw an interception and lost a fumble to help keep New Orleans in unworkable field position.
Any regrouping the Saints might have done at halftime was undone when a back injury briefly sidelined Manning during the third quarter. Backup quarterback Bobby Scott tried to hit John Gilliam on a quick out two minutes into the period, but Tampa Bay cornerback Mike Washington picked off the pass and race 45 yards untouched for the back-breaking touchdown.
The Buccaneers returned two more interceptions for touchdowns in the fourth quarter -- one by Richard Wood off Scott, the other by Greg Johnson off Manning -- to offset Manning's two-yard touchdown run and 11-yard scoring pass to Gilliam. The Saints threw six interceptions in all and Tampa Bay's three touchdown returns tied an NFL record.
"We were strangled by the trauma," said Hank Stram, the Saints' coach at the time. "As soon as they got on top, you could feel it, and the harder we tried, the worse we got. It was a nightmare. It was the worst experience of my coaching career."
After the game, as Huff took a deep draw on the stogie he had been saving to celebrate the long-awaited first victory, he couldn't help but notice that it had lost some of its freshness.
"I've been carrying them around so long, they're stale," he said.
McKay, who died this past June 10 at the age of 77, once compared coaching an expansion team to a religious experience: "You do a lot of praying, but most of the time the answer is no."
On the day God finally said yes, Dewey Selmon remarked: "Fantastic, fantastic. God knows it has been a long time coming."
The Buccaneers continued their "hot streak" the following week with another victory, a 17-7 conquest of the St. Louis Cardinals at Tampa Stadium, to finish the season at 2-12. Two years later, they made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game. The Saints, who finished the 1977 season 3-11, didn't make their first playoff appearance until 1987.