Who’s worse, ’76 or ’09 Bucs?
Before the Detroit Lions’ record-setting 2008 season, the team widely considered the worst in NFL history was the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That version of the Bucs finished with an 0-14 mark playing its lone season in the AFC West — the next year, the team would find its home in the old black-and-blue division of the NFL, the NFC Central.
Tampa Bay was shut out five times in that 14-game season and was outscored an incredible 412-125. The average margin of victory for the opposition? Twenty and a half points per game — the team lost by virtually 20 points every week! Four times opponents scored 42 or more points. That’s pretty much New England Patriots-Tennessee Titans territory right there.
That’s bad. Real bad. Vince Young mop-up duty bad.
The Buccaneers also gave up 170 yards per game on the ground throughout the ’76 season. Currently, there are only two teams in the league giving up as many yards on the ground: the Buffalo Bills and, yes, the Bucs. This season’s squad is allowing 172 yards per game.
Not only couldn’t the ’76 Tampa team defend, it couldn’t score, either. Offensively, the group averaged just 137 yards a game through the air and 77 yards on the ground. The team used four different quarterbacks that season, headlined by the old Ball Coach himself, former Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier. Spurrier’s ’76 numbers would make this year’s opening day starter, Byron Leftwich, look like an All-Pro — 50.2 completion percentage, 7 TDs, 12 interceptions and a 57.1 QB rating. That season, coincidentally, ended up being Spurrier’s last in the league.
I bring up the John McKay-coached 1976 Buccaneers team not to depress Tampa Bay fans — or to make myself feel better about being a Lions fan. I’m simply fascinated by how poorly the current 0-6 team has played so far this season. So I raise the question, can this year’s Buccaneers team end up being worse than that historical ’76 squad?
McKay’s Buccaneers were bad, for sure. But they could always fall back on the excuse that they were an expansion team — bad was expected. This year’s Raheem Morris-led squad, while certainly playing like it’s in its inaugural season, can only bury their heads in disgust.
While the pass defense has been solid, ranking 11th in the league and giving up just under 200 yards per game, giving up so many yards on the ground has been the team’s Achilles heel — as has the team’s anemic offense.
After Byron Leftwich won the preseason quarterback derby and Luke McCown was traded, the thinking was that Leftwich could keep the team in games long enough to let the defense steal some wins. That hasn’t happened. Leftwich is now essentially third on the depth chart, and rookie coach Morris gave the ball to Josh Johnson.
While I was intrigued by Johnson coming out of the University of San Diego, I was never a fan of Josh Freeman, the quarterback from Kansas State who most team personnel believe will be the franchise quarterback. Freeman didn’t get much work during the preseason, so would it even be prudent to play him this year? He is reportedly progressing, but how much damage would be caused if he repeatedly gets pounded this year and his confidence is shaken?
It’s interesting to note that in struggling with their ground game, the ’76 Buccaneers had eight different running backs carry the football — six of whom had at least 20 carries. The leading rusher was Louis Carter, who scored just one TD and averaged a paltry 3.0 yards per carry on 171 rushes. Ed Williams was somewhat better, averaging 3.7 yards per carry to go along with two scores. But clearly this team struggled on the ground. Sound familiar, Bucs fans?
In all actuality, Carnell Williams looks to be healthy again — when he gets the chance to carry the rock. Averaging 4.3 yards per carry to go along with two scores, Williams has stepped in for one of the bigger free-agent disappointments, Derrick Ward. Will coach Morris scale back the offense and let his capable backs try to carry the load, at least until the team’s first victory? Time will tell.
Employing solely the eye test as a barometer, I truly believe this year’s version of the St. Louis Rams is worse than last year’s Lions — but I’d lose that argument in a court of law. Comparing this year’s Buccaneers to their ’76 predecessors? I’ll let the Tampa residents decide that one.
No matter what Bucs team you believe is worse, one thing we can agree on is that the ’76 team had far superior uniforms.
Dave Miller is the Web Manager of the National Football Post and an unfortunate hopeless romantic. After receiving his Masters in Writing from DePaul University in Chicago, he realized that he would never be John Updike so he returned to a sports career. He enjoys coffee at any time of the day, CW teen dramas and has an appreciation for girls in boots. You can follow him on Twitter at Miller_Dave, where he constantly chronicles every moment of his mundane life.