It was the headline that caught my eye.
Something about how the winless Detroit Lions may soon push the 1976 Bucs aside.
And I immediately thought:
Does no one have any respect anymore?
Respect for the futile? For the pathetic? For the hapless? Dear heavens, is no one willing to stand up and defend the '76 Bucs' honor as the most wretched — and ultimately endearing — bunch of losers the NFL has ever known?
If you know anything about football, you know that that inaugural Tampa Bay franchise is the only team in the modern era to lose every game on its schedule. And if you know anything about those '76 Bucs, you know it's preposterous to think another team could possibly be more inept.
I was 13 and as eager as a boy could be when the Bucs kicked off their first season on Sept. 12, 1976.
I was nearly 14 and already bitter by the time they threw their first touchdown pass more than a month later.
Let me break it down for you this way:
These Lions have been outscored by 131/2 points per game, a pretty sorry attempt at competitive football. Of course, those old Bucs were outscored by 201/2 points per game.
These Lions have held a fourth-quarter lead in just three of their 10 games. Of course, those Bucs had one fourth quarter lead the entire season, and it lasted exactly 183 seconds.
You want sad? The Bucs were shut out five times. You want miserable? They gave up more than 40 points four times. The current Lions have yet to be shut out, and they've given up 40 only once.
Look, I can see you're not buying this. That you think my memory was scalded by the Leeman Bennett era. That my brain was fried by the reign of Ray Perkins.
So let's go through the '76 season, maybe not weekly, but most assuredly weakly.
Game 1 vs. the Oilers: The Bucs have 108 yards of total offense. With a chance to score the first points in franchise history, Mirro Roder hits the right upright on a 39-yard field-goal attempt. You could call it an omen. The Bucs would go 8-of-18 on field goals during the season, and Roder would be released after missing his first three kicks. Bucs lose 20-0.
Game 2 vs. the Chargers: First home game in franchise history, and already the fans have given up. The announced attendance at Tampa Stadium is 39,558, with 6,362 no-shows. Quarterbacks Steve Spurrier, Larry Lawrence and Parnell Dickinson combine to throw three interceptions. What makes it so bad is they also combine for three completions.
How bad is the offense? I'll leave that to coach John McKay: "Once they kicked that first field goal, we were in trouble." Bucs lose 23-0.
Game 4 vs. the Colts: The Bucs score the first touchdown in team history — on a 44-yard fumble return by cornerback Danny Reece. The offense continues to flounder. It gains 89 yards of total offense. "We'll be back," McKay insists. "Maybe not in this century, though." Bucs lose 42-17.
Game 6 vs. the Seahawks: The Expansion Bowl. Both the Bucs and Seahawks are looking for the first win in their respective franchise's history when they meet at Tampa Stadium on Oct. 17. Offensive tackle Mike Current has guaranteed a Tampa Bay victory. He does not have a future as a prophet.
The Bucs gain 285 yards of offense but are penalized 20 times for 190 yards. Even so, Dave Green can tie it on a 35-yard field goal attempt with 42 seconds left. Mike Curtis blocks the kick. Bucs lose 23-20.
Game 8 vs. the Chiefs: The Bucs are more than halfway through the schedule without a win. McKay is asked if the first NFL 0-14 season is a possibility. "We're sure as hell working on it," he says. Bucs lose 28-19
Game 9 vs. the Broncos: McKay is getting testy. The Broncos score 24 points in the fourth quarter, although the last two touchdowns were on returns, and the Bucs' coach accuses his old Pac-8 nemesis John Ralston of running up the score.
"He wanted to get his offensive stats up to save his job," McKay says of the Denver coach. "I hope he gets fired." Bucs lose 48-13.
Game 10 vs. the Jets: Lou Holtz's team is 2-7 but still manages to humiliate the Bucs. It is New York's first shutout since the Jets played at the Polo Grounds in 1963. "If this keeps up, I'm going to have to buy all of them beards and dark glasses so nobody will recognize them," McKay says. Bucs lose 34-0.
Game 13 vs. the Steelers: Playing the defending Super Bowl champions, the Bucs never have a chance. McKay sits Spurrier and starts former Steeler Terry Hanratty. He completes 1 of 4 passes for minus-1 yard and an interception. Up 28-0 and inside the Tampa Bay 30, the Steelers take pity and run the clock down — in the second quarter!
McKay is asked later if he is embarrassed. "I was embarrassed before we came here."
Bucs lose 42-0.
Game 14 vs. the Patriots: The season ends with New England calling timeout with six seconds remaining so Steve Grogan can take it in from the 1 to set an NFL record for rushing TDs for a quarterback. Making things just a little worse, the Patriots let linebacker Steve Zabel kick the extra point.
The Bucs lose 31-14 and make history. They are 0-14.
"I think I'll take some time off and go hide somewhere," McKay said.
But there was no hiding. Thirty-two years later, the '76 Bucs remain the standard for woeful football teams. They earned it, and they deserve it.
So, please, don't try taking it from them now.
It is, in a way, their only victory.