How do the Bucs take their sudden success? Well, Linebacker Dewey Selmon says he notes a new pride among his teammates. "When the players go out now," Dewey says, "a lot of them are wearing their Buc T shirts in public." Brother Lee Roy, who has developed into one of the NFL's best defensive ends, sees the change in more personal terms. "I don't have to go to the drive-in window at McDonald's anymore," he says. "Now I feel safe walking right into the restaurant."
For the most part, Tampa Bay's fans showed surprising good humor during what Bell called the "bad times." When the fledgling Bucs were threatening to produce back-to-back winless seasons—they failed by only two games, winning their final two outings of 1977—T shirts appeared which showed a Buccaneer ship doing down and bore the inscription, GO FOR 0. When a local newspaper asked its readers to submit suggestions on how Tampa Bay owner Hugh Culver-house might get the Bucs straightened out, one fan advised him, "Sell the franchise. Erect two golden arches over Tampa Stadium and sell hamburgers."
But there were also some inhospitable moments. During one loss Bell almost went into the stands after a heckler, and after another, McKay was showered with soda, no doubt by a fan wearing the once-popular THROW MC KAY IN THE BAY T shirt.
"Getting through the last couple of years took guts on Coach McKay's part because everyone in the whole town was against him," says Dewey Selmon, who became the quarterback of the Bucs' defense when McKay converted him from a down lineman to an inside linebacker in 1977. "Our team was like the stock market. It was in a depression. He had two choices: sell us out by trading for more experienced players, or ride out the depression with the young ones he had. It would have been easy to shift the blame to us by simply suggesting that we couldn't do the job. But he stuck with us. He stood up and said, 'This is my plan and it'll work.' You've got to give him credit." The Bucs did just that by awarding McKay the game ball on Sunday.
Most of McKay's critics in the club's first three years focused on his inoffensive offense. Completing a forward pass appeared to be as complex an endeavor to the Tampa Bay players as balancing the federal budget. Things were so bad in 1977 that the Bucs didn't score a touchdown at home until the final game of the season. One excuse was injuries; in their first three years the Bucs used a total of 20 different interior linemen on offense, and McKay started nine different quarterbacks, none with much success.
Healthy now, and with Williams installed at quarterback, the Bucs ranked second in the NFL in yards rushing before the Rams game. Twice in their first three games they broke the team's single-game rushing record. Most important, they're finally getting into the end zone, which is what offense is all about. Tampa Bay scored three times as many touchdowns in the second quarter against L.A. as it did in the month of November—four games—in 1977.
The offense actually started to take shape last season when Williams, the Bucs' first-round pick from Grambling in the 1978 draft, took over at quarterback; before drafting Williams, McKay had tried to acquire Haden from the Rams. In his first appearance Williams dropped back, flicked his wrist and sailed the ball 60 yards downfield. The pass just missed the outstretched fingers of Wide Receiver Isaac Hagins, but to Tampa Bay's long-suffering fans it didn't matter. Help had arrived. They rose en masse and gave Williams an ovation.
The 6'4", 215-pound Williams has a quick release and he is very mobile, one reason why he was sacked only six times last year and has not been bagged once this season. But Tampa Bay is no one-man team.
By the end of the '78 season McKay was already plotting ways to surround Williams with a better supporting cast. He decided to shift starting Defensive End Charley Hannah to offensive right tackle, a sound move considering Hannah's bloodlines; his brother John is an All-Pro guard with the Patriots. Then, in the off-season McKay traded starting Nose Tackle Dave Pear to Oakland for a second- and a third-round draft choice. He used the second-round pick to take Guard Greg Roberts of Oklahoma, the Outland Trophy winner who opened holes for Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims. Forthwith, Roberts was stationed next to Hannah.
McKay later drafted Arkansas Running Back Jerry Eckwood and, after a brief look in training camp, installed Eckwood at halfback and moved Bell to fullback. Eckwood responded by setting a Buc rushing record with 121 yards in Tampa Bay's 31-16 opening-game win over Detroit. He contributed 59 yards Sunday and has 332 in the Bucs' four wins. So who's Eckwood?