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Bucs debut under Dirk Koetter, but the play matters more than the score

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It is, of course, the biggest game of Dirk Koetter’s life. And we’ll all forget it in a matter of hours.

When Koetter leads his Tampa Bay Bucs onto the field against Philadelphia Thursday night, it will be notable because it’s Koetter’s first game. Just that.

Oh, you want to see the Bucs have more good plays than bad. You want certain individuals to shine. You want your team to win, because that’s always preferable to the alternative.

But, really, as you judge Koetter, this is what you want to see.

You want to see efficiency, especially in the end zone.

You want to see discipline, especially when it comes to penalties.

You want to see crispness, especially when it comes to play-calling.

You want the team to run well. You want to see a big pass or three. You want to see a pass rush. You want to see cornerbacks actually in the picture when the Eagles throw to their receivers.

But the final score? That isn’t going to be remembered very long.

Remember 1976? John McKay lost 13-7 to the Dolphins. But he went 2-4 in the preseason. The regular season wasn’t as good. He went 0-14.

Remember 1985? Leeman Bennett lost 42-27 to Pittsburgh on his way to a 1-3 preseason. And a 2-14 regular season.

In 1987, Ray Perkins lost 31-30 to Cincinnati, then won his next two games. He went 4-11 during the season.

In 1991, Richard Williamson’s team beat Cleveland 23-10 and went 3-1 in the preseason. He went 3-13, however.

A year later, Sam Wyche lost to Denver 31-10 on the way to a 1-3 preseason. In the regular season, his team went 5-11.

In 1996, Tony Dungy lost 13-10 to the Dolphins and went 1-3 in the preseason. He went 6-10 in the regular season.

In 2002, Jon Gruden beat Miami 14-10 in a 3-1 preseason. The Bucs went 12-4 and won the Super Bowl in his first year.

In 2009, Raheem Morris lost to Tennessee 27-20 in a 1-3 preseason. His first team went 3-13.

In 2012, Greg Schiano beat Miami 20-7 in a 2-2 preseason. His first team was 7-9.

In 2014, Lovie Smith lost 16-10 to Jacksonville in a 1-3 preseason. The Bucs were 2-14 in the regular season.

No one remembers any of them. Like most preseason games, the play — or lack of it — is far more important than the result. Remember, all that matters in preseason is that the tickets are full priced.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit

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