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On This Date in Sports December 16, 1979: Rain Bowl

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

In a game played in a deluge, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 3-0 to clinch the NFC Central Division on the final day of the season. It was a remarkable turnaround for Tampa, who lost their first 26 games before finishing 2-12 in 1977 and 5-11 in 1978. The Buccaneers would play in NFC Championship, losing to the Rams 9-0.

There is little debate that the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the worst team in the history of the NFL. An expansion team full of castoffs and has-beens, the Buccaneers, coached by John McKay, lost all 14 games and were outscored 412-125. The Buccaneers’ struggles continued into 1977, as they lost their first 12 games, establishing an NFL record 26-game losing streak before beating the New Orleans Saints and St. Louis Cardinals in the final two games. The Buccaneers showed progress in 1978, finishing 5-11, but nobody could imagine what 1979 would bring.

The team that had been the NFL’s laughingstock was the ones laughing as 1979 began as they won their first five games, equaling their 1978 win total in September. The Buccaneers had their ups and downs in the middle of the season, but at 9-3 stood on the verge of clinching a playoff spot heading into Thanksgiving weekend thanks to the play of quarterback Doug Williams, the rushing of Ricky Bell, and a defense led by LeRoy Selmon. However, a tough 23-22 loss to the Minnesota Vikings followed by lackluster losses to the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers had put the Bucs’ playoffs hopes in peril.

Entering the final week of the season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced a must-win game at Tampa Stadium. Tampa stood at 9-6; a loss would mean the Buccaneers would miss the playoffs while a win would give them a 10-6 record and a tiebreaker over the Chicago Bears by having a better record within the NFC Central. The Buccaneers were hosting the Kansas City Chiefs to finish the season. The Chiefs at 7-8 were looking to finish at .500 under coach Marv Leavy.

When the game began, it was clear this would be a grind, as heavy, steady rain had turned the big sombrero into a quagmire. Passing the ball and holding on to the ball was difficult, as the Chiefs and Buccaneers combined for five turnovers, with Jan Stenerud and Neil O’Donoghue missing a field goal as the game was scoreless heading into the fourth quarter. The 3-0 lead would hold as the Tampa defense smothered the Chiefs in the driving rain, limiting them to four first downs and 80 total yards. Tampa finally broke through midway through the fourth, as O’Donoghue nailed a 19-yard field goal.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers would defeat the Philadelphia Eagles 24-17 in the Divisional Playoffs. However, despite having the home field edge, they lost to the Los Angeles Rams 9-0 in the NFC Championship Game.