SAN DIEGO - There were bad times. Times so bad, you questioned your love of the game, your loyalty to the team and the wisdom in both. Times when you thought the owner was nuts and the players were criminally incompetent. Times when the only thing to do was laugh like a crazy person and brace for the next death-defying blunder.
Then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers really got bad.
"What about your team's execution?" someone asked Bucs coach John McKay in 1976, the team's rookie season.
"I'm in favor of it," McKay said.
The Bucs went
0-14 that season. They played like dead men. Maybe they were. They lost their first 26. In '77, after a notably bad first half at home against Washington, McKay broke two knuckles smashing his fist through a locker room chalkboard.
The Bucs put bad in a box and wrapped it in a bow. "They made the Bad News Bears look like the Yankees," Rich McKay said Wednesday. Rich McKay is the Bucs' general manager now. In '76, he was a Bucs ball boy, which for most kids would be a dream realized. For Rich, a high school senior, it was like double-dating with his parents.
"You would never see us in Buc colors," McKay said. "We were dumb, not stupid."
So go on with your bad self, BengalFan. You've got no complaint. BucFan has been where you are. BucFan got there first. The difference was, the Bucs were laugh-out-loud horrible, even to themselves. The Bengals are just horrible.
Hugh Culverhouse, the Bucs' owner, once began a press conference by singing Dionne Warwick's "That's What Friends Are For." The Bucs had drafted Bo Jackson No.1. Now Culverhouse was announcing he couldn't sign him:
"Keep smiling, keep shining ... that's what friends are for." Culverhouse heard the song in the car on the way to the press conference.
In '86, Culverhouse held a press conference announcing Leeman Bennett's firing, only he forgot to tell Bennett. The coach found out as he was preparing to address the room.
"Great guy," Rich McKay said Wednesday of Culverhouse. "Winning was definitely on his priority list. But it wasn't in the top five."
Culverhouse then hired Ray Perkins, calling him "my Vince Lombardi." Perkins went 19-41 and refused to let his personnel people scout players from schools whose names began with "W."
We've had our stories in Cincinnati. When then-coach Dave Shula called out Boomer Esiason during a team meeting for not giving the coach his home phone number, No.7 shouted out the main number for LaRosa's.
Ki-Jana Carter was a hero one year for buying big towels for the locker room. If you'd seen the size of the towels the team gave the players, you'd understand Carter's instant popularity.
A reporter picked up free agent Myron Bell at the airport and drove him to Spinney Field. And so on.
The Bengals are funny in a laugh-or-cry kind of way. The Bucs were flat-out hilarious.
When a kicker named Bill Capece flubbed a short field goal late in the '83 season, McKay cut him, saying, "Capece is kaput." When an assistant coach saw a wideout named James Hadnot in the locker room at 3:20, he reminded Hadnot he was late for a meeting.
"No, the meeting's at quarter after 3 and it's only 3:20," Hadnot said. "I got five more minutes."
A tight end named Ira "The Sheik" Gordon once told McKay, "Coach, I got that X-ray and I still don't feel any better."
We got a million of 'em.
McKay quit after the '84 season, amid charges he'd lost the ability to communicate with his players. Let Rich McKay tell this one:
"My dad put his arm around one of his players. `What's your birthday, son?'"
"Coach," the player said, "I have it every year."
Sam Wyche, whom Culverhouse hired in 1992 because he "was impressed by his brain," once made his players practice halftime. Literally. Wyche also suggested the wearing of all-orange uniforms. No sense in looking just half-ridiculous.
The Bucs were the original Bengals. "We'd make 10 calls to free agents and we'd get three returned, and it would be the three we were hoping wouldn't call back," McKay said.
Now, they're in the Super Bowl. It's an encouraging thing if you root for the Bengals, heirs to the Bucs' buffoonery throne.
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