Monday, July 25, 2016

Review: The Yucks (2016)

By Jason Vuic

It's 2016. Time to "celebrate" a big milestone in the history of Tampa Bay football.

It was 40 years ago that the Buccaneers entered the National Football League as an expansion team. That's always a good time for a look back at the good old days, which in the case of the Bucs weren't so good.

Tampa Bay needed little time - less than two years, actually - to become the standard for bad football teams. Author Jason Vuic takes a look back at the time in his brisk book, "The Yucks!"

The Tampa area wasn't well-known to many Americans in 1976. There had been a wave of movement by people to the sunbelt around that time, but the land around Tampa Bay - including Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, among other towns - didn't have much of an identity.

Some city leaders thought an NFL team might change that. When the league expanded in 1976 by two teams, Tampa and Seattle were the winners. If that's the right word. Seattle got lucky and picked up a quarterback, Jim Zorn, and a wide receiver, Steve Largent, who were capable of making plays in the NFL. The Bucs had no such luck, in part because the rules for stocking the new teams were very tight and not much talent escaped the grasp of the established teams.

Thus former Southern California coach John McKay didn't have many good players when he arrived in training camp in 1976, and most of those were on the defensive side of the ball. You don't score, and it's hard to win. Sure enough, Tampa Bay lost its first 26 games. I'm not sure that record will be broken any time soon.

Those first two seasons, featuring 0-14 and 2-12 records, represent the heart of this book, which goes by rather quickly. Bodies came and went quickly, as the team desperately search for anyone who could play football at the highest level. McKay provided the soundtrack to those two seasons, as he usually came up with quotes that were funny to some (mostly the news media) but which had an edge that didn't make him too popular with the players at times. It's fair to say, though, that all of that losing put everyone on edge.

The Bucs did add a quarterback in 1978 in Doug Williams, and better times soon were coming. Williams led Tampa Bay to the NFC Championship game in the Bucs' fourth year of play in 1979. No one could believe it then, either, considered what came before it. Tampa Bay did win a Super Bowl once, but otherwise the story has been pretty bleak for many of those 40 years.

Vuic knows something about bad products. He wrote a book on the Yugo, a car from the 1980s that didn't last long either individually or collectively. Vuic clearly did his homework here in looking up newspaper articles and books, and found many of the head-shaking moments that come with such bad teams.

There are a couple of drawbacks, though. There is less material on the two bad seasons than you might think. That may be because there are surprisingly few "I remember when" stories from interview subjects. Vuic obviously talked to some people associated with the franchise as part of the research, but more quotes from them would have been helpful. Material on the origins of the franchise and the history of the team come before and after those two seasons, and the former is more interesting than the latter.

Vuic also has a slightly quirky writing style. For example, he sometimes deals in absolutes in unexpected ways. Charles Nelson Reilly is described as the worst comedian in the history of planet Earth, a bit harsh since Reilly was mostly a comic actor who was in some top Broadway shows. The deal that sent Largent to the Seahawks for a low draft choice was the most one-sided in history. It's a candidate in a question that doesn't really have an answer.

Newly-born expansion teams usually hold a place of honor in the hearts of fans, in part because everyone is so innocent at the start. It's almost like a first crush. It's probably a strain to compare the 1976 Bucs to the 1962 New York Mets, but "The Yucks" certainly will bring back some funny memories to fans of that Florida team. In that sense, the book accomplishes its goal.

Three stars

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