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1985 Buccaneers Season 10 Schedule

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1985 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Season 10 Brief

The season began with the team trying to improve on an 6-10 season. It was the first season for Leeman Bennett as the team's head coach. Prior to the season they acquired the future hall of fame quarterback Steve Young.

In week 1, Tampa Bay held a 28-17 halftime lead over the eventual Super Bowl winners the Chicago Bears. In fact both games vs the Bears provided Tampa Bay halftime leads. Young won his first start against the Detroit Lions before the losses started to pile on, including playing in a foot of snow in Green Bay.


The Hiring of Leeman Bennett

Former Atlanta Falcons coach Leeman Bennett was named by owner Hugh Culverhouse as the replacement for retired head coach John McKay. Other candidates interviewed included Buccaneer defensive coordinator Wayne Fontes, Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Tom Catlin, former Michigan Panthers head coach Jim Stanley, former New England Patriots head coach Ron Meyer, Washington Redskins quarterback coach Jerry Rhome, former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Bud Carson, and former Florida Gators coach Charley Pell. Bennett was an unexpected choice, as Fontes had long been considered to be the leading candidate and had the near-unanimous support of the players and existing staff. Culverhouse almost gave Fontes the job without conducting an interview process, before having second thoughts and soliciting recommendations from McKay, Tex Schramm, and Dan Rooney. Described as "heartbroken", Fontes learned while attending a scouting combine in Arizona that he had been passed over for the job. Bennett indicated that nobody who had been a candidate for the head coaching job would be hired as an assistant, ending speculation that he might retain Fontes or bring in his former assistant Jim Stanley. Fontes eventually accepted the defensive coordinator position with the Detroit Lions.

Bennett had served as the Los Angeles Rams' offensive coordinator under Chuck Knox before taking the Falcons job, where he became the only coach to lead that franchise to the playoffs. He did so three times, and was fired after their third playoff appearance, when the owners felt that a change was necessary in order for the Falcons to advance further. The Falcons finished in last place in the NFC West in both of the years following Bennett's firing. Twice named NFC Coach of the Year, Bennett was well respected as a coach, with the only knock against him being a reputation as possibly "too nice". Although Bennett was one of the candidates recommended by McKay, his easygoing style was considered to be a complete opposite to McKay. He vowed to keep the 3–4 defensive alignment with which Tampa Bay had been so successful, and said that the team would be a playoff contender in 1985. He believed that they had a good nucleus of players, although he admitted to knowing little about their personnel.

Jerry Glanville, the coordinator of the league-leading 1977 Falcons defense, indicated that he would be unavailable due to his contractual ties to the Houston Oilers. The offensive coordinator position was filled by Jimmy Raye, a former Bennett assistant who had been holding the same position with the Rams. Offensive line coach Kim Helton and linebackers coach Howard Tippett were the only assistants to be retained by the new regime. Rams assistant Vic Rapp was brought in as the running backs coach. Former Michigan Panthers defensive coordinator Dick Roach was brought in as the defensive backfield coach. Longtime trainer Tom Oxley was replaced by former Falcon trainer Jay Shoop.

Personnel Moves

Although he and Jimmie Giles had been hoping that the staff turnover would restore their playing time, Richard Wood was not re-signed. Maurice Harvey and Jeff Komlo were also released. Re-signed were: Michael Morton, Adger Armstrong, Leon Bright, Cedric Brown, Robert Thompson and Glenn Bujnoch. Morton eventually rejected his contract offer, and signed with the Washington Redskins. Vagas Ferguson, a former star running back at Notre Dame and a one-time 1st-round draft choice of the New England Patriots, was signed as a free agent.

NFL Draft

This was the first time in three years that the Buccaneers held a first-round pick on draft day, and they indicated that they needed much defensive help. The defensive line and linebacker positions lacked depth, and the secondary was aging. Of the three premier defensive ends available, Bruce Smith had already been signed by the Buffalo Bills, who held the first overall choice, and Ray Childress was expected to be taken by the Houston Oilers, leaving University of Washington defensive end Ron Holmes as Tampa Bay's most likely selection with the eighth overall pick. Director of player personnel Jim Gruden described his as having the combination of size and speed, versatility, and a productive college career that the Buccaneers desired.

