Mike Alstott's first regular-season game as an NFL player was a 34-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Alstott's Buccaneers didn't score their first touchdown until the third game of that season, and he himself didn't find the end zone until Game Six.
Of course, as every Buccaneers fan knows, those 1996 Buccaneers finished the campaign on a promising note and broke a 15-year playoff drought the next season. Alstott went to six Pro Bowls, won a Super Bowl in 2002 and scored 71 touchdowns, by far the most in team history.
So if there's anyone who can put Northside Christian's 59-0 loss to Shorecrest Prep on Friday night in perspective, it's Alstott, the Mustangs' first-year head coach.
The season-opening game for both teams drew enormous attention – including being broadcast on local cable television – precisely because Alstott was on the home sideline and his long-time Buccaneer teammate, friend and business partner Dave Moore was across the field with Shorecrest. Moore, too, is in his first year as head coach for the Chargers. As it turned out, the action itself didn't offer much intrigue, as Moore's squad capitalized on an early fumble by the Mustangs and opened up a 31-0 lead by halftime. But Alstott intends to stay the course, just as those '96 Buccaneers did under Head Coach Tony Dungy.
"Turnovers kill you, and not blocking up front hurts you," said Alstott. "But I believe the heart is there and we've just got to figure out how to do it all the time. We're trying to change the culture, and we will. I believe it's going to take us some time, but we have some great kids. We have kids who work hard every day and they're trying to learn and get better. Sometimes you have to fail and learn your mistakes in order to succeed."
Moore was part of that franchise turnaround in Tampa in the '90s, as well, after joining the team in 1992. He, too, was known for his nose for the end zone, as he ranks ninth in team history with 24 scores and owns the highest percentage of touchdowns-per-reception among any Buc with at least 50 catches. Both Alstott and Moore were known for their hard-nosed and professional approach to the game, and Moore has found getting the same focus out of his players to be one of the challenges. Obviously, though, the Chargers were ready to play on Friday night.
"They're wearing me out mentally," said Moore. "Every week in practice, we've got to really try to get them going. They are gamers, though, and I guess if you have to have one or the other, that's what you would want."
Moore's roster has more experience than Alstott's, featuring 12 seniors to Northside's three. That likely helped the Chargers on Friday night, though it presented a challenge in terms of playing time. Moore made a point of spreading the ball around, though senior running back/defensive lineman Garrett Schulte was a standout with three touchdowns.
"We kind of do that intentionally," said Moore. "It makes it more fun, obviously, if everyone on the roster gets involved. We do have a pretty big group of seniors and we try to rotate them in there and give them opportunities."
The extra attention brought on by the coincidence of Alstott and Moore starting their coaching careers in the same game quickly became background noise on Friday night. The two coaches were wrapped up in their own duties on the opposite sidelines, and the surrounding atmosphere was classic high school football – kids playing on the surrounding track, crickets chirping loudly, the home PA announcer clearly showing his bias and the referees calling timeouts for water breaks. The home team even had two players who didn't join their team for the halftime speech because they were busy playing instruments in the marching band performing on the field.
And even if no other game on either team's schedule draws as much of the Bay area's attention, there are still plenty of challenges and successes ahead for both. That's one of Alstott's immediate tasks after Friday night's loss, getting his team to stay the course just as the '96 Buccaneers did when he was an NFL rookie.
"Shorecrest played great, very sound," said Alstott. "They ran the ball well and they stopped us. But again, we can't count our season out on one loss. We have to pick our heads up, come back tomorrow and fix everything."