Saturday, December 16, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jones: 'The Yucks' chronicles when Bucs were bad and special

When it comes to writing about sports teams, you want one of two things:

Special good or special bad.

Mediocrity is boring, but a team being really good or really bad makes for solid story­telling.

And memorable stories are what you get with one of sports' most memorable teams: the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In those days, they were affectionately known as "The Yucks,'' which also happens to be the name of a book written by Florida native Jason Vuic, who will appear this weekend at the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading.

Vuic, 44, grew up in Punta Gorda during the time when 1-75 didn't go as far as south as Alligator Alley. His parents were Dolphins fans. His dad went to the first Dolphins practice in 1960.

But Jason was a Bucs fan. As a kid, he and his family would pile in the car at 8 on a Sunday morning, drive the Tamiami Trail, watch the Bucs in the scorching heat and get home after dark, sunburned and exhausted.

But it was worth it, even as the Bucs lost week after week.

"I remember around 1981 or 1982 that the Bucs came to my school for a charity basketball game,'' Vuic said. "I met Doug Williams and thought it was the greatest thing in the world.''

Vuic's love for the Bucs has never waned, even as his life has led him far from Tampa Bay. He went to school at Wake Forest, then got a doctorate in European history at Indiana University. He eventually landed in then-Yugoslavia.

Weary of the unrest in that part of the world, Vuic got the writing bug and turned his attention to something silly: the Yugo, perhaps the worst car in the history of cars.

No wonder Vuic chose to write about the NFL's biggest lemon: the Yucks, the team that lost 26 in a row to start the franchise.

"I always had the idea to write about the Bucs,'' Vuic said. "I like losers more than winners. I don't want to read about the genius of Bill Belichick anymore. Or the Mannings. This Bucs team was special.''

Special bad.

Yet there was something endearing about that era that Vuic perfectly captures in his equally endearing book.

After a brief history of the Bucs' beginnings — from Tampa leaders such as Leonard Levy and former Tampa Tribune sports editor/columnist Tom McEwen to the often-overlooked Bill Marcum — Vuic gets into their first two seasons.

And you can't talk about those seasons without a heavy dose of their first coach, John McKay.

When I suggested to Vuic that McKay is the protagonist of his book, Vuic quickly said, "The protagonist and the antagonist.''

McKay, Vuic explained, could be incredibly warm and friendly with Bucs staff, from ball boys to trainers. At the same time, he could be incredibly cruel and biting with players.

"He could cut you with a word,'' Vuic said. "Just bring you to your knees.''

Vuic describes — and writes in his book — how McKay was the man most responsible for the Bucs being so bad in their first two seasons but was most responsible for them being so good soon thereafter, reaching the NFC Championship Game in 1979, their fourth season.

"They were horrible for so long because he had a plan,'' Vuic said. "And he did what he said he was going to do.''

That downtrodden period makes up the bulk of Vuic's book and is another reminder of just how iconic those teams were. As Vuic points out, the 1970s featured a handful of legendary teams, including the Dolphins, Steelers, Cowboys and Raiders.

"The Bucs are on that list, too,'' Vuic said.

A perfect example, as Vuic writes in his book, is how the Bucs became a running joke for then-Tonight Show host Johnny Carson. For those not old enough to remember, Carson might have been the biggest thing going on television at the time. Being the punch line to a Carson joke was like becoming a topic today on Saturday Night Live.

Eventually, the Bucs' cult status ended when they won just enough games to no longer be lovable losers. They went from the worst team in the NFL to, like, the fifth-worst team. No longer special bad, and no longer all that interesting.

They went on to win the Super Bowl in the 2002 season, a moment more meaningful for fans of the Yucks. "I was living in Ohio then,'' Vuic said. "I lifted my window in a snow storm and yelled out. I couldn't believe it.''

That team was special good.

These days, the Bucs are struggling again. Bad football is usually bad for business. Unless you write a book about bad football. Vuic's book is about bad football.

And it's very good.

     
Comments
McCoy, David, Hargreaves all out Monday against Falcons

McCoy, David, Hargreaves all out Monday against Falcons

As if containing Julio Jones and the Falcons offense weren't challenging enough, the Bucs will try to so Monday night without perhaps their top two defensive players in DT Gerald McCoy and LB Lavonte David.Bucs coach Dirk Koetter on Saturday ruled bo...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Bucsí Ward glad to be back, eager for rematch with brother Terron

Bucsí Ward glad to be back, eager for rematch with brother Terron

Bucs safety T.J. Ward will make a healthy return Monday after missing two games with a concussion, and it's also a chance to face his brother Terron, a running back with the Falcons."Our whole family's going to be there, rooting us on," T.J. said aft...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Jones: Tony Dungy didnít leave the Bucs on the clearance rack

Jones: Tony Dungy didnít leave the Bucs on the clearance rack

It is and always will be the greatest debate in Tampa Bay sports history.Jon Gruden or Tony Dungy?You donít even need to say anything more than that. Bucs fans already know what youíre talking about.Gruden or Dungy?Who was most responsible for the on...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Jon Gruden or Tony Dungy? Why the debate rages on

Jon Gruden or Tony Dungy? Why the debate rages on

TAMPA — Bucs coach Jon Gruden did not win the Super Bowl with Tony Dungy’s team. Don’t believe me? Ask Dungy. "It wasn’t. They did a great job. They took it and tweaked it," Dungy said. "The same way I got a great (Colts) tea...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Staff writers pick sides (kind of) in the Dungy-Gruden debate

Staff writers pick sides (kind of) in the Dungy-Gruden debate

Even with ó perhaps especially with óJon Gruden set to be inducted into the Bucs Ring of Honor Monday night, Tampa Bayís Great Sports Debate hasnít abated. Who deserves more credit for the biggest moment in Tampa Bay sports history ó the Bucsí Super ...
Published: 12/16/17
Nobody has Jameis Winstonís back more than Dirk Koetter, offensive coordinator Todd Monken insists

Nobody has Jameis Winstonís back more than Dirk Koetter, offensive coordinator Todd Monken insists

Nobody is a bigger supporter of Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston than head coach Dirk Koetter.That was the passionate message that offensive coordinator/receivers coach Todd Monken unloaded at his news conference Friday, saying that reports that Winst...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Bucs journal: Adarius Glantonís experience could come in handy for ailing LB corps

Bucs journal: Adarius Glantonís experience could come in handy for ailing LB corps

TAMPA ó The Bucsí linebacker depth was tested during the first five weeks of the season, when Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander missed a combined six games with injuries.And now, as David is again sidelined by a hamstring injury, the experience gained...
Published: 12/15/17
Cannon Fodder podcast: Letís revisit Monday night games in Bucsí past

Cannon Fodder podcast: Letís revisit Monday night games in Bucsí past

Times Bucs writer Greg Auman has injury updates on Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy and a nostalgic trip through the Bucsí history on Monday night, including the current three-game win streak and yes, that infamous 2003 Colts game where the Bucs were u...
Published: 12/15/17
Why the Bucs need a Dungy more than a Gruden

Why the Bucs need a Dungy more than a Gruden

TAMPA ó The worst week of Dirk Koetterís life rolls on.Itís Gruden Week, just like Shark Week, only with smaller teeth and a bigger playbook. Itís the big build-up to Grudenís induction into the Buc Ring of Honor this Monday night, with the accompany...
Published: 12/15/17
Rick and Tom podcast: Is Dirk Koetter fighting for his job?

Rick and Tom podcast: Is Dirk Koetter fighting for his job?

In their latest podcast, Rick Stroud and Tom Jones discuss whether Dirk Koetter is fighting for his job the final three weeks of season. Is there a rift between him and Jameis Winston? Has Winston shown enough progress this year? And who are the Glaz...
Published: 12/15/17