On a busy freeway en route to an exhibition game with Green Bay, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were spared what seemed to be imminent calamity when their bus driver kept his cool while a careening car came within inches of striking the bus. The driver did not bat an eye. Minutes later, confronted by a shouting, gesticulating policeman outside Milwaukee's County Stadium, the driver listened stoically for a moment, then drove right past the policeman and through the forbidden entranceway. As the bus pulled up to the appointed door, the Buccaneers whistled and applauded, and John McKay, their coach, rolled his Hav-A- Tampa cigar to the corner of his mouth and said, "I now know the difference between pro football and college football. Tougher bus drivers."
As McKay expected, "What's the difference?" has been the most nagging question people have fired at him since he left USC for the pros at the end of last season. Sometimes he answers it the way he answered questions when he was just a simple college coach winning all those national championships—whimsically.
Q: How do you compare coaching at Tampa Bay with coaching at USC, John?
A: It's a three-hour time difference.
But now, though, he also tends to reply occasionally with failing good humor. In Milwaukee after Tampa's second game and Green Bay's 928th—a statistic pointed out rather gleefully, it seemed, on the scoreboard beforehand, but no small embarrassment to the Packers after they beat the Buccaneers only 10-6—a radio interviewer stuck the nozzle of his recorder into McKay's composed locker room expression and demanded, "What will it take to establish yourself as a professional coach, Mr. McKay?"
McKay resisted, he admitted later, the elemental urge to bite the microphone in half. Smiling thinly, he replied, "I'm not trying to establish myself as a pro coach. I would rather the pro coaches go out and establish themselves as college coaches."
"What will it take to win in the pros?" the questioner persisted.
"The same thing it takes to win in the colleges, the high schools and the Pop Warner leagues. Good players. Good coaching."
Last Saturday night McKay's Buccaneers apparently had the right combination of both as they stunned the Atlanta Falcons 17-3 for their first victory. "I thought we could play with teams of Atlanta's caliber," McKay said. "Oh, well, another dynasty."
At other times, in other places, to other inquisitors, McKay has made the following allusions to his situation: