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Remembering first Bucs training camp 40 years ago

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The Bucs rookies and other hopefuls reported to camp on Monday. On Wednesday, they will be joined by the veterans.

The beauty of training camp, and opening day for that matter, is that all teams are tied for first place. Expectations are higher for some teams than for others. Some are Super Bowl contenders while others can satisfy their fans just by making the playoffs.

It was exactly 40 years ago when the Bucs opened their first training camp. Expectations were limited to sneaking perhaps one, maybe two, wins.

The Bucs became football’s version of the 1962 New York Mets by going 0-14 that initial season, but the fans were patient and at times, amused. At least the Mets fans were able to celebrate their team winning 25 percent of their games during their first year (40-120).

Within the losses there were bright moments, at least on defense. Watching a future Hall of Famer in Lee Roy Selmon make his debut on what would later be a playoff team was fun to watch.

Nose tackle Dave Pear became a crowd favorite as well as the first Buccaneer to make the Pro Bowl. As the losses mounted, it was also a good thing to have John McKay around as the coach.

While he never had the chance to analyze a victory in his post-game comments, McKay provided the media with a season full of one-liners. “We didn’t block real good, but we made up for it by not tackling,” was one of the favorites.

Among the team’s 14 games that season, Tampa Bay scored 10 or fewer points on eight occasions. Five of those were shutouts.

“Every time I look up, it seems we’re punting,” summarized the Bucs’ offense that season. Included among their four quarterbacks, was Steve Spurrier playing in his 10th and final season in the NFL.

Forty years later, expectations for the Bucs are a bit higher. Though they have had only 12 winning seasons among their first 40, Tampa Bay improved by four games last year over the 2014 season.

It was not enough to save Lovie Smith’s job as head coach, but new coach Dirk Koetter has tools to build upon last year’s 6-10 season. Among that talent is a more experienced Jameis Winston at quarterback and one of the game’s brightest stars in running back Doug Martin.

Hometown star Vernon Hargreaves III, the team’s top draft pick, leads a group of young hopefuls on defense. Tampa Bay expects to be a playoff contender. Every coach goes through frustrating times, but Koetter should not need a McKay level sense of humor.

Beginning Saturday, the public is welcome to attend 11 Buccaneer morning practices. Those practices begin at 8:45 a.m. at the Buccaneer complex.

The first pre-season game is August 11 in Philadelphia against the Eagles.

 

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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