The NFL's Game of the Weak was played in Tampa last Sunday, where the winless Seattle Seahawks and the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers clashed in Expansion Bowl I. "Hopefully, one of us is going to win," said Seattle Coach Jack Patera. "I'm sure both of us can't lose." Then Patera turned serious. "This game means that one of us won't go through the season without a win." Or as Tampa Bay Quarterback Steve Spurrier put it, "Nobody wants to be known as the worst, and certainly the loser of this game will be the worst."
Unfortunately for Spurrier, Tampa Bay won that honor by losing to Seattle 13-10. Naturally, the loss did not come easily. In fact, it appeared that the Bucs would force an overtime—and maybe even an ultimate standoff—as Dave Green lined up a dead-on 35-yard field-goal attempt in the final minute. But Seattle's Mike Curtis appeared from nowhere and blocked the ball. "It was perfect, it was fast," Green said of the snap and placement, "but nobody touched the guy. I can't block them myself."
The contest lived up to every expectation. It was terrible. The officials displayed the best offense, walking off a total of 310 yards while Tampa Bay managed 285 and Seattle only 253. Forty-one penalties were called in all, and 35 were accepted—the most in the NFL in 25 years and just two short of the league record. Offensive holding was charged 16 times. "I guess the officials wanted to make this look like the Mistake Bowl," said Tampa Bay Defensive End Council Rudolph. "It was a travesty," said teammate Pat Toomay. "The officials made us look like a bunch of idiots."
Still, the Buccaneers had something to cheer about: they scored their first "home" touchdown of the year and their first "passing" touchdown in history, all on the same play. Even that didn't come easily. Seattle led 13-3 at the time, and when Tampa Bay's Louis Carter seemed to be stopped just shy of the goal line, he two-handed a basketball-style pass to Wide Receiver Morris Owens, who was standing away from the commotion. Owens stared at the football in obvious disbelief, then recovered from the shock and stepped into the end zone. So much for history in Tampa.
Curtis, of course, helped make history for Seattle. "I was afraid of the overtime," he said. "I didn't think I could play anymore." Indeed, the 43,812 fans—27,588 short of capacity—probably could not have taken any more, although they undoubtedly did not expect very much in the first place.
Before the game Tampa Bay had the AFC's worst offense, Seattle the NFC's worst defense. The Seahawks had allowed their opponents more than 400 yards and 30 points a game. However, the Buccaneers had been shut out in three of their five games, and after one of those whitewashes, the opponent, Cincinnati, was so blas� that it didn't even bother to award any game balls. The Bucs did not cross the goal line until their fourth game, and then it was a defensive player, Cornerback Danny Reece, who scored the touchdown, returning a fumble 44 yards. In a lopsided loss to Baltimore, the Buccaneers gained an average of just 1.9 yards per play. In other words, if you gave Tampa Bay the ball for five straight plays, it would be sixth and one.
All this ineptness has proved very embarrassing to the two coaches. Patera spent 13 seasons as a defensive assistant in the NFL, and helped build Minnesota's Purple People Eaters, while John McKay used offensive innovations and flamboyance to gain fame and four national championships at USC. McKay's offensive woes have made him an inviting target for critics, who recall his penchant for belittling the notion that the pro game is more sophisticated and complicated than the college version. Before the Seahawk game, McKay surprised some writers with his humility. He called his new experience "painful and humbling," and added, "If we're not making progress in our third year, I'll tell our owner that he made a terrible error in me."
Nevertheless, the Bucs' offensive lapses have provided McKay with new material for his role as a stand-up comic. At a luncheon in Tampa last week he delivered these samples:
?"I thought all along we were going to win 14 games. Right after the opening kickoff I said, 'Well I'll be damned.' "
?"I've told our players, 'Let's have fun.' [pause] They took me literally."