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These Tampa Bay Bucs could end up as worst ever

The (mostly) somber Bucs wait out the final minutes of their 11th loss of 2009, Sunday to the Panthers. The franchise — and its fans — could lead the NFL in misery. In its 34 seasons, it has 23 losing seasons and is lifetime 116 games under .500.

DIRK SHADD | Times

The (mostly) somber Bucs wait out the final minutes of their 11th loss of 2009, Sunday to the Panthers. The franchise — and its fans — could lead the NFL in misery. In its 34 seasons, it has 23 losing seasons and is lifetime 116 games under .500.

Worse than Richard Williamson's Bucs. Worse than Leeman Bennett's. Worse even than John McKay's.

Four more games and history is theirs to claim.

Four more defeats and it can be argued that this is the most disappointing team in the often disappointing history of the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Yeah, that's how bad it has been.

These Bucs have lost close games, and they have lost lopsided ones. They have played like a team that lacks coordination, and still, they have fired coordinators. They are on their way to nowhere, and they have run out of gas, and only garbage is left to eat, and there isn't enough of that to go around, and the team is stuck in the mud, and the rain keeps falling. Also, there are locusts.

Here at the season's three-quarters turn, with 11 losses in 12 tries, it is easy to wonder. Even when you are talking about a franchise that has known more bad Sundays than most, has a season ever felt so wrong?

Answer: Maybe not.

When it comes to measuring the misery, not a lot of teams can match the Bucs. In their 34 seasons, they have won five games or fewer 17 times. They have 23 losing seasons. In their history, the Bucs are 116 games under .500.

This team has underachieved with the worst of them.

I know, I know. Right about now you're thinking about Mc- Kay's first season, when the Bucs went 0-14. But let's face it: They were an expansion team, and their roster was filled with players from the waiver wire and the hospital ward and, one suspects, a local team of plumbers who wandered into the stadium by mistake.

If you're talking about talent, yeah, the current team is better. Why, it might gain 500 yards in a game against that '76 team. Who knows? It might even score a touchdown.

But if you're talking disappointment, this team is much worse. When you think of all the ways teams have to get better these days — the draft, free agency, trades, picking through the leftovers of other teams' practice squads — this team is a bigger letdown than the '76 team. That team never had a chance.

You can say the same thing about Bennett's teams. He won only twice in his first season, only twice in his second. On the other hand, Bennett worked for Hugh Culverhouse, who always found victory a little too expensive for his tastes.

If you have ever griped about the Glazers not spending money, remind yourself that Culverhouse could squeeze a nickel so tightly that Thomas Jefferson's descendants got headaches. It was Culverhouse who didn't sign Bo Jackson, the No. 1 draft choice before Bennett's final year.

No one expected much from that Bucs team, either. Good thing, as it turned out.

Williamson? Hey, he won three times in 1991 despite having characters such as Dexter Manley, Keith McCants and Broderick Thomas on his defense. Not only that, but he did a fine job of polishing up the altar in time for the Bill Parcells circus.

By 2009, it was easier to expect more. After all, the Bucs have had years to develop players to avoid this kind of season. True, expectations were lower this season, but not eight victories (so far) lower than last season. True, the Bucs lost several veterans from last year, but none of them were exactly pursued relentlessly by the rest of the league.

That's why a 1-15 record would be as disappointing as any season the Bucs have had. It would set the record for most losses in a season. It would involve the second-fewest number of victories. Already I suspect it has set a record for the most angry e-mail.

So how did the Bucs get here? Bad drafting. Bad development. Bad planning. When a team is one-and-ugly, you can blame everyone. No one has an alibi.

Here's the thing, though. When you look back at last offseason, you can argue the Bucs had a little fortune along the way, too. As hard as they tried, they didn't sign Albert Haynesworth, who has done his share of underachieving with the Redskins. As willing as they were, they didn't trade for Jay Cutler, who leads the league in interceptions with Chicago.

All together now: Whew!

Looking back, the Bucs are fortunate their future isn't tied up with the contract of either player. A lesson is there. Sometimes the rest of us make more out of free agency than it deserves. It's not a place to build a team; it's a place to augment one with the right player for the right fit.

As the Bucs try to move away from a season that is memorable only because of how forgettable it is, that's worth keeping in mind. A franchise gets better by who it drafts in April, not by who it buys in March.

As for now, the disappointment grows by the week. Today it is immense. In another month, it might block out the sun.

Four weeks to go, and things could really get ugly.

Four more losses, and history will laugh.

These Tampa Bay Bucs could end up as worst ever 12/08/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 9, 2009 7:55am]

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