In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally win their first game, beating the New Orleans Saints 33-14 at the Louisiana Superdome to end their NFL record 26-game losing streak. The 26 losses dated back to the first game Tampa played as an expansion team in 1976, when they went 0-14, and continued into their second season as they were 0-12. Upon returning home, the Bucs were greeted by thousands of fans at the team headquarters.
The 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers were, without question, the worst team in NFL history. An expansion team that, compared to other expansion clubs, had a hard time competing. To coach the team, the Buccaneers tabbed USC legend John McKay, who, upon seeing his team, knew immediately he had his work cut out for him. When asked about his team’s execution, McKay responded he was all for it. The Buccaneers had some pieces to build around, such as Defensive End Lee Roy Selmon, chosen first in the 1976 draft, but the rest of the team were rejects and semipro players who had no business on an NFL field. The Buccaneers' first quarterback was Steve Spurrier, a Heisman winner at the University of Florida in 1966 and struggled in his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers. Larry Ball was another member of the winless Buccaneers who experienced both heaven and hell in his career, having played for the Miami Dolphins in their perfect season four years earlier. The Buccaneers entered the league with the Seattle Seahawks, in 1976 the Buccaneers played in the AFC, playing the other 13 conference teams plus the Seahawks, switching to the NFC in 1977, playing all 13 teams in that conference, including the Seahawks, who had the same schedule in reverse.
The Buccaneers lost their first game to the Houston Oilers 20-0 at the Astrodome. A week later, they lost to the San Diego Chargers 23-0 in their home opener. After losing their next three games, the Buccaneers hosted the Seattle Seahawks in the expansion bowl, with both teams looking for the first win. Seattle would win the game 13-10, finishing their first season with a record of 2-12. Meanwhile, in Tampa, the losses piled up. In Week 6, they played another tight game losing to the Miami Dolphins 23-20 in the battle for Sunshine State bragging rights. The rest of the way, it was just one ugly loss after another as Tampa finished the 1976 season with a record of 0-14, as they were outscored 412-125 and were shut out five times.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers moved to the NFC in their second season and had the foundation of a solid defense. However, the offense was even worse than their inaugural season, as they scored 53 points in their first 12 games, on the way to a 0-12 start. This included six shutouts, as they scored double digits in just two of their first dozen games while scoring just four offensive touchdowns. The Buccaneers' 26-game losing streak became regular fodder for Johnny Carson, who often joked about the team in his monologues.
The New Orleans Saints were not much better than the Buccaneers holding a 3-9 record entering the penultimate game of the 1977 season as Coach Hank Stram was on the verge of being fired. With the Buccaneers' defense keeping the Saints at bay, Tampa jumped out to a 13-0 halftime lead, thanks to a pair of field goals by Dave Green and Morris Owens catching a five-yard pass from Gary Huff. Tampa’s defense continued to make big plays in the second half as Mike Washington picked off Archie Manning and returned for 45 yards for a touchdown. Leading 20-0 at the start of the fourth quarter, Richard Wood had a ten-yard pick-six to make it 26-0. The Buccaneers added a third defensive score when Greg Johnson recovered a fumble in the end zone. The Saints would score twice in the fourth quarter, but the game was out of reach as Tampa capitalized on seven Saints turnovers to win the game 33-14. Upon arriving home in Tampa, 8,000 fans gathered to cheer on a winner for the first time in Buccaneers history.
The Buccaneers would earn their first home win a week later, beating the St. Louis Cardinals 17-7 as they finished the year with a record of 2-12. Remarkably the Buccaneers would turn things around in just two seasons, making it to the NFC Championship Game in 1979.