It is an exciting time to be a Bucs fan.

An exciting brand of offense from head coach Dirk Koetter.

Dare I say a franchise quarterback in Jameis Winston?

A defense that was as good as any in the NFL for a stretch last year.

A new speedy receiver.

A 9-7 record last season, with more weapons on both sides of the ball for 2017.

A draft still to come.

While I am as optimistic about this year any season since I started covering the team full time for PewterReport.com in 2011, I still miss the old days. Not necessarily the 0-26 start. Or the Leeman Bennett, Ray Perkins, and Richard Williamson years.

But I do miss the “old head ball coach.”

John McKay was a part of my youth. And as I spend another day on this earth, one day close to leaving it, I, like many of you, start romanticizing the past. 

We love nostalgia. Or at least I do. I was seven years old when I watched my first Bucs game with my Dad. The year was 1977 and this orange and white clad group of misfits went to New Orleans and won their first game.

Ever.

Saints head coach Hank Stram got his pink slip the next day.

A week later the team won its second game in franchise history, and the first at Tampa Stadium. 

The fans tore down the goal posts.

Cardinals coach Don Coryell got his walking papers following the game.

I was hooked.

In 1978 I saw the Buccaneers draft an African-American quarterback. It wasn’t nearly as popular as the Winston selection. Far from it. This was still the Deep South in the late ’70s, less than a generation after segregation.

McKay stood by his quarterback. Once even attempting to go into the stands to defend Doug Williams from a drunk fan’s racial slur following a Bucs’ loss.  

And it paid off. A year later the Buccaneers were a playoff team, going 10-6 and came within 9-0 points of playing in the Super Bowl in 1979.

Tampa Bay ended up making the playoffs two more times, in 1981 and in 1982, but the Williams contract disaster doomed the Bucs, and McKay. Following his third playoff appearance in the previous four seasons, thrifty Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse allowed Williams to walk, and the Bucs’ first legitimate quarterback took his talent to the new USFL, then later back to the NFL, becoming the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl leading the Redskins to an NFL championship in 1987.

The Bucs, and McKay, were never the same until many years later. The loss of Williams began a 15-year stretch of playoff-less futility for Tampa Bay.

A 2-14 1983 season and a 6-10 1984 followup year helped McKay decide to retire as the Bucs head coach and he spent a short time as the team’s president. The next several years were spent on the golf course. Diabetes eventually caught up to the old ball coach and McKay passed away June 10, 2001 at age 77.

And with his passing, so did part of my youth.

Sundays praying my parents didn’t want to go out to dinner after church so I could get home and listen to the games on the radio, of if by chance they sold out their home game that week, watch it on TV.

John McKay – Getty Images

The memory of that 1979 Saturday afternoon playoff game against the Eagles. We came to my grandmother’s house to watch the game because she had a color television and we didn’t.

As I type this I sit in the same living room that I watched that game 37 years ago. 

Getting my homework and bath done early on Monday evenings so I could watch the John McKay Show with Randy Scott on Channel 44. 

Backyard neighborhood football games where I was Williams when on offense, and Mark Cotney on defense.

My Bucs long-sleeved, footy pajamas with my terrycloth robe I got from Sears Town in Lakeland when I was 10 years old.

My very first Bucs home game in 1981 when the Bucs hosted the Broncos and lost 24-7.

I remember virtually every minute of that day.

The bus we took from Brandon to the stadium – $3 round trip.

The smell of the tailgate parties.

The aroma of the Tampa cigars from the fans in the stands.

The large Marlboro Man ad next to the scoreboard.

The Bucs lone score coming on a Cedric Brown interception return for a touchdown.

The fight song playing over the loudspeakers. 

Spending the whole day with my dad.

I am not sure I stopped smiling the whole day.

I am smiling as I type this.

McKay and his once laughable Bucs went from being a nearly nightly joke on the Johnny Carson Show, to a team to be reckoned with. And through the thick and think, McKay’s dry, sarcastic humor keep beat reporters on their toes and at times in stitches with his memorable on-liners. 

Some of my favorite quips from coach compiled by former Tampa Tribune sportswriter Joey Johnston:

On Bucs place-kicker Pete Rajecki, who said he became nervous when McKay watched him kick: “Please inform Mr. Rajecki that I plan to attend all games.”

Addressing his players after an uninspiring effort: “Anyone who needs a shower, take one.” 

After another uninspiring effort: “We didn’t tackle well today. But we made up for it by not blocking.” 

Asked where he stood on an upcoming game at Pittsburgh: “With Custer.” 

After being told his teams didn’t play with emotion: “Emotion is overrated. My wife is very emotional. She can’t play worth a damn.”

