When you're playing for a team that has lost 10 or more games in
17 of its 21 seasons, you take the little victories where you
find them. So after Tampa Bay beat Chicago in the Bucs' 1996
season finale--their fifth win in seven games--several Tampa Bay
players doused first-year coach Tony Dungy with the contents of
a Gatorade cooler. That the team stood just 6-10 didn't seem to
The Buccaneers might also have been celebrating the fact that
the game was not their last in Florida. In September, Tampa
voters had narrowly approved a sales-tax increase to finance the
Bucs' new $168 million home, ending speculation that the team
would leave for greener pastures. "This locks the door," said
Bucs vice president Joel Glazer. "We're here for 30 years."
That, incidentally, is one year fewer than the team would need
to stretch its alltime record to .500 if it went 10-6 every year
from here on.
That's asking a lot, but the future does look bright. In Dungy's
first year, the defense improved from 27th in the NFL to 11th.
Only two of Tampa Bay's final 11 opponents scored 20 points or
more. The Bucs needed all the defense they could get, because
the offense was horrendous. The ground game never got going, as
Errict Rhett, the team's leading rusher in 1995, with 1,207
yards, held out for the first seven games. The passing game
wasn't much better; inconsistent quarterback Trent Dilfer, the
sixth overall pick in the '94 draft, finished 16th--yes,
16th--in the 15-team NFC in passer rating (behind several
As Dilfer goes, so go the Bucs. In the team's six wins he threw
nine touchdown passes and two interceptions and had a rating of
100.5. In the 10 losses, he had just three TDs, was picked off
17 times and had a macabre 45.9 efficiency mark.
To help his QB, Dungy sought speedy skill-position players in
this year's draft. With the 12th pick overall he took versatile
running back Warrick Dunn of Florida State; he'll see
significant action, especially on third down. Rhett, Dunn and
1996 all-rookie fullback Mike Alstott-- who averaged 6.1 yards
per carry in his final three games and set a team record for
first-year receptions-- give Dungy plenty of options in the
"Third-and-five," Dungy says. "Dunn and Alstott are in the game.
The defense doesn't know what we're going to do. If we come out
in the I formation and they've got their regular defense in, we
split Dunn out of the backfield, and he has a linebacker on him.
If they have their nickel defense in, now we're in the I
formation, running the ball."
The Bucs desperately need a deep threat--they had just 15
passing plays for 25 yards or more last year, the third-lowest
total in the NFL. So with the 16th overall pick, they tabbed
Florida's Reidel Anthony, a big-play wide receiver who replaces
the pricey, unproductive Alvin Harper. Dungy also shored up the
injury-plagued offensive line, drafting tackle Jerry Wunsch and
guard Frank Middleton, both of whom are expected to start on the
right side. Dilfer played behind his top five linemen only once
last year, and he responded with the only three-touchdown game
of his career.
Dungy could afford to focus on offense in the draft because his
defense is so solid. Middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson returns
to anchor the unit. Right linebacker Derrick Brooks had a
team-high 133 stops in his second season and also defended the
pass well. The secondary, which did not allow a single opponent
to throw for more than 300 yards, is one of the best in the
league, and all four starters are younger than 26.
The defensive line is something of a question mark, though. Its
performance will hinge on the play of right end Regan Upshaw and
right tackle Marcus Jones, the team's two 1996 first-rounders.
Left tackle Warren Sapp's status is cloudy as he awaits a July
31 trial on a misdemeanor charge for marijuana possession.
Perhaps the most noticeable pickup of the off-season was a new,
more imposing logo. Gone is the winking pirate with the hoop
earring and the plume in his hat, replaced by a skull and
crossed swords on a billowing red flag. "I think the logo
exemplifies what we're about and where we're headed," says
Nickerson. "We're going to sneak up on everybody. We're going to
If the Bucs do pillage and plunder this year, then and only then
does Dungy expect another Gatorade bath. "I don't think I'll
have another season where they pour Gatorade on me after 6-10,"
he says. "The expectations will be raised now, and they should
COLOR PHOTO INSET [REGIONAL] Trent Dilfer: Passing the Bucs
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Dungy has Dilfer (12) and the Bucs finally pointed in the right direction. [Trent Dilfer in game]
BY THE NUMBERS
1996 Record: 6-10 (fourth in NFC Central)
1996 Yards per Game (NFL rank)
Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 99.3 (22) 170.4 (29) 269.8 (28)
DEFENSE 118.1 (22) 182.8 (4) 300.9 (11)
A Losing Streak with a Silver Lining
When Tony Dungy began his NFL head coaching career with five
consecutive losses, including a 34-3 defeat by Green Bay in the
1996 regular-season opener, he joined some prestigious company.