The Buccaneers' 2nd-round pick went to the Denver Broncos as part of the trade for Steve DeBerg. Their 5th-round pick went to the New York Jets for running back Scott Dierking. Their 6th-round pick was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals for tackle Don Swafford. The second 12-round pick came from the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for defensive end Booker Reese.

Draft Selections

Holmes was chosen over Eddie Brown, who was not expected to have been available with the eighth-overall pick. Bennett decided that, with the passing game already performing well, it was more important to select for defense. The Buccaneers envisioned Holmes as a starting end, opposite of Lee Roy Selmon and with Dave Logan at nose tackle. Holmes was named first-team All-America by five different organizations, and was once much-coveted by Memphis State and DePaul as a basketball recruit. Ervin Randle was a versatile linebacker who had also played defensive end and nose tackle at Baylor. Mike Heaven, a Delray Beach, Florida, native, was a defensive back who was expected to provide immediate help to a secondary that had aging safeties and struggling young cornerbacks. Likewise, Mike Prior was the Missouri Valley Conference career leader in interceptions as well as a former Baltimore Orioles draftee. He turned down a contract offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers to sign with Tampa Bay. Phil Freeman was the University of Arizona starting tailback until suffering a broken leg in 1982, but was projected as a wide receiver with what Bennett called "rare speed". Steve Calabria was the leading quarterback in Colgate history, with a strong arm and the ability to throw while rolling out. He claimed to already have signed a letter of agreement with Tampa Bay Bandits owner John Bassett, although it was unclear whether the Bandits would still be in existence, or whether they would be part of the USFL or part of a new spring league that Bassett was proposing. Calabria had been expected to be drafted as high as the fourth round, until rumors of his USFL agreement (which the Buccaneers were unaware of) began to circulate. By the time the ailing Bassett released Calabria from his contract, mini-camp was already over, and he was unprepared for preseason competition. Donald Igwebuike was a soccer player who tried football at the encouragement of his fellow Nigerian and Clemson teammate Obed Ariri, against whom he would now be competing for the kicking job. James Melka was a second-team All-Big Ten selection at linebacker who had been expected to be drafted much higher than the twelfth round.

The team followed the draft by signing 22 free agents, including Southern tight end Calvin Magee, LSU quarterback Alan Risher, and cornerback Irvin Phillips, who had been obtained via trade from the Oakland Raiders the previous year, but had been waived after failing a physical.

Steroid Controversy

Guard Steve Courson was unable to participate in a team mini-camp due to a heart rate of 160. Attributing this to his heavy use of anabolic steroids, he quit using them, and detailed his experience in a Sports Illustrated article. He later stated that he did not believe that steroid use was really as rampant as he indicated in the article, in which he estimated that 75% of NFL linemen use steroids and 95% have tried them, and alleged that amphetamine use was also common. He said that he began using them in an attempt to gain strength, to avoid being dominated by larger defensive linemen in the NFL and at the University of South Carolina. He did not name any other players who used them, other than to say that Rocky Bleier had publicly admitted to it. Former trainer Tom Oxley estimated that the team had three to six steroid users in any given year, and that most were linemen. Oxley said that the team did not provide steroids to players, but that the team medical staff had almost prescribed them to Doug Williams to maintain weight when a 1978 broken jaw left him unable to eat. The article touched off controversy, as numerous players denied its allegations. Steroid use was at the time discouraged, though not prohibited, by the NFL.

Steve Young

The Los Angeles Express of the United States Football League had been operating without an owner since the previous fall, and speculation began to be raised in April that the team might be disbanded. The Buccaneers had acquired the NFL rights to Express quarterback Steve Young in a special draft held the previous spring. With the franchise struggling financially, agent Leigh Steinberg said that a delay in payments to Young's annuity voided his contract with the team, and USFL Commissioner Harry Usher granted Young permission to negotiate with an NFL team. Usher indicated that if Young were to change teams, his contract would need to be bought out. The Buccaneers expressed reservations, as they were unsure of Young's physical condition due to the beating he'd taken over the past year with the Express. Negotiations intensified toward the end of preseason, with the major sticking points being the $1.5 million repayment the USFL demanded on the remaining two years of Young's contract, and the requirement that Young clear USFL waivers. Steinberg was able to renegotiate the payment with the USFL, and Young signed a series of six one-year contracts with the Buccaneers on September 10. The financial details were not disclosed, but Steinberg said that Young's contract was comparable to those of John Elway, Warren Moon, and Bernie Kosar, who were all paid roughly $1 million per year. A star at BYU, Young would have been the first overall pick in the 1984 draft, but instead signed a 40-year (due to much of the payment being in the form of annuities), $43 million contract with the Express. Young had a sub-par 1985 season in Los Angeles, but was still able to complete over 50% of his passes while playing behind an injury-riddled offensive line. Bennett indicated that the team would be content to bring Young along slowly, and that he would serve as DeBerg's backup for at least the time being. The signing put an end to the team's interest in veteran quarterback Jim Zorn.