Photo by: Getty Images

While McKay finished his Bucs tenure with a nine-year record of 44-88-1, those who were around at the time know how important he was and what he was able to accomplish in a short time. Building an expansion team was much different in 1976 than it was for the last round of NFL expansion.

Fortunately the Glazer family recognized McKay’s accomplishments and his name adorns the wall of Raymond James Stadium as he was inducted in the Bucs Ring of Honor in 2010.

And now, as a credentialed media member covering the team for every home game during the season, when I sit in my assigned press box seat, I see the name McKay on the wall and my mind goes back in time.

A time of my youth.

A time of my early teenage years. 

A time to a fall Sunday afternoon in 1981 with my Dad, where I was safe, and  where everything in the world was right, at least for that one day.

And if I try really hard, I can see a white haired gentleman on the sideline, arms folded and wearing his famous signature bucket hat, patting his No. 12 jersey wearing quarterback on the back after a touchdown pass.

Tonight the old fight song still rings in my head.

B-U-C-C-A-N-E-E-R-S, GO BUCS! Hey, hey Tampa Bay, the Bucs know how to shine!

Thanks for the memories, Coach McKay.

And thanks for all you did to help build a football team to respectability and make Tampa proud.

 

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Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at [email protected]

26 COMMENTS

  1. I loved Coach McKay ans his quick wit. I think he should be in the HOF.
    A few years ago, my wife go me this book “McKay Men – 1979 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The Story of Worst to First” by Denis Crawford. A good read for any Bucs fan.

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  2. Those were great days and I really appreciate your reliving the moments with us. From what I can tell you and I are about the same age. I was a year out of high school when the Bucs got the Franchise. I remember going to many games where if you showed up after the first quarter it was already too late. I went to the NFC championship game and I remember sitting in line at Maas Brothers to get the tickets. I made my way down to the bottom of the stadium and yelled Ricky Bell’s name and managed to get him to turn around on the sideline. It was a different era when the Uniforms made you wince but at least for a moment it felt like the Bucs were a great team. So many characters. The Selmon brothers, Cecil Johnson, Batman wood, Doug WIlliams, Ricky Bell, Jerry Eckwood, Jimmy Dubose, Mark Carrier, Jimmy Giles. I am getting old just thinking about it.

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    • Remember when the Bucs had their own band? Frisbee dogs at halftime, and those spray painted signs hanging on the walls of the stadium?

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  3. Great article! I remember being at my aunt’s house listening on the radio to the Bucs games in 79. I would almost stand on my toes the entire time trying to will the Bucs to win. Then, during the 15 years of terrible teams, being at a game where the Bucs were up on the LA Rams 28-3 at halftime. Of course the Rams came back and won the game, but suffering as a Bucs fan was a right of passage at that time.

    Fortunately, I was also there to witness the Bucs super bowl victory in person, my sweetest memory as a Bucs fan. Here’s hoping the upward trend continues and the Bucs make another playoff and super bowl run before the end of this decade!

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  4. Yes, those were the days!! We had season tickets and I, along with my sister, mom and dad, went to every single home game. We tail-gated before and after the game almost every single time. My dad never wanted to miss a game. We made up a menu at each game and displayed it for all to see as they walked towards the stadium. My dad made sure we parked right on the aisle so everybody could see our menu. Grilled Wisconsin Cheddar Cheese sandwich vs. Green Bay. Breakfast loaf stuffed with scrambled Falcon eggs, Grilled Buffalo Steaks, etc. We had a blast!! We would NEVER leave before the final play of the game, my dad said that it “wouldn’t be right to not support them until the end.” We saw a lot of crazy things in those final minutes, good and bad, that a lot of other fans missed by leaving early. Also, I will never forget all of the people who called me a band-wagon fan when we finally started winning more games and making the playoffs. I would strongly reply, NO WAY DUDE, I have supported this team my whole life, good and bad. I had all of that creamsicle color stuff all over my car, magnets, stickers, signs, you name it. Sorry for the long post, but this story brought back a lot of memories for me too. Thanks.
    You missed my favorite quote from Mr. McKay. When a reporter asked what he thought of his teams’ execution that day, he replied, ” I’m all for it!!”

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    • I can remember some great tailgates too. I use to bring stone crabs. With a key lime mustard sauce. Chicken Sate, Chicken wings, and plenty of cold beer. I was a bit of a beer snob.

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  5. Lots of partying back then before the games for this now old Buccaneer Fan. Go Bucs!

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  6. Beautiful piece, Mark… I take pride in everything the Bucs have done, good or bad… It’s always great to hear the different perspectives and odd tidbits of long time fans. Keep up the great work, sir!

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  7. Loved the piece, Mark.
    Made me remember the Bucs first win over the Saints and how absolutely ecstatic it made me feel as I watched the game unfold on a black and white TV.
    Then, as I watched in attendance from my $5 end zone seat a week later, the Bucs beat the Cardinals at home 17-7. It felt like the team had just made the playoffs.
    McKay was one of a kind and there have been very few coaches like him before or since.
    My favorite McKay story was told by I believe, Kevin House.
    House recounted during a preseason game in his first season he short armed a pass over the middle and after the play returned to the sidelines hoping no one had noticed his lack of intestinal fortitude.
    McKay looked at House and simply said, “young man. those are grown men playing that game out there.”
    That was all that was said but House knew what he meant.
    Man up if you hope to stay in this league and on this team.

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    • I was there too Dr.D. The framed commemorative poster from that first home win against the Cardinals is hanging on the wall behind me, as are many Buccaneer memories in my Bucs Room. I even have my aluminum bench seats on the patio.

      I take pride in never missing a game and never missing a play until this past season. The Denver game (which might as well have been played in Denver) had the lightning delay. After standing in the concession area for over an hour listening to “let’s go Broncos” with only a handful of Bucs fans remaining, my wife and I went home and watched the rest of the debacle on TV. I still regret leaving before the end.

      My favorite McKay comment came when he told someone (probably Andy Hardy) they “didn’t know a football from a watermelon”. The next day someone dropped off a watermelon at Bucs Place. McKay quipped, “Next time I’ll say they don’t know a football from a Mercedes”.

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      • I was there to meet the bus after our first win and on the field after our first home game win. Go Bucs

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        • Me too. I was the guy in the orange shirt.

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  8. Coach….talk about the teams execution…….(coach) I’m all for it
    We didn’t tackle well today but we made up for it by not blocking. (Coach)

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  9. The old sombrero, the old school jumbo tron with those horrible graphics lol, the bad buc, and the sound of the pointer sisters “I’m so excited” after a win playing on the loud speakers…..man, those were the days. I beleive that is Wayne Fontes standing next to John in that article picture…..Go Bucs!

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    • “Here come the vacuums!”

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      • Lol totally forgot about that one!

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  10. Damn…..the Andy Hardy and channel 44 references makes me want to tune in again and watch Ted Webb and Sports Rap!

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  11. Great story. I’m 49 so I can relate to lot of it. My dad passed away 5 years ago and some great memories with him at the old stadium and at R.J. I moved to Florida as a kid from Chicago suburbs in 1982. Become Bucs fan shortly after.

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    • Pretty cool Fredster, I also moved here from Chicago as a boy. My dad used to take me to some of the Bear, Blackhawk, Bull and Cubs games when I was young. But when we moved down here in 1976, he became a fan of all the local teams instead. I actually was a Dolphin fan in Chicago, but became a Bucs fan right away and I’ve never looked back. Go Bucs ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

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  12. Well penned love letter. The piece is sure to invoke great memories for all of us fans who were around in the beginning.

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  13. Great memories and great thread.. Loved those Mckay quotes. Still remember Hardy trying to spar with McKay when he actually realized John’s sarcasm that wasn’t real kind to Andy. Didn’t go well for Hardy.

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  14. fredster, you became a Bucs fan after moving here from Chicago. God love you.
    I used to sit next to some knot head from Chicago who has lived here for over 20 years and he still wears his Chicago gear when Chicago plays here.
    Thank god the Bucs raised their prices and I moved to cheaper seats so I don’t have to sit next to him anymore.

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  15. My son and I were at the Cardinals game what a good time we had, you would have thought we won the Super Bowl!

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  16. As a kid growing up in Valrico in the late 70’s-early 80’s I can relate to all of these things and they bring back memories. Thanks Mark. One of my favorite things as a kid were the packs of NFL pencils which I would beg my mom to get before every school year. The kids at school were always borrowing and then not returning them, so I always took out the Bucs pencil and kept it in my room at home.

    The Bucs really need to put James Wilder in the Ring of Honor. He WAS the mid-80’s Bucs.

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    • “The Bucs really need to put James Wilder in the Ring of Honor. He WAS the mid-80’s Bucs.”
      Right On! A-Bomb James Wilder For the Ring of Honor! This year! Not next year or in future years! 2017 James Wilder in the Ring of Honor!

      We moved to St.Pete in September of 1975 from St. Louis I was 9 then. I was a instant Buccaneer fan! We had been to several cardinal games at Bush Stadium when we lived in St. Louis with my mom and dad. When we moved to St. Pete we became Buccaneer fans from then on. We were also at the first home win against the cardinals. I also can almost remember that whole day. Dad has been gone now for 4 years. Not a day goes by when I do not think back to watching Bucs football every time I walk into the yard and look at the Buccaneer banner him and mom bought for me flapping in the wind. Thanks Mark for bringing back a BIG SMILE to my face as well.

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  17. Hey, hey Tampa Bay! The Bucs know how to shine! Those were the days!

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