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1984 Buccaneers Season 9 Schedule

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1984 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Season 9 Brief

The 1984 Tampa Bay Buccaneers season began with the team making efforts to address the problems faced in the disastrous 1983 season. For the first time, the team renegotiated the contracts of players in their option years, which kept discontent over salaries to a minimum. An assistant coach was added to perform the functions of an offensive coordinator. A strength coach was added, which improved the players' physical conditioning in hopes of avoiding the constant injuries that occurred in 1983. A healthy, stable offensive lineup developed the maturity to sustain long drives in pressure situations, and head coach John McKay began to move away from his long-criticized conservative play-calling and open up the offense. This was the first time that the team's offense finished the season ranked higher than their defense. Their offensive output is still the third-highest in team history (as of 2010), and was not matched by another Buccaneer team until 2003.

James Wilder, who Lawrence Taylor called "the best running back I've ever played against in my life", set team and NFL records while serving as the focal point of the team's offense. Steve DeBerg emerged as a stable, confidence-inspiring on-field leader. Kevin House continued to perform as one of the league's best wide receivers, while Gerald Carter emerged as a solid complement. Hugh Green, described by Mike Ditka as "one of the best two linebackers in the game" (with Lawrence Taylor), continued to dominate until sidelined by a midseason automobile accident. Dave Logan became the youngest of only four defensive linemen in NFL history to score four touchdowns, and began to be spoken of as a potential All-Pro until sore knees limited his movement later in the season. Lee Roy Selmon made the Pro Bowl in what would turn out to be his final season. However, as the team's best defensive players began to fall to injuries, they became prone to late-game collapses. In addition, the mental errors that had characterized the team from the outset contributed to a number of close losses. McKay experienced health problems during the season, and found the constant losing too much to bear. On November 5, the only coach in Buccaneer history announced that he would resign at the end of the season.

Offseason

Coaching Changes

When the Green Bay Packers' failure to make the playoffs resulted in the firing of coach Bart Starr and his entire staff, the Buccaneers hired John Brunner, the offensive backfield coach of the Packers' NFC-leading offense. McKay had stated previously that he would never hire an offensive coordinator, so Brunner was given the title "Offensive Moderator", although his duties were those of a coordinator. Defensive coordinator Wayne Fontes was promoted to assistant head coach, the first Buccaneer coach to be given such a title. This added administrative duties to his coordinator responsibilities and increased the perception that Fontes was being groomed to succeed McKay. McKay announced that all other assistants would be retained, with the exception of special teams coach Frank Emanuel, who had left to become defensive coordinator of the USFL Jacksonville Bulls. Emanuel's vacated position was filled by running backs coach Jim Gruden, then by former Buccaneer defensive lineman Bill Kollar when Gruden replaced Ken Herock as director of player personnel. Herock, who had been involved with Buccaneer scouting since 1976 and had worked with the Oakland Raiders before that, was given much of the credit for the expansion Buccaneers' quick rise to playoff contention. Nevertheless, he was rebuffed by team owner Hugh Culverhouse when he requested a pay raise, and accepted Howard Schnellenberger's offer to take the same position with the ill-fated USFL Washington Federals. Joe Diange was hired as a strength and conditioning coach, in hopes of avoiding a repeat of the previous season's rash of injuries.

Personnel Changes

Star Canadian Football League quarterback Warren Moon met with the Buccaneers and was reportedly impressed with their organization, but eventually chose to sign with the Houston Oilers, where he reunited with his former Edmonton Eskimos coach Hugh Campbell. The team also attempted to sign Bobby Hebert, the Michigan Panthers quarterback who led the USFL in passing. The team was eventually able to obtain displaced Denver Broncos quarterback Steve DeBerg, who rejected a contract offer from the USFL Denver Gold. The free agent DeBerg signed with the Broncos, and was then traded to Tampa Bay for a pair of draft choices. The previous season's opening-day starting quarterback Jerry Golsteyn was released, then recalled and traded to the Los Angeles Raiders for defensive back Irvin Phillips.

Veteran fullback Scott Dierking was acquired from the New York Jets for a 1985 fifth-round draft choice. The team refused to honor Jimmie Giles' request to be traded, although he had reportedly been offered as trade bait at one point in the DeBerg deal. Giles' disgruntlement dissipated when the team offered him a new contract, signing him through the 1986 season. Obed Ariri, a former Chicago Sting soccer player who had set an NCAA record of 63 field goals at Clemson, was signed to compete with Bill Capece for the placekicker spot. Neal Colzie, the 1982 team MVP, was released before the start of training camp. McKay stated that the team did not have room for two older safeties, and felt that Colzie was being outperformed by Mark Cotney.

NFL Draft

The previous season's trade for Jack Thompson left the team without a first-round pick, in a draft which had already been stripped of talent by USFL teams. The Los Angeles Express alone had signed seven players with first-round potential. Need areas were believed to include linebacker, the secondary, running backs, and the offensive line.

Draft Trades

The Buccaneers' 1st-round pick had been traded to the Cincinnati Bengals in exchange for quarterback Jack Thompson. Their 4th-round pick was traded to the San Francisco 49ers the previous year, in exchange for their 1983 6th-round pick. The first of their two 4th-round picks came from the San Diego Chargers, as part of the David Lewis trade. The second came from the Los Angeles Raiders, for Charley Hannah. A fourth 4th-round pick, obtained from San Diego for Dewey Selmon, was traded to the Denver Broncos in exchange for quarterback Steve DeBerg. Their 5th-round pick was traded to the Dallas Cowboys for linebacker Danny Spradlin.

Draft Selections

The Buccaneers drafted USC linebacker Keith Browner with their first pick, the second pick of the second round. Brother of NFL players Ross and Joey Browner, Keith was considered to be a talented but underachieving college player who had been expected to be taken in the first round. Some observers questioned the selection of Browner, as Boomer Esiason, the only quarterback in the draft expected to have impact potential, was still available. With the secondary aging, the Buccaneers made Texas cornerback Fred Acorn the earliest-drafted defensive back in team history. Acorn was considered a project, as he started only one season for the Longhorns, but the Buccaneers' secondary was believed to be strong enough to afford the luxury of drafting a player who would take time to develop. Acorn was drafted for his speed, with a 40-yard dash time that had been clocked as low as 4.2 seconds. Micheal Gunter, the Tulsa all-time rushing leader, was taken in the fourth round. He was another player who had been projected to be drafted much higher, as high as fourth overall, according to one publication. He was very productive as a college player, but was unproven as a receiver, and lacked the ability to evade tacklers or to accelerate at the line of scrimmage. Jim Gallery became the first kicker ever drafted by the team. The team approached the draft with a goal of improving overall speed, and felt that they'd achieved that with their selections of Acorn and the linebackers.

Supplemental Draft

A special three-round draft was held on June 5, giving NFL teams an opportunity to select players who had not been in the draft due to having previously signed with USFL or CFL teams. With the first overall selection, the Buccaneers acquired the NFL rights to Los Angeles Express quarterback Steve Young. They later selected Express running back Kevin Nelson, and New Orleans Breakers cornerback Alex Clark. The pick gave the Buccaneers the rights to Young beyond the expiration of his Express contract, set to expire in November, 1987. Young expressed happiness at having been selected, but stated that he was committed to the Express and had no intention of leaving the team.

Preseason

A number of offseason personnel moves were taken as evidence that McKay was hoping to retire on a winning note, and so had lost tolerance for talented players who did not live up to their potential. He declared potential "dead on this team", and singled out Gene Branton and Ray Snell as players who were in danger of losing their roster spots. Longtime tight end Jim Obradovich, recently acquired cornerback Irvin Phillips, and the previous season's backup quarterback Bob Hewko were cut on the first day of training camp. One-time All-Rookie guard Snell was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers for Steve Courson, an All-Pro alternate two seasons earlier. The injury-plagued Steelers had lost patience with Courson over a knee injury that had limited him to nine games the previous season. Courson passed his physical, but immediately underwent arthroscopic surgery that caused him to miss the preseason. Versatile defensive end Brison Manor was obtained from the Denver Broncos to provide depth, as Booker Reese failed to develop as hoped. Johnny Ray Smith was placed on injured reserve to make room for Perry Tuttle, a former first-round draft choice of the Buffalo Bills. The preseason was relatively free of contract disputes. David Logan was the only training camp holdout, and threatened retirement when the negotiations became difficult. Logan was also targeted (along with rookie Fred Acorn) by departed personnel director Ken Herock, by then with the Miami Federals of the USFL. A contract extension was agreed to with Hugh Green, preventing any risk of his signing with the USFL Houston Gamblers, who were owned by his agent Jerry Argovitz.