Defensive End Problems

A soreness in Lee Roy Selmon's back that became apparent shortly after the Pro Bowl was originally thought to be a muscular injury, but turned out to be a herniated disc. With uncertainty over how to treat the injury or whether he would ever recover enough to be able to play again, Selmon postponed any decisions about his future plans and was lost to the team for the season. This meant that instead of Selmon and Ron Holmes playing as bookend pass-rushers, Holmes would now become Selmon's replacement. However, contract negotiations went so slowly that Holmes' agent, Leigh Steinberg, began to question whether the team had any intention of signing him, to the point that he asked negotiator Phil Krueger if they intended to trade him. Holmes was eventually signed after a two-week holdout, which caused him to miss much practice time. Selmon eventually chose non-surgical rehabilitation for his back, although he would consider the microsurgery recommended by the team, but only as a last resort.

The other two remaining original Buccaneers joined Selmon on the injured list during the preseason. Steve Wilson suffered a broken leg in a preseason game against the Washington Redskins, which left Redskins safety Curtis Jordan as the only remaining original Buccaneer active in the NFL.[53] Safety Mark Cotney had earlier suffered two broken neck vertebrae while trying to tackle Gerald Riggs during an earlier game against the Falcons. Former Michigan Panthers All-USFL safety David Greenwood was signed to add depth after Cotney's injury, and wound up as the opening-day starter at strong safety.

Preseason Play

Although preseason games had no importance in the standings, Bennett spoke of the importance of setting a winning tone for the season. Bennett had to abandon his plans of using a two-back offense, due to a lack of any quality running backs other than James Wilder. With no second running back standing out in practice, he instead chose to use a single-back offense that would enable tight ends Jimmie Giles and Jerry Bell to be on the field at the same time. The team was not able to find a reliable backup to Wilder until the early-season signing of former Dallas Cowboys fullback Ron Springs. Problems with the pass defense were exposed in the first preseason game, in which the reserves turned a 20–0 lead into a 42–27 defeat. Bennett expressed concern over the lack of a pass rush, and the way that Steelers receivers were able to jump inside of Buccaneer defenders on slant routes. Pittsburgh third-string quarterback Scott Campbell connected twice with Weegie Thompson for touchdowns on such routes, once burning Anthony Washington for 34 yards. Ron Holmes debuted in the following week's loss to Atlanta, although the pass defense saw little improvement. The special teams performed well, but quarterback Jack Thompson struggled in his attempt to reclaim the starting job. The team's first win under Bennett came in New Orleans, the site of the franchise's first victory. The defense played better, while DeBerg led the team on two long touchdown drives. By the end of preseason, Bennett began to back off of his original assessment of the team as a playoff contender, with linebacker being the only position on the team he expressed confidence in. He was uncharacteristically silent following the final preseason game, a 20–7 loss to the Washington Redskins that was marked by a dismal offensive effort.

Preseason Personnel Moves

Gene Sanders, the offensive tackle who had shouldered much of the criticism for the offensive line's performance in recent seasons, was moved to Steve Courson's guard spot. Ken Kaplan took Sanders' place, with Courson still in contention for the starting guard spot. Needing depth in the secondary, the team traded former starting right tackle Kelly Thomas to the Redskins in return for Anthony Washington, the starting cornerback in Super Bowl XVIII; and sent an eighth-round draft pick to the Rams for safety Ivory Sully, conditional on his making the team. Sully was a Pro Bowl alternate as a special teams player, but had been unable to break into the starting lineup, playing behind Nolan Cromwell and Johnnie Johnson. He became one of the team's opening-day starters, originally slated at strong safety, but moved over to free safety with the signing of David Greenwood. Jay Carroll, a tight end who had played in all 16 games as a rookie in 1984, announced his retirement from football, as did backup fullback Scott Dierking.

