Long before Tom Brady, in fact 16 months before The GOAT was born, the 1976 expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded with the 49ers for their first starting quarterback.
And long before he became known as the Ole Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier would quarterback the only team in NFL history to finish 0-14 (a mark of futility since bettered — or worsened — by the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns, who both went 0-16).
“I tell people I’m the only quarterback in history that received the Tampa Bay Booster Club MVP award,” Spurrier told The Post, and chuckled. “They probably said anybody there can survive 14 games, he deserves an MVP.”
Spurrier had won the 1966 Heisman Trophy at the University of Florida and was the 49ers’ first-round pick. He spent most of his nine seasons there as John Brodie’s backup before the Bucs, who were born with the expansion Seahawks, summoned him to lead former USC head coach John McKay’s bedraggled misfits.
“Tampa’s about 120 miles from Gainesville, so we were coming back to Florida, and I knew I had a chance to play a lot,” Spurrier said.
Be careful what you wish for indeed.
“We sorta were playing the Southern Cal offense,” Spurrier recalled, “but we didn’t have Southern Cal players.”
The impotent Bucs lost the Week 6 Expansion Bowl to the Seahawks, 13-10. There was no free agency back then. Their defense could hold its own, though No. 1-overall draft choice and future Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon would miss six games with injuries.
“We didn’t have a lot of low points ’cause we weren’t expected to be very good,” Spurrier said. “You know, if we’d won one or two games, it was considered a decent year.”
Spurrier finished with seven touchdown passes against 12 interceptions. He was sacked 32 times. Spurrier’s Fun ’n’ Gun offense wouldn’t arrive until many years later during his illustrious coaching career.
“We actually had some pretty good camaraderie on the team, to tell you the truth,” Spurrier said. “What is sad, you kind of get used to losing, and it doesn’t hurt as much as it should. Unfortunately when I got into coaching, losing starting hurting a lot more.”
He mentions a USA Today poll and says: “We were voted the worst NFL team. Even the 0-16 Cleveland and Detroit teams, when they had that vote, for some reason we were worse than them. But we were only 0-14, so I don’t know how we could have been worse than those guys. You look back and it wasn’t a lot of fun back in those days, but you try to learn from it and move on.”
Spurrier joked: “It’s better than being No. 2 isn’t it, being No. 1?”
Sometimes it isn’t. They were mocked as the Yuckaneers. Defensive end Pat Toomay told the New York Times once: “You almost come to a Buddhist detachment from the outcome. It was a nightmare of the highest order.”
McKay hired a former USC quarterback named Bill Nelsen as quarterbacks coach during the 1977 offseason.
“He had some drills, and he had the fundamentals of throwing, head position, all kind of things that I started working on, and to tell you the truth, if I played another year, I really think I would have played better than I’d ever played before, because fundamentally I wasn’t near as sound and as good as I should have been, I don’t think,” Spurrier said. “But anyway, spending that either one or two weekends with that minicamp with Billy Nelsen really helped me as a coach. In fact, I threw with our quarterbacks until I was about 63 or 4.”
Spurrier was released soon afterward, and his playing days were over.
“In hindsight now, I’m extremely glad that Tampa Bay released me,” Spurrier said. “I got a shot out in Denver, got cut out there, and actually I spent one week with Don Shula and the Dolphins, and got cut there. So I came back to Gainesville, and watched the Gators play that year, and was hoping that maybe I’d get a chance to be a football coach. “
Which, of course, he did, starting at Florida in 1978 as quarterbacks/wide receivers coach, 1983-85 as head coach of the USFL Tampa Bay Bandits, then a collegiate head coaching career that began at Duke, saw him win the 1996 national championship at Florida, back to the NFL where he floundered to a 12-20 record from 2002-03 with the Washington Football Team before returning to the collegiate ranks at South Carolina and one last sideline gig in 2019 for the Orlando Apollos of the Alliance of American Football. His college coaching record: 228-89-2 (.718).
Spurrier inquired about the Bucs coaching job before the 1987 season, but owner Hugh Culverhouse had already decided to hire Ray Perkins. “I got my next Bear Bryant,” he told Spurrier.
He turned down the Bucs coaching job in 1996 to stay in Gainesville.
“We had too good a team here at Florida, and really the money was about the same back in those days,” Spurrier said.
He is 75, an ambassador for his alma mater, and he thinks the Bucs will beat the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV for their second championship.
“I think they may be a team of destiny,” Spurrier said. “They started playing well toward the end of the year. They’re peaking at the right time.”
Asked if Brady looks any different to him at 43 to him, Spurrier said, “Not too much. He has really kept his body in good shape, his workout routine, nutrition and all that. He knows what he’s doing, that’s for sure.
“Gosh, I watch Phil Mickelson play golf, he’s 50 and he’s limber and hits it as far as he almost ever has. You work out, and eat correctly and all those kind of things, your body can go a long time, we’ve learned that now.”
Spurrier had no chance to make the 1976 Bucs believe the way Brady has made the 2020 Bucs believe.
“When Brady went to Tampa Bay, immediately the team down there started thinking, ‘Hey, maybe we can the Super Bowl, we can win the Super Bowl. They had some sorry games along the way, but here at the end of the season, they’re playing their best football by far.”
Of course, Patrick Mahomes can turn opposing quarterbacks old overnight.
“He’s a quarterback of the new day, I think, the ability to run and scramble, make plays on his own,” Spurrier said. “Put the ball in his hands and let him go play, seems like a lot of their offense is that, although they have wonderful designed plays also. So they’re the offense of the 2020s, I guess you’d say. Brady’s proved he can still be the pocket quarterback, he’s not gonna run around anywhere.”
Except, perhaps, to the Lombardi Trophy for the seventh time.
“I think it’s gonna be a heckuva game,” Spurrier said. “Basketball they play four-out-of-seven in championships, baseball four-out-of-seven, football’s not two-out-of-three or anything, it’s that one day. If that one day everything goes pretty much right for your team, you can beat the other team. I think if they played three games, Kansas City would probably win two out of three, but they only play one. Herb Brooks, the U.S. [1980 Olympic] hockey coach, that’s what he told his guys before they played the Russians — he said, ‘We don’t have to beat ’em four out of seven or three out of five, we just gotta beat ’em one time.”
Alas, Spurrier’s ’76 Bucs couldn’t beat anyone one time. No GOATS. Only lambs being led to slaughter.