The Buccaneers opened the preseason with a 38–0 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, an AFC Championship Game contender of the previous season, in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game. The game was marked by miscues, and was the largest margin of defeat in the game's 22-year history. Some players later expressed hope that the team would get "tired of losing", while McKay called the team's performance "disgusting". McKay did praise the efforts of the team's rookies, particularly Keith Browner, who was thrilled to be playing purely at linebacker after having been required to play at safety part-time at USC. James Wilder suffered a thigh bruise that kept him out of action for the remainder of the preseason. The team rebounded with a 30–17 win over the Houston Oilers, in which Warren Moon made his NFL debut. The low point of the preseason was a 52–21 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in which McKay rested the first-team defense for the entire game. Roster decisions were complicated by a number of injuries, particularly along the offensive line, where Steve Wilson and Steve Courson both missed significant time.[53] The preseason ended with the defense playing in fine form in a 14–13 win over the Miami Dolphins, although McKay voiced concern over the performance of the offensive line and the running backs.

The End of the Booker Reese Experiment

On May 30, underachieving defensive end Booker Reese was arrested for approaching a plainclothes Tampa police officer and soliciting her for prostitution. The team refused to comment on the situation, which was another embarrassment for the staff that had made such a large gamble by trading their 1983 first-round draft pick for the rights to draft him two years earlier. His lack of progress forced the team to trade for Brison Manor in the preseason, while Reese was given a brief tryout at nose tackle. Young and naive, Reese was vulnerable to ill-intentioned hangers-on, and developed a cocaine problem which escalated as the pressure on him increased. He was tall, fast, and strong, but lacked the quickness to be able to get around NFL tackles, and had trouble absorbing the mental aspects of the game. He was unable to beat out John Cannon, selected later in the same draft. The team eventually cut their losses by trading Reese to the Los Angeles Rams for a low-round draft pick. Reese recorded no tackles in two games with the Rams, before being sent to a rehabilitation program after failing a urine test.

Regular Season

McKay continued to express confidence in the team, despite an 0–2 start that left the team 2–16 over their last 18 games. He however expressed concern over the performance of the defense, who had failed to hold a lead the previous week, and failed to tackle Saints running back Hokie Gajan several times during a 51-yard run that set up a game-winning Saints touchdown. McKay pointed out that, despite the reputation of the Tampa Bay defense, this type of letdown had been seen in the past. The team then beat division opponents in three of their next four games, leading observers to consider them as contenders for the NFC Central title. With a healthy offensive line able to maintain a stable lineup, and DeBerg becoming better-acquainted with the receivers, the offense developed confidence and the ability to sustain long drives.

While the offense was able to avoid significant injuries, the defense began to lose key players from the beginning. Mike Washington, considered by McKay to be the team's best defensive back, was forced to retire after an elbow to the head by Bears receiver Dennis McKinnon in his first play of the season required him to undergo spinal surgery. This required the team to use rookie Fred Acorn as a nickel back. Hugh Green suffered a broken wrist and a broken orbital bone beneath his left eye in an October car crash. The injuries were initially expected to cause him to miss two games, but after a month, the Buccaneers decided to place him on injured reserve rather than face liability should an aggravation of the wrist injury end Green's career. Keith Browner played poorly as Green's replacement, and was promptly replaced by Chris Washington. Cecil Johnson suffered on and off from injuries and was eventually forced to undergo season-ending arthroscopic surgery, forcing the team to start two rookies (Browner and Washington) at outside linebacker. The pair struggled, with the speedy Washington overwhelmed by opposing tight ends, and the stronger Browner having trouble lining up in the right place. The loss of Green enabled opponents to play a more diverse offense, rather than avoid run plays to the left side, where Green and Lee Roy Selmon would line up. This affected the secondary, because the loss of Green's play against the run required that the team play the slower Mark Cotney for run support at safety. Making matters worse, Cedric Brown suffered a season-ending knee injury in week 9. McKay admitted that, with the absence of Brown, Green, Johnson, and Mike Washington, the Buccaneers were "not a very good defensive team".

