It’s what they’re known for. It’s their identity. It’s who they are.
0-26 is the Bucs.
Just check NFL Films.
The legendary film makers who chronicle every step of the National Football League have given us the iconic moments of each NFL franchise.
The Dallas Cowboys? There’s that shot of dignified coach Tom Landry in a silhouette, wearing his fedora, giving the Cowboys a classy, stately, noble reputation.
The Pittsburgh Steelers? There’s Franco Harris plucking the ball inches from the ground in the Immaculate Reception — "It’s caught out of the air!" — a losing franchise turned winner with one miracle play.
The Green Bay Packers? There’s coach Vince Lombardi, on a blackboard, showing the simplistic, yet devastating details of their unstoppable power sweep that made them the NFL’s first real dynasty.
And the Bucs?
It’s Neil O’Donoghue’s comical bungled field goal when he tried to kick a rolling ball, only to miss and then fall over himself like a drunk on an icy sidewalk. The truth is, that football folly actually took place in 1978, a season after the Bucs won their first game.
It is the perfect example of just how bumbling, stumbling, fumbling the Bucs were in those early days. And you can’t talk about those days with the most famous numbers in franchise history.
The streak finally ended exactly 40 years ago Monday: Dec. 11, 1977.
The Bucs started their franchise losing their first 26 games. Some of the games were close. Most were not. They lost games by scores of 34-0, 42-0 and 31-0. In fact, the Bucs were shut out 11 times in those first 26 games. They once had a seven-game stretch when they scored a total of 17 points, including a five-game stretch when they scored one touchdown.
And while the Bucs have gone on to have success, including a dominating victory in Super Bowl XXXVII, it will always been known the futile start of the franchise. It will be known more for that than anything else. Ever.
While other football stars were appearing on Johnny Carson, the Bucs were the brunt of Carson jokes.
"The Titanic and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,’’ Carson once said as the character Carnac the Magnificent, a mystic who could see things unforeseen by mere mortals. "Name two disasters that were accompanied by band music.’’
There was an old TV game show called The Gong Show. It’s creator and host, Chuck Barris, once threatened to give losing contestants the worst prize he could think of: Bucs tickets.
But the funniest lines came from the head coach himself, John McKay. When asked about his team’s execution, he said he was in favor of it.
"We didn’t tackle well today,’’ he once said, "but we made up for it by not blocking.’’
For McKay, coaching an expansion team was like a religious experience.
"You do a lot of praying,’’ he said, "but most of the time the answer is no.’’
The losing — 26 games in a row, and from the start — was so epic that it has cast a shadow over the franchise ever since. It’s our Immaculate Reception. It’s our Ice Bowl. It’s our "Catch.’’
And it set the stage for a franchise that has lost way more than it has won.
This is the Bucs’ 42st season in the NFL. They’ve had a winning record in only 12 of those seasons — and 10 of those came since 1997. The franchise’s overall regular-season record: 254-401-1.
Over the years, there have been crummy teams in every sport.
The 1962 Mets that lost 120 games. The expansion Washington Capitals that won only eight games. The 76ers that once won only nine games in a season.
And the NFL is full of legendary losers — the Browns, Lions and Cardinals among them.
But if you’re looking for a team that oozes losing, a team to hold up as the prime example of a losing franchise, you think of 1976 and 1977. Then you think of all the years that followed, even winning ones.
You think of the Bucs.
It all started with two numbers.
Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones.