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EXCERPT | October 1, 1979

Bang for the Bucs

Once-feeble Tampa Bay thundered to a 4--0 start

Three years removed from their 0--14 debut season, the Buccaneers—led by fullback Ricky Bell, quarterback Doug Williams and a smothering defense—were among the NFC's elite. Joe Marshall reported for SI.

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 encountered no such difficulties, 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 win, 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 the Buccaneers' offensive line couldn't open a hole in a doughnut factory.

The Bucs finished 10--6 but lost to the Rams 9--0 in the NFC title game.

Cover Shots

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Photograph by JAMES DRAKE

BUCCANEER BANZAI Tampa Bay's fair-weather fans booed Bell during his first two years, but he silenced his critics in '79 when he rushed for 1,263 yards and seven touchdowns.