Wayne Fontes' effort to create a more aggressive defense through increased reliance on man-to-man coverage and blitzes backfired, with the result that the defense became much more vulnerable to touchdown passes and long pass plays. At the same time, their interception total decreased. Cedric Brown observed that it was largely a problem of execution, as many blitzes were failing due to player errors, and that the team was making more mistakes than he had seen in any of his eight years there. The pass rush was weakened by the absence of Hugh Green, which was noticeable to opposing teams. The effectiveness of the defensive line was reduced: Booker Reese failed to develop, John Cannon regressed from his previous season's performance, and Dave Logan began to experience knee problems that sometimes required his replacement in the lineup.

The Resignation of John McKay

McKay vowed during the offseason that he would retire rather than suffer another 2–14 season.[70] During the season, he underwent surgery for cataracts that were making it difficult for him to read the game plans. He continued to express optimism over the season, even after a slow start and an embarrassing 44–9 loss to the Chicago Bears, as he felt that there was no dominant team in the division. McKay's wisecracking remark to a Kansas City Star reporter to the effect that a loss to the Chiefs would result in another Sam Rutigliano (the Cleveland Browns coach who had been fired the previous week) led to speculation of his imminent firing, which McKay shot down at the postgame press conference. The next week, the Buccaneers lost to the Minnesota Vikings on a last-minute field goal by Jan Stenerud, a kicker who McKay had pleaded with frugal owner Hugh Culverhouse to sign before the season. The loss effectively ended their chances at catching the Bears for the division lead. Frustrated over the team's record and concerned over his health, McKay held a press conference announcing his resignation effective at the end of the year. The players, who learned of the news from reporters rather than directly from McKay, were saddened by the announcement. Area fans, who had long been calling for McKay's resignation, were generally pleased by the decision. Howard Schnellenberger was the coach most popular among fans as a possible replacement, while Wayne Fontes was the popular choice among players and coaches, although Fontes was considered to be hampered by the perception that he would not be enough of a change, due to his 13 years of assistantship to McKay. Persistent rumors placed Ray Perkins as a candidate, even claiming that a press conference had been scheduled to announce the hiring, but Perkins dismissed the rumors and denied having met with Culverhouse.

The 0–26 franchise start had a dramatic impact on his career record. McKay finished his NFL career, spent entirely with the Buccaneers, with a record of 42–88–1. This was fourth-worst among the 60 NFL coaches with at least five years of experience, and worst among the 34 coaches who had coached at least 100 regular-season games. He also had the fourth-longest tenure among coaches with losing records. It had long been arranged that he would move into the front office on his resignation from coaching. As team president, he expressed a desire to help the team by "finding players who can compete in the National Football League", a shot at departed personnel director Ken Herock.

McKay's last weeks with the team were marked by controversy. Some players expressed support for McKay, and a team meeting was held on the day following the announcement in which players resolved to play together as a team, and finish the season on a winning note. The immediate result was a victory that ended their four-game losing streak, but more losses followed. The team was criticized for their decision to bench Hugh Green for the remainder of the season, despite his having been given clearance to play by doctors. The decision had to do with liability and the risk of a career-ending reinjury, but was perceived by fans as a lack of commitment to putting the best possible team on the field. Green eventually rejoined the lineup after signing a waiver absolving the team of liability. Team disunity arose after a collapse against the Packers, with much media attention being given to several players' complaints that McKay did not bother to address the team before, during, or after the game. McKay returned from Ricky Bell's funeral to find a storm of controversy over the incident, which was blamed on a lack of time due to equipment problems related to the muddy Green Bay field.

