The Worst Teams of All Time, Part 7: The Buccaneers of the 80s

This is a post in an ongoing series, where we examine and poke fun at some of the most ghastly teams ever to take the field.

Oh, those Tampa Bay Joke-aneers. They’re living up to that nickname right now in 2014, with a 1-5 record, losing uglier than any other team in the NFL. After a short rise to power in the early 2000s, the Buccaneers are back in the pot, just like they were in the 1980s and early 1990s. During this decade and a half of futility, the Buccaneers bumbled along to the tune of a 64-160 record, losing more games than the 1990s Bengals in the same timespan (13 years, 14 seasons).

John McKay

John McKay had taken the Buccaneers to the playoffs a few times in recent years, and they were poised to do it again in 1983.

In 1982, the Buccaneers were a scrappy team who secured a playoff spot with a 5-4 record, and although they lost to the Cowboys, they were supposed to take another step in 1983. Well, the opposite happened. Doug Williams finally departed for the rival USFL league after contract negotiations, and the Buccaneers were forced to rely on draft bust Jack Thompson, who is more remembered for his racist nickname (“The Throwin’ Samoan”) rather than his quarterback play.

Jack Thompson

Thompson fumbling the ball, as he often did.

So with this, and 18 players spending time on injured reserve, the Yuckaneers dropped to a league-worst 2-14 record. Thompson’s play was dysmal, as he threw 21 interceptions, took 39 sacks and had a starter record of 2-11. James Wilder, however, had a very good season, but defenses easily keyed on him and shut the Buccaneers down.

Remarkably, John McKay was not fired, due to his friendship with owner Hugh Culverhouse, and they entered 1984 with no expectations. It would be Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon’s final season, as the Buccaneers played better, their offensive output is the third best in franchise history. 1984 was the first season for Tampa Bay where the offense ranked higher than their defense. Lawrence Taylor called James Wilder the “best running back I’ve ever seen in my life”.

Despite all this, the Buccaneers finished with a 6-10 record. At the end of the season, John McKay resigned as head coach.

Steve Young

1985 began with excitement from the fans, as USFL star Steve Young was brought in to try and quarterback the team. Originally, new head coach Leeman Bennett wouldn’t allow Young to start until he felt he was ready, instead opting for Steve DeBerg. However, after a 62-28 loss to the New York Jets, Bennett gave in and started Young, who rallied the team over the Detroit Lions for their first win of the season. It would be only one of two wins for the team, as they finished 1985 with another league-worst finish.

1986 is regarded by some Tampa Bay fans to be the worst team in franchise history, even surpassing the 1976 expansion team (who went winless), due to the lack of injuries to starting players on the 1986 team that plagued the expansion team. In short, the winless team sucked because too many guys got hurt, but the 1986 team sucked because that’s just how they played. Tampa Bay was unable to find any impact players in the draft or free agency, coming into 1986 with a nearly identical roster to the 1985 team.

Eric Dickerson

Eric Dickerson running through the Buccaneer defense in 1986. Then again, who didn’t?

Tampa Bay conceded 473 points in 1986, a total which wouldn’t be matched until the the 2001 Indianapolis Colts gave up 486. The Buccaneers also had one of the worst offenses in the league, averaging a mere 14.9 points per game.

Ray Perkins

Following 1986, Leeman Bennett was predictably fired, amassing a 4-28 record in Tampa Bay. Immediately, Perkins traded Steve Young away to the San Francisco 49ers, where he had a Hall of Fame career, winning the Super Bowl in 1994.

Whether or not Perkins or Bennett was a worse head coach is up for debate.

Despite a promising start to 1987 with a 48-10 drubbing of the hopeless Atlanta Falcons and a 4-3 start, the Buccaneers them tumbled to an 8 game losing streak to close out the strike-shortened season 4-11. Vinny Testaverde was also drafted in 1987, going 0-4 as a starter.

Vinny Testaverde 3

Although he was looked at as a franchise quarterback, Testaverde never produced during his time in Tampa Bay.

Come 1988, Testaverde is now entrenched as the starter. Despite there being hope for a .500 season, the Buccaneers slump to 5-11 mainly due to a 35 interception season courtesy of Testaverde. Although occasionally beating playoff-bound foes, the Buccaneers often faltered.