Fourth-round draft pick Mike Heaven, who was having difficulty with the transition to strong safety, was released with the second round of cuts. The cut to sixty players saw Cedric Brown, the team's all-time leader in interceptions, released. Numerous players who had been expected to contend, or even to have the inside track for starting jobs, were released at the end of preseason. These included team kicking leader Obed Ariri, beaten out by childhood friend Donald Igwebuike, to whom Ariri had introduced the sport of football; defensive end Byron Braggs, who had been considered a candidate for the starting right defensive end spot until his lack of pass rush became a liability; preseason starters Glenn Bujnoch and Danny Spradlin; Fred Acorn, a third-round selection the previous year who had started some late-season games; and Anthony Washington, a speedy and experienced player who nonetheless failed to live up to expectations. Jack Thompson, the previous season's opening-day starting quarterback, and starting safety Beasley Reece were also released.

Regular Season

Bennett said that, given the Buccaneers' record over the past two seasons, it was "automatically a rebuilding year". The squad began play as a young team, with 17 players who had not been there the previous year, and ten of the previous year's opening-day starters out of the starting lineup. The season began with a second-half collapse in a loss to the Chicago Bears, in which Bennett noted a lack of concentration and attention to detail. He admitted to being unable to explain the reason for the large number of errors, which in the first two games alone included 20 penalties, 4 interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 3 fumbles, 2 blocked punts (one returned for a touchdown), and a missed extra-point and field goal attempt. Special teams coach Howard Tippett pointed out that the Buccaneers weren't making any mistakes that other teams didn't, but that the Buccaneer mistakes tended to get magnified and repeated. Linebacker Chris Washington attributed the defense's problems to a young, inexperienced team trying to learn a new system. Even as the losses mounted, opponents reported surprise, both from studying game films and playing the team on the field, at the Buccaneers' record. The Buccaneers frequently held halftime leads and lost by a touchdown or less; through the first 9 games, they were outscored 77–17 in the third quarter. In one game, Jimmie Giles was congratulated despite having turned over the ball by fumbling, because the 44-yard reception that preceded the fumble was a rare example of a player making something happen in the third quarter.

Off-Field Problems

The early season was marked by off-the-field problems with players. Hugh Green had told Jeff Davis on the first day of practice that the new defense wasn't going to work. As the season began, he became critical of the defensive schemes, saying that they were not "molded to the individual talents of the players", and that he was just "trying to survive this season".[84] He then walked out of camp for a day. It came to light that this had occurred regularly over the past four seasons, but that John McKay had kept the matter away from the press. Seeing Green's attitude as a negative influence on the team, and unsure of why Green was unhappy, Bennett traded him to the Miami Dolphins for their 1986 first-round draft choice, and the second-round pick obtained from Minnesota in the Anthony Carter trade. Team owner Hugh Culverhouse also required Green to repay $335,000 of the signing bonus from his 1984 two-year contract, which was believed to be the first such buyout in NFL history. The trade was thought to be the Dolphins' biggest-ever trade for a defensive player, with Green considered to be second-only to Lawrence Taylor as an NFL linebacker. Green's disgruntlement was attributed to a combination of the team's losing record, and the new defensive scheme that did not give him the opportunity to freelance. The trade put Keith Browner back into the starting lineup, despite Bennett's criticism of his lack of effort.

Meanwhile, former Dallas Cowboys fullback Ron Springs was offered a contract on the very day that a Dallas police officer testified that she believed him to have been on drugs the night that he was arrested for aggravated assault on a police officer at a Dallas-area topless nightclub. He was eventually sentenced on the reduced charge of resisting arrest, following a trial marked by character testimony from Springs' teammates. Shortly afterward, it was revealed that Springs was one of several Cowboys players under investigation by the NFL and the FBI, for suspicion of shaving points in return for cocaine. The FBI eventually concluded that there was no basis to the allegations.