Final Game 'Onside Kick' Incident

The final game of the season, a 41–21 victory over the New York Jets, was notable for its series of onside kicks in an effort to secure the NFL record in (combined rushing and receiving) yards from scrimmage for running back James Wilder. With 2,229 yards, Wilder was 16 short of the all-time NFL record, set by Eric Dickerson earlier during the weekend. McKay ordered an onside kick to try to get the ball back. When it was called back due to a penalty, he called another. The second attempt was also penalized, and he called a third. When the Jets recovered it, the defense (with the approval of McKay and Wayne Fontes) allowed Johnny Hector to score, so that the Buccaneers would get the ball back. On one play, Mark Cotney could be seen grabbing his helmet with both hands after tackling Hector, as instinct had prevented him from letting Hector score. This angered the Jets, who attempted an onside kick of their own to try to prevent the Buccaneers from getting the ball back. Tampa Bay did recover the kick, but the Jets focused on Wilder and prevented him from gaining any yards. New York players heaped profanities on McKay as the teams left the field, although Mark Gastineau apologized to Wilder for tackling him on the game's final play. Enraged Jets coach Joe Walton said that McKay's actions "set football back 20 years". Unapologetic for his decisions, McKay instead pointed to an earlier Jets onside kick attempt, and accused them of trying to slow down the game in an effort to thwart Wilder's pursuit of the record. He dismissed the Jets' argument that their only hope of winning was to recover the onside kick, saying that they had not seemed concerned about winning when they had been calling running plays while behind by 27 points. Wilder finished the season in third place, behind Dickerson and O. J. Simpson, in combined yardage. The NFL later fined McKay a record $10,000 for his actions.

Season:
PRESEASON
Date   Opponent Week/Record Outcome
Saturday
Jul. 28
Steelers Seattle Seahawks
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
PS - wk 1
0-1
Lost 0-38
Saturday
Aug. 4
Falcons Houston Texans
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
PS - wk 2
1-1
Won 30-17
Saturday
Aug. 11
Saints Cincinnati Bengals
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
PS - wk 3
2-1
Won 21-13
Saturday
Aug. 18
Redskins @ Atlanta Falcons
Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
PS - wk 4
2-2
Lost 21-52
Friday
Aug. 24
Redskins Miami Dolphins
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
PS - wk 5
3-2
Won 14-13

1984 Season Results

Record: 6-10, DIV: 3-5 (3rd in NFC Central)
Date   Opponent Week/Record Outcome
Sunday
Sep. 2
Bears @ Chicago Bears
Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
RS - wk 1
0-1
Lost 14-34
Sunday
Sep. 9
Saints @ New Orleans Saints
Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, LA
RS - wk 2
0-2
Lost 13-17
Sunday
Sep. 16
Lions Detroit Lions
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
RS - wk 3
1-2
Won 21-17
Sunday
Sep. 23
Giants @ New York Giants
Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
RS - wk 4
1-3
Lost 14-17
Sunday
Sep. 30
Packers Green Bay Packers
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
RS - wk 5
2-3
Won 30-27
(OT)
Sunday
Oct. 7
Vikings Minnesota Vikings
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
RS - wk 6
3-3
Won 35-31
Sunday
Oct. 14
Lions @ Detroit Lions
Pontiac Silverdome, Detroit, MI
RS - wk 7
3-4
Lost 7-13
(OT)
Sunday
Oct. 21
Bears Chicago Bears
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
RS - wk 8
3-5
Lost 9-44
Sunday
Oct. 28
Chiefs @ Kansas City Chiefs
Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO
RS - wk 9
3-6
Lost 20-24
Sunday
Nov. 4
Vikings @ Minnesota Vikings
Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis, MN
RS - wk 10
3-7
Lost 24-27
Sunday
Nov. 11
Giants New York Giants
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
RS - wk 11
4-7
Won 20-17
Sunday
Nov. 18
49ers @ San Francisco 49ers
Candlestick Park, Sanfrancisco, CA
RS - wk 12
4-8
Lost 17-24
Sunday
Nov. 25
Rams Los Angeles Rams
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
RS - wk 13
4-9
Lost 33-34
Sunday
Dec. 2
Packers @ Green Bay Packers
Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI
RS - wk 14
4-10
Lost 14-27
Sunday
Dec. 9
Falcons Atlanta Falcons
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
RS - wk 15
5-10
Won 23-6
Sunday
Dec. 16
Jets New York Jets
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
RS - wk 16
6-10
Won 41-21
PLAYOFFS
Date   Opponent NFC/Superbowl Outcome
Season
Ended
Buccaneers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
None
None
00-00

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