The Buccaneers are really not a shining example of brilliance in Pro Football right now, sitting at a 2-11 record in 2014 and embarrassingly are stuck in the cellar in the stomach-churning NFC South. The Bucs haven’t had a good team in a long time, and if you rewind back to 1976, they were the worst team in the history of the sport.
In 1976, the NFL decided to expand the league and add a team to each conference. For the NFC, the NFL added the Seattle Seahawks, who moved to the AFC in 1977 and stuck there until 2002. The Buccaneers were placed in the AFC, and transferred to the NFC in 1977 where they’ve been ever since. The Seahawks weren’t that great to start out with, but they were miles better than the Bucs.
The first thing we need to address are these awful uniforms. Who thought of these? Dingy red-orange and creamsicle orange does not strike fear into the hearts of your opponents. In fact, these uniforms are known as the “creamsicle” uniforms Tampa Bay wore until 1997. They had the great pewter and red look for a while, before they decided to dump that and go with the “alarm clock numbers” look in 2014. But yeah, the uniforms were crap and the team didn’t play much better.
The expansion draft was horrifying for the Bucs, as they drafted aging veterans who did nothing but break themselves as well as drafting players who declined the offer and went elsewhere, like Miami’s linebacker Doug Swift, who chose to return to medical school.
In the first game against the Houston Oilers, the Buccaneers spent 20 minutes getting lost in the hallways of the Astrodome before hustling out onto the field, nearly missing the opening kickoff. During the game, the Bucs were embarrassed by Houston in a game that featured turnovers, dropped passes and mistakes galore to go along with a dreadful offensive performance that saw the Buccaneers gain only 2.1 yards-per-play. The Bucs lost the game 20-0.
The next week, the Buccaneers played their first home game against the Chargers, finishing with -4 yards passing thanks to horrible blocking. Tampa Bay lost the game 23-0.
Two games. Zero points. 43 given up.
In all, the offense was shut out five times in a 14-game season, while only scoring 125 points in all, 8.9 per game. Steve Spurrier, before he was a college coach, was a quarterback bust for the 49ers and Buccaneers. In 1976, he completed 50.2% of his passes for 1,628 yards, 7 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Predictably, he didn’t win a game as a starter. The other two guys, Parnell Dickinson and Terry Hanratty, each started a game and threw only a single touchdown to 6 interceptions.
Louis Carter, the team’s leading rusher, finished with 171 carries for 521 yards and a touchdown. Past Carter, it’s pretty bleak. The team only finished with 1,503 rushing yards in total, and only averaged 3.5 yards-per-carry and 5 touchdowns on the ground.
In all, the team’s offense was awful. They set the record for the fewest amount of points scored in a 14 game season with 125, scoring only 15 touchdowns the entire year and averaging only 3.5 yards-per-play. The team actually finished with more players on injured reserve (17) than touchdowns. The team didn’t score a touchdown until Week 4, and didn’t score a passing touchdown until Week 6.
The team’s defense, however, was leaky. They allowed 5.1 yards-per-play, 19 passing touchdowns (which was a lot back then), 23 rushing touchdowns and 342.9 yards-per-game. 412 points were surrendered in only 14 games, an average of 29.4 per game.
Predictably, the team ranked last in scoring and last in points given up.
In the second quarter of games, Tampa Bay was outscored 130 to 37, almost matching the pitiful fourth quarter total: 115-49. The team finished with a league-worst record of 0-14. They join the 1960 Cowboys, 1982 Colts, and 2008 Lions as the only winless teams in NFL history in the Super Bowl era.
Fast forward to 1977. The Buccaneers didn’t do much in the draft or in free agency, and suffered through another terrible season. The offense in 1977 was historically bad, setting a record for shutout losses in a season with 6. They broke the 1976 team’s fewest amount of points scored in a 14-game schedule: they scored only 103 the entire season, a pitiful average of 7.4 per game. The offense only managed 3.2 yards-per-play, and only scored 7 touchdowns all season while somehow managing to throw 30 interceptions and fumble the ball 30 times. Quarterbacks Randy Hedberg and Jeb Blount were especially bad, going 0-8 as starters while throwing 0 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. Hedberg completed only 27.8% of his passes.
The Bucs started the season 0-12, before facing the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome. Hank Stram was their coach, and allegedly Saints quarterback Archie Manning declared it would be a “disgrace” to lose to the Bucs. Whatever he said, it lit a fire under the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay did to New Orleans what everyone had done to them: force turnovers, score points, shut down the offense. Tampa Bay beat the Saints 33-14 for their first win in franchise history, breaking a record 26 game losing streak that still stands. In the season’s final week, the Buccaneers beat the St. Louis Cardinals 17-7.
Head coach John McKay had great expectations coming to Tampa Bay after winning big at USC, but after an 0-26 start, it was “throw McKay in the bay” time. McKay coached the Buccaneers until the mid-1980’s, when he finally resigned after a plethora of miserable seasons.
After 1976 and 1977, the Buccaneers improved in 1979 and 1980, winning division titles and reaching the NFC Championship game in 1979. Although he would lose it, the Buccaneers suffered through a 14-year stretch of terrible football, missing the playoffs from 1983-1996. In 2002, they won the Super Bowl, and really haven’t recovered since then. Right now, the Bucs are 2-11, and combined with their awful 2013 season, their current two year win mark stands at 6. However bad the Bucs may be, they’ll never be as bad as the ’76-’77 teams.