In 1954 Baltimore's Weeb Ewbank, the only head coach to win
league championships in both the NFL and the AFL, began his
career with an even more lopsided loss: His Colts fell 48-0 to
the Los Angeles Rams. Six future Super Bowl coaches began their
careers with losing streaks comparable to or longer than Dungy's.
Super Bowl Coaches Whose Careers Began with Long Losing Streaks
Streak First Super
Coach Team Streak breaker Bowl season
Tom Landry 1960 Cowboys 0-10 Giants, 31-31 1970
Jimmy Johnson 1989 Cowboys 0-8 Redskins,13-3 1992
Bill Walsh 1979 49ers 0-7 Falcons, 20-15 1981
Joe Gibbs 1981 Redskins 0-5 Bears, 24-7 1982
Bud Grant 1967 Vikings 0-4 Packers, 10-7 1969
Bobby Ross 1992 Chargers 0-4 Seahawks,17-6 1994
PLAYER TO WATCH
The waiving of receiver Alvin Harper will open the door for
Horace Copeland, a fifth-year player out of Miami who had three
catches of more than 40 yards last preseason before tearing his
patellar tendon. Copeland's size (6'3", 202 pounds) and speed
make him a threat anywhere on the field. "I threw a post to him
in practice," says quarterback Trent Dilfer. "I threw it about
65 yards, and he ran underneath it like I underthrew it."
PROJECTED LINEUP with 1996 Statistics
Head Coach: Tony Dungy
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Trent Dilfer 64[*] 482 att. 267 comp. 55.4%
2,859 yds. 12 TDs 19 int.
RB Warrick Dunn (R)[A] 74[*] 189 att. 1,180 yds. 6.2 avg.
30 rec. 355 yds. 11.8 avg.
FB Mike Alstott 135[*] 96 att. 377 yds. 3.9 avg.
65 rec. 557 yds. 8.6 avg.
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Robb Thomas 75[*] 33 rec. 427 yds. 2 TDs
WR Horace Copeland** 163[*] 35 rec. 605 yds. 2 TDs
WR Reidel Anthony(R)[A]208[*] 72 rec. 1,293 yds. 18 TDs
TE Jackie Harris 153[*] 30 rec. 349 yds. 1 TD
PK Michael Husted 190[*] 18/19 XPs 25/32 FGs 93 pts.
KR Karl Williams 242[*] 14 ret. 27.4 avg. 0 TDs
PR Reidel Anthony(R)[A]208[*] 8 ret. 11.3 avg. 0 TDs
LT Paul Gruber 6'5" 296 lbs. 13 games 13 starts
LG Jim Pyne 6'2" 290 lbs. 12 games 11 starts
C Tony Mayberry 6'4" 292 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Frank Middleton(R)[A] 6'3" 324 lbs. 10 games 10 starts
RT Jerry Wunsch(R)[A] 6'6" 327 lbs. 11 games 11 starts
LE Chidi Ahanotu 47 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
LT Warren Sapp 51 tackles 9 sacks
RT Marcus Jones 25 tackles 1 sack
RE Regan Upshaw 25 tackles 4 sacks
OLB Rufus Porter [A] 43 tackles 0 sacks
MLB Hardy Nickerson 120 tackles 3 sacks
OLB Derrick Brooks 133 tackles 1 int.
CB Ronde Barber (R)[A] 38 tackles 3 int.
SS John Lynch 103 tackles 3 int.
FS Melvin Johnson 80 tackles 2 int.
CB Donnie Abraham 58 tackles 5 int.
P Tommy Barnhardt 70 punts 43.1 avg.
[A] New Acquisition (R) Rookie (college statistics)
[*] *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 165)