Vinny Testaverde 2

In 1989, the season began with a game against the eventual Super Bowl Champion 49ers, whom the Buccaneers would have beaten if not for a dropped interception in the final minute. Apart from this, there were not many bright spots for Tampa Bay, as Testaverde threw 22 interceptions and took 38 sacks.

A new decade came around, and so did the emergence of evidence of Hugh Culverhouse’s lies. He insisted that the Buccaneers were losing money due to low ticket sales in 1990, but Tampa Bay was later shown to be one of the most profitable organizations in the league. Culverhouse’s refusal to sign talented players to big contracts doomed the Buccaneers to their losing ways, running the team as a profit-first organization.

In 1990, the Buccaneers started out 4-2 and seemed to be destined for a winning season. However, after a Week 13 win, Ray Perkins was fired, after compiling a 19-41 record in Tampa Bay.

Richard Williamson

Offensive coordinator Richard Williamson was hired as head coach for 1991 based off of a 1-2 finish to 1990.

Indianapolis Colts vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers - October 4, 1992

Both the offense and defense hit a wall as the Buccaneers careened to a 3-13 finish. Testaverde finished the year with only 8 touchdowns, while throwing 15 interceptions and not even eclipsing 2,000 yards. The offense managed only 12.4 points per game. At the end of the season, Richard Williamson was dumped after just one season.

SAM WYCHE

Sam Wyche spent 4 seasons in Tampa, and this was his regular expression.

In 1992, Sam Wyche was brought in following a 3-13 season in Cincinnati, determined to turn Vinny Testaverde into a premier quarterback. He didn’t, though. The team fumbled through the disappointing season, as they finished with the fourth worst special teams unit ever (according to Football Outsiders), and in Week 13 they choked away a 27-3 lead to the Los Angeles Rams to lose the game 31-27. Vinny Testaverde was let go at the end of the season, finishing with a 77 TD – 112 INT ratio.

In 1993, Wyche chose to go with young Craig Erickson, who had won a national championship at the University of Miami. Erickson had a mediocre year overall and was by no means a reliable quarterback.

Craig Erickson

Tampa Bay in 1993 became the only team to ever play 11 teams that went on to qualify for the playoffs, going 3-8 in these games, finishing 5-11 overall. However, the Buccaneers did take the first step to turning around the team, drafting Pro Bowl Safety John Lynch in the 3rd round.

In 1994, Tampa Bay started the year 2-9, as ticket sales dwindled and there was frequent talk of the team relocating to greener pastures. Trent Dilfer was also drafted in the first round, and he did a very good job of showing that he wasn’t ever destined to be a franchise quarterback by demonstrating crappy play along with a worse attitude, frequently arguign with Wyche and infamously exploding at the former the next year.

CLE01 SPORT NFL BUCS BROWNS

However, second year DE Eric Curry started coming into his own, and as the defensive line improved, the Buccaneers put together their first 4 game winning streak in 15 years.

1995 swung around, and Malcolm Glazer was awarded ownership of the team. There, he promptly set about drafting Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, two of the best defensive players ever. The Bucs put together one of the best draft classes ever in 1995, since ownership was finally ready to spend the big $$$ to sign players who weren’t incompetent. Despite the future Hall of Famers, the team was shackled by a legendary division in the NFC Central, which sent the other four teams to the playoffs. 1995 would also be Wyche’s final year in Tampa Bay.

In 1996, defensive specialist Tony Dungy was brought in as head coach, and both Mike Alstott and Donny Abraham were drafted. Alstott and MLB Hardy Nickerson were named AP All-Pros. The Bucs started the season 0-5, and the talent they had assembled started taking flight, as they won 6 of their final 11 games. The offense struggled the entire season, mainly because of the holdout of RB Errict Rhett. 1996 also marked the final year the Buccaneers would wear their famously hideous “creamsicle orange” uniforms.

The Buccaneers started 1997 with a 5-0 record, and went on to finish with a 10-6 record. Trent Dilfer finally came into his own, Ronde Barber started his first year with the team, and Tony Dungy was named Coach of the Year.

In 1999, the Buccaneers reached the NFC Championship game, and in 2002 they won the Super Bowl thanks to a suffocating defense ledd by Sapp, Brooks, and Lynch, players who were all drafted during this 13-year span of idiocy.

Buccaneer fans feel it all over again nowadays, and it doesn’t appear that Lovie Smith will be spending very much time in Tampa Bay.

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