In 1976, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers joined the NFL – a victory for the western Florida region, which had been trying to land a professional football team since the late 1960s. Tampa Bay, a collective name for the cities of Tampa and St Petersburg, would not see another victory for a while.
The Buccaneers opened with 26 straight defeats, losing every game of their first season and beginning their second with 12 straight losses. The Yucks is a very funny look at those first two seasons, written by a Florida native and lifelong Buccs fan.
Much of the humour comes from coach John McKay, whose one-liners are perhaps the best-remembered thing about that team. The most famous one – “What do you think of your team’s execution, coach?” “I’m in favour of it.” – turns out to be apocryphal but there are plenty of others. “Football players don’t like two-a-day practices, calisthenics, or coaches,” says McKay at one point. “They like ice cream and dances.”
But McKay could also be bitter and spiteful towards his players, fans, the press and anyone else who happened to provoke his anger. The losing streak clearly wore him down but, says Vuic, much of the responsibility for it belongs to him. The former USC coach was determined to stick with the run-focused, I-formation offense that had succeeded at college level but with little talent at Tampa Bay, especially on the offensive line, he was doomed.
McKay set the tone for his team with a punishing training camp schedule, two weeks of two-a-days, at the team’s tiny base next to the airport. The weight room at the Buccaneers’ present headquarters, Vuic writes, is just 500 square feet smaller than the whole of that first facility. The cramped offices, and the decision to fly the team in a plane chartered from a local business point to a parsimony on the part of team owner Hugh Culverhouse that would only become more pronounced over time.
Vuic keeps the book lively and is adept at choosing the right anecdote to shed light on a particular character or situation in a book that is packed with them. Defensive coordinator Abe Gibron was a “gourmand” who, in the words of one interviewee, “ate two full meals on the way to our meal. During training camp, a 47-year-old Congressman, Don Hazelton, shows up to try out at kicker. He didn’t make it.
The Yucks is a short book and only about half of it focuses on the losing streak. The first part deals with the founding of the franchise and the final part skips forward to provide a brief summary of the future of the team, including an eventual Super Bowl win and the lean years since. Some readers might consider this a lack of focus but Vuic is always so readable that it doesn’t really matter.
It’s a book that’s worth reading for its vivid portrayal of a franchise finding its feet amid the longest losing streak in NFL history. It also works as an entertaining overview of Buccaneers’ history for casual fans or followers of other teams.
Photo: Jennifer Snyder