In his inimitable style, Tampa Bay Coach John McKay announced one day last week, 'The Bucs are going to make history. On Sunday we're going to start the same guys for the fourth week in a row, unless someone gets hurt between now and then licking an ice-cream cone." Unfortunately for the Los Angeles Rams, the Buccaneers didn't encounter any physical difficulties with their double dips of Neapolitan Nut, and then on Sunday afternoon, before the largest crowd in Tampa Bay history—69,497—they treated the Rams like so much mushy Marshmallow Swirl by routing them 21-6.
As a result, the Bucs are unbeaten, untied and unbelievable, not to mention holding a two-game lead over second-place Minnesota and Chicago in the NFC Central. Not bad for a team that entered the NFL in 1976 and proceeded to lose its first 26 games, and a team that has known only one place—last.
Standing outside the Tampa Bay dressing room after the Bucs' fourth straight victory, Running Back Ricky Bell had the first word on the arrival of the Bucs as a real live rock 'em, sock 'em football team. "We've had the bad times," Bell said, "and now the good times are here."
During the bad times Bell, the NFL's No. 1 draft pick in 1977, was booed regularly by the Tampa Bay fans, who couldn't understand why he wasn't running for hundreds of yards each game as he had done at USC. Bell, of course, didn't want to tell anyone that until recently Tampa Bay's offensive line couldn't open a hole in a doughnut factory.
But in the wind and rain on Sunday, Bell, operating behind a mobile wall of young blockers, crashed through the Rams for 69 yards on 18 carries, and when he left the game in the waning moments, the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
For one fleeting moment on Sunday, though, the Bucs looked just like their old stumblebum selves. On a third-and-10 play at the Tampa Bay 30 in the first quarter, Buc Quarterback Doug Williams, who normally throws at laser speed, tried to dump a short, soft pass into the right flat. The ball was picked off by Ram Linebacker Jim Youngblood, and he returned it 31 yards for a touchdown and a 6-0 L.A. lead. Ah, yes, the rout was on.
But Williams, who suffered a broken jaw last season when he was brusquely sacked by Youngblood and Defensive End Fred Dryer, quickly shook off the interception. Two plays into the second quarter, following Tampa Bay Nose Tackle Bill Kollar's recovery of Lawrence McCutcheon's fumble at the L.A. 27, Williams hit Wide Receiver Larry Mucker with a 15-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 6-6, and Neil O'Donoghue kicked the extra point for a 7-6 Tampa Bay lead. Now the real rout was on.
Williams skillfully moved the Bucs 84 and 70 yards for touchdowns later in the second quarter. Bell scored the first on a five-yard bolt up the middle, and then, with just 33 seconds left in the half, Williams tossed a 29-yard scoring pass to Tight End Jimmie Giles.
While Williams was igniting the Buc offense, the Selmon brothers—Lee Roy and Dewey (see cover, pouncing on Lawrence McCutcheon)—were firing up a marauding Tampa Bay defense. All week long McKay had geared the Bucs for L.A. Quarterback Pat Haden, who had played for McKay in three Rose Bowl games at USC, by saying, "I know a few things that Pat doesn't like, which he's going to see."
What Haden—and later his backup, Vince Ferragamo—saw too often were three Bucs rushing him and eight Bucs dropping into pass coverage. Unable to throw deep, Haden had to resort to harmless short throws to his backs, who accounted for 13 of the Rams' 17 receptions. In all, Los Angeles put the ball in the air 35 times, but gained a mere 97 yards. The Rams' running game was just as bad, producing only 110 yards. In the fourth quarter, Tampa Bay never let L.A. cross midfield. In effect, the Bucs' defense shut out the Rams' offense. "Today we played defense about as well as we can," said McKay.