Damn the officials!

Posted Oct. 07, 2011 @ 1:50 p.m.
Posted By Mike Beacom

John Rauch had coached the Oakland Raiders to Super Bowl II and had been at the helm during O.J. Simpson's first two seasons in Buffalo. For 25 years, he had dedicated himself to the profession of coaching. But after only five weeks of managing the expansion Buccaneers' offense as coordinator, he'd had enough. Rauch resigned, then took an assistant-coaching position with Atlanta. The year before, the four-win Falcons had been one of the worst teams in the NFL, but even that club was light years ahead of what Rauch had left behind in Tampa Bay.

It was hardly a surprise for fans in 1976 that after five weeks, both the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers remained winless. What probably was a surprise was that both clubs had come within a touchdown of at least one opponent up to that point.

Those two expansion clubs remain a stain on NFL history, and their meeting in mid-October of that season is arguably the worst showing of "professional" football ever witnessed.

More than 40,000 fans — 43,812, to be exact — fit comfortably into Tampa Stadium on an 80-degree afternoon to observe the AFC West Buccaneers face the NFC West Seahawks. High jinks was the draw; football was merely the side attraction. As Seattle coach Jack Patera put it, "Hopefully, one of us is going to win. I'm sure both of us can't lose."

But, oh did they try.

What can be remembered most about the contest is that 41 penalty flags were thrown (35 accepted) resulting in a total of 310 penalty yards. To illustrate how ridiculous that is, in Week Four of the 2011 season the Buccaneers were the league's most penalized team, and their contest against the Colts produced the most combined penalties for any contest — 20 for 156 penalty yards.

Said Tampa Bay's Pat Toomay following the 1976 contest, "It was a travesty. The officials made us look like a bunch of idiots."

Actually, the idiocy went beyond the sea of yellow. The first "passing" touchdown in Tampa Bay team history was the result of an ad-libbed two-handed shovel pass from RB Louis Carter to WR Morris Owens. That score pulled Tampa Bay within three points of the Seahawks late in the third quarter, 13-10. It was a far cry from the point totals Tampa Bay head coach John McKay had been used to during his time at USC. His "real" quarterback, Steve Spurrier, was a respectable 18-of-30 passing against Seattle, but was unable to finish drives that crossed into Seattle territory.

The end of the game was fitting. With a little less than a minute on the clock, the Buccaneers lined up to attempt a field goal that would have tied the game. But Seattle's Mike Curtis (of Baltimore Colts "Mad Dog" Curtis fame) broke through untouched and blocked the kick, saving fans from the misery of extended play. One report noted that Seattle CB Dave Brown was helped off the field following the play after being struck in the eye by a penalty flag.

It was a game full of poor play or embarrassing anecdotes. As the New York Times' Neil Amdur wrote: "The 'Expansion Bowl,' between the Seattle Seahawks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was everything it was supposed to be today."

Of course, things only got worse for Tampa Bay after the loss. McKay's club lost its last six regular-season games by a combined score of 228-50 and became the first team in the Super Bowl era to go winless through an entire season; only the 2008 Lions have matched the feat since.

Seattle beat Rauch and the Falcons in November, but bungled the rest of their contests. Their biggest bungle, however, was ransoming the No. 2 pick in the following year's draft for a package of picks, none of which amounted to much. The Cowboys used the No. 2 pick on future Hall of Fame RB Tony Dorsett.

 

Mike Beacom is a pro and college football writer whose work has appeared in numerous print and online sources. He is also the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Football (Alpha, 2010). Follow him on twitter @mbeac