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Bucs' 40th anniversary celebration: Rating the best and worst season openers

TAMPA — Happy anniversary. The first game in Bucs history occurred 40 years ago against the Houston Oilers at the Astrodome. September 12, 1976. A determined Bucs team left the visiting locker room and headed for the field.

"We started walking," said Mark Cotney, a starting safety on that 1976 squad. "And walking. And walking. What are we doing? We weren't even in a hallway after a while. It was like narrow little walkway. We're having to line up single file. This isn't right. I'm thinking, 'We're freaking lost, man.'"

The Bucs were late for their first season.

The TV telecast opened with the Oilers on the field, but no sign of the Bucs. They were in the catacombs. Somewhere in there, one Buc, long since forgotten, called out.

"I think we're going the wrong way."

Times files (1976)

1976: When they finally found the field, the Bucs and quarterback Steve Spurrier were no match for the Oilers in the franchise's debut.

The Bucs lost 20-0 that day — and an NFL record 26 times before they ever won.

But that moment is too lovable to trash. Expansion year. And it wasn't close to this franchise's worst opener.

Take last season's opener, Please.

Here's one list of the best and worst:

The Best: Aug. 31, 1997. Bucs 13, 49ers 6. Opening final season at Houlihan's Stadium, Tony Dungy and defense trumpeted a new kind of Bucs. A Hardy Nickerson knee to Steve Young's helmet on a Warren Sapp sack knocked Young from the game. Later, Sapp did the same for Jerry Rice. Bucs announced their presence before 62,554. End game: Bucs finished 10-6, won first playoff game in 18 years.

Times files (1997)

1997: Warren Sapp drags down 49ers quarterback Steve Young, who left the game because of injury. The Bucs won 13-6 and went on to their first playoff victory in 18 years.

The Worst: Sept. 13, 2015. Titans 42, Bucs 14. Lovie Smith's final season kicked off with a rousing disaster at Raymond James Stadium. No. 1 draft pick Jameis Winston's first NFL pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Marcus Mariota, the quarterback the Bucs didn't take, had four touchdowns by halftime. End game: Bucs finished 6-10, Smith was fired. Titans went 3-13.

Second Best: Sept. 1, 1979. Bucs 31, Lions 16. The Bucs, once laughable, opened what would be their first playoff season. Quarterback Doug Williams completed just four passes, but two went for touchdowns. Lee Roy Selmon made his first TD since high school when he returned a fumble. End game: Bucs began 5-0, finished 10-6, reached NFC title game, Selmon was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Second Worst: Sept. 4, 1983. Lions 11, Bucs 0. Legendary Bucs owner and hobgoblin Hugh Culverhouse refused to pay Doug Williams, who left for USFL. Before booing Bucs fans at opener, the team used two quarterbacks, the immortal Jerry Golsteyn and Jack "the Throwin' Samoan" Thompson. Detroit won with a safety and three field goals. It remains only 11-0 final score in NFL history. End game: Bucs, after 4-0 preseason, finished 2-14.

Times files (1983)

1983: Jack Thompson drops back to pass in a 11-0 loss to Detroit, the beginnings of a 2-14 season for Tampa Bay.

Third Best: Sept. 8, 2003. Bucs 17, Eagles 0. The Super Bowl champion Bucs, having closed Veterans Stadium by beating Philadelphia in the NFC title game, ruined opening night at Lincoln Financial Field, shutting out the Eagles, despite Sylvester Stallone appearing to strains of the "Rocky" theme. Bucs defense was dominant, Joe Jurevicius caught two TDs, including a tip-and-grab beauty. Nothing could stop the world champs. End game: Bucs went 7-9, missed playoffs.

Third worst: Sept. 7, 1986. 49ers 31, Bucs 7. On the day Selmon's number 63 was retired at halftime at Tampa Stadium, Joe Montana threw for 356 yards and Bucs quarterback Steve DeBerg threw seven interceptions as his back-up — Steve Young — rode the bench. End game: Bucs went 2-14, coach Leeman Bennett fired.

Times files (1987)

1987: In Ray Perkins' debut as Bucs coach, Steve DeBerg threw for five touchdowns in a win over Atlanta.

Fourth best: Sept. 13, 1987. Bucs 48, Falcons 10. In Ray Perkins' debut as Bucs coach, with No. 1 draft pick Vinny Testaverde looking on, DeBerg threw five touchdowns at Tampa Stadium. End game: Bucs finished 4-11, missed playoffs.

Fourth worst: Sept. 4, 1988. Eagles 41, Bucs 14. Testaverde made his first opening day start. Threw five interceptions. Philadelphia led 34-0 at halftime; Eagles coach Buddy Ryan played second-stringers in second half. End game: Bucs finished 5-11, missed playoffs.

Times files (2005)

2005: Cadillac Williams ran wild in Metrodome in first NFL start, rushing for 148 yards, the first of the rookie's three consecutive 100-yard games.

Fifth best: Sept. 11, 2005. Bucs 24, Vikings 13. Bucs rookie Carnell "Cadillac" Williams ran wild in Metrodome in first NFL start, rushing for 148 yards. Williams became first NFL running back to begin a career with three consecutive 100-yard games. End game: Bucs finished 11-5, made playoffs, lost to Washington.

Fifth worst: Sept. 1, 1996. Packers 34, Bucs 3. In Tony Dungy's first game as Bucs coach, two days before critical vote on new stadium, Bucs were crushed at home by Green Bay. Brett Favre tossed four touchdown passes, Trent Dilfer tossed four picks. "If I saw this, would I really vote to keep the team here?" Dungy said 20 years later. "I'm running down there to vote 'No.' " End game: Stadium funding approved. Bucs, after 0-5 start, finished 6-10.

What does your list look like?

Bucs' 40th anniversary celebration: Rating the best and worst season openers 09/09/16 [Last modified: Friday, September 9, 2016 11:49pm]
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