Quarterback Controversy

As the loss column incremented, fans began to clamor for Steve Young. Bennett insisted that he would not play Young until he felt that he was ready, and at one point was booed for inserting Alan Risher into a game as Steve DeBerg's replacement. While DeBerg's statistics were not bad, he had difficulty completing long passes, even though receivers Kevin House and Gerald Carter had combined for the third-most catches of any receiving duo in the NFL the previous year. Although Bennett insisted that the timing was unrelated, Young's first start was announced one day after one of the team's worst-ever losses, a 62–28 blowout against the New York Jets. Bennett said that he felt comfortable enough with Young's progress to give him the start, but Young admitted to having taken only "10 or 12" snaps in practice, and had never run any of the Buccaneers' plays. Starting behind an injury-battered offensive line against a blitzing Detroit Lions team, Young struggled for three quarters before rallying the team for a victory. Although Young's statistics were not especially impressive, Bennett noted that he had little practice time and no training camp, and that he performed well enough through his first three starts that Bennett would consider modifying the next season's offense to take better advantage of Young's abilities.

Snow Bowl

The Snow Bowl was played on December 1, 1985, against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The game was played in a record snowfall, with a foot of snow on the field, and four more inches falling during the game. It was nearly delayed, as the tarp protecting the field was frozen to the ground, and could not be removed until shortly before kickoff. The 35-mph wind produced a wind-chill factor of zero. According to an employee who had been to every Packer home game in their history, it was the worst weather ever at Lambeau Field. The attendance of 19,856, and the 36,586 unused tickets, were the lowest in both Buccaneer and Lambeau Field history. The Packers gained 512 yards to the Buccaneers' 65, as Tampa Bay lost their 18th consecutive road game.

Speaking after the season of the team's future plans, Bennett would not immediately say how the next year's first-round pick would be spent, but offered that he'd seen enough of the team's one-back offense that featured Wilder and no supporting players. John McKay announced that he would step down as team president, though he would maintain a part-time advisory role with the team.

Date   Opponent Week/Record Outcome
Aug. 10
Steelers Pittsburgh Steelers
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
PS - wk 1
Lost 27-42
Aug. 11
Falcons Atlanta Falcons
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
PS - wk 2
Lost 17-23
Aug. 24
Saints @ New Orleans Saints
Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, LA
PS - wk 3
Won 14-10
Aug. 30
Redskins Washington Redskins
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
PS - wk 4
Lost 7-20

1985 Season Results

Record: 2-14, DIV: 1-7 (5th in NFC Central)
Date   Opponent Week/Record Outcome
Sep. 8
Bears @ Chicago Bears
Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
RS - wk 1
Lost 28-38
Sep. 15
Vikings Minnesota Vikings
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
RS - wk 2
Lost 16-31
Sep. 22
Saints @ New Orleans Saints
Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, LA
RS - wk 3
Lost 13-20
Sep. 29
Lions @ Detroit Lions
Pontiac Silverdome, Detroit, MI
RS - wk 4
Lost 9-30
Oct. 6
Bears Chicago Bears
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
RS - wk 5
Lost 19-27
Oct. 13
Rams Los Angeles Rams
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
RS - wk 6
Lost 27-31
Oct. 20
Dolphins @ Miami Dolphins
Orange Bowl, Miami Gardens, FL
RS - wk 7
Lost 38-41
Oct. 27
Patriots New England Patriots
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
RS - wk 8
Lost 14-32
Nov. 3
Giants @ New York Giants
Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
RS - wk 9
Lost 20-22
Nov. 10
Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
RS - wk 10
Won 16-0
Nov. 17
Jets @ New York Jets
The Meadowlands, East Rutherford, NJ
RS - wk 11
Lost 28-62
Nov. 24
Lions Detroit Lions
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
RS - wk 12
Won 19-16
Dec. 1
Packers @ Green Bay Packers
Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI
RS - wk 13
Lost 0-21
Dec. 8
Vikings @ Minnesota Vikings
Hubert H Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis, MN
RS - wk 14
Lost 7-26
Dec. 15
Colts Indianapolis Colts
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
RS - wk 15
Lost 23-31
Dec. 22
Packers Green Bay Packers
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
RS - wk 16
Lost 17-20
Date   Opponent NFC/Superbowl Outcome
Buccaneers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL

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