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Tampa’s Tecmo All-Stars

Tecmo Tampa is bad.

Thanks for the update, captain obvious. Did you know, though, Tampa had every opportunity to be the defining team of the 1980s and 90s? What if the TSB Buccos boasted Bo Jackson? That wouldn’t be half bad. Now imagine adding Steve Young as well. Can you imagine the nightmare of play-action passing with Bo and Young? While you’re at it, add WRs Irving Fryar and Willie Gault to catch Young’s passes. And since Tecmo GOAT Wayne Haddix can’t defend the whole field, anchor the LB corps with Cornelius Bennett. That’s one hell of a team, right?

This isn’t a rum-fueled fantasy. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers either drafted or had the opportunity to draft every player above.

Tecmo Super Bowl Tampa Bay Steve Young to Bo Jackson
This SHOULD have happened. A LOT.

Many forget that Tampa stood on the brink of greatness. Yes, they infamously started as an 0-14 expansion team in 1976[1]. But the Buccos surprised the NFL with an appearance in the 1979 NFC Championship game. They followed with playoff appearances in 1980 and 1982. Circumstance and malfeasance, however, doomed the Buccos. The 1982 players’ strike, locker room strife, and, above all, the blundering of owner Hugh Culverhouse[2], crashed the Buccos ship into rocky shores.

Between 1982 and 1987 Culverhouse’s Buccaneers gave away some of the best talent in NFL history.

It started with an ill-advised trade in the 1982 NFL Draft. After making the playoffs in two of the previous three seasons, the Buccos looked to cement their status as a contender. They prized Bethune-Cookman DE Booker Reese. However, Culverhouse and Co., through an accident of miscommunication, accidentally selcted Penn State Guard Sean Farrell with their 1st round pick. Yes, you read that correctly: Tampa took the wrong player in the NFL Draft. Without a pick in the draft’s second round, and desperate to get their man, Tampa traded with Chicago: Tampa received Chicago’s upcoming 2nd round pick in exchange for Tampa’s 1983 first round pick. It’s a trade that looks terrible on paper and even stupider in practice.

Tampa used Chicago’s 2nd-Rounder on Reese. Tampa’s vaunted player, however, couldn’t quite make the transition from college to pro. He developed a nasty cocaine habit and was out of Tampa by 1984.

Chicago used Tampa’s 1983 pick, which turned out to be the 18th overall, on speedster WR Willie Gault. Gault proved a pivotal part of the Bears’ 1985 Super Bowl win and remained one of the fastest players in the league until his retirement in 1993.

Aided by a strike-shortened season, Tampa made the 1982 playoffs. Thinking an upgrade at QB would get them over the hump, Culverhouse traded Tampa’s 1st round pick in the 1984 draft to the Cincinnati Bengals in return for “The Throwin’ Samoan,” QB Jack Thompson. Though highly touted out of college, Thompson is commonly listed among the biggest draft busts of all time. Like Reese, Thompson would be gone by 1985.

Tampa finished the 1983 season a woeful 2-14. The pick traded to Cincinnati turned out to be the #1 Overall selection in 1984. Cincy traded it to New England, who drafted All-Pro WR Irving Fryar.

So for those keeping tally, in just two years, Tampa screwed themselves out of (at least) Willie Gault and Irving Fryar.

It gets worse. In 1984 NFL owners held two full drafts. In addition to the regular college draft, NFL owners held a draft of United States Football League and Canadian Football League talent. This was to prevent owners overspending one another, trying to lure away other leagues’ best players. By virtue of their 2-14 record, Tampa held the first overall pick.

Tampa, in perhaps their wisest move of the 1980s, drafted Steve Young, QB for the USFL’s LA Express. Young, inked by LA to the richest contract in pro sports history at the time, initially declined Tampa’s invitation. He sat out the 1984-85 NFL season, instead playing in the USFL.

However, with the USFL financially struggling and Tampa in need of a franchise QB, the two sides jumped the necessary legal and financial hoops in the fall of 1985. Young signed with the Bucs, where he was promptly installed… as the team’s backup QB. Even with Young starting the team’s final 5 games, Tampa stumbled to another 2-14 record. With the #1 overall pick in the 1986 draft, Tampa’s choice seemed so easy, even Hugh Culverhouse couldn’t screw it up: Just take Bo Jackson.

Except Culverhouse screwed up. Royally[3].

Culverhouse wanted to travel to Auburn in the spring of 1986 to feel out his future star. Bo Jackson, in the midst of Auburn’s baseball season, worried Culverhouse’s wining and dining would run afoul of the NCAA’s rules. Culverhouse insisted he wouldn’t break any NCAA rules and visited Auburn against Jackson’s wishes.

Culverhouse violated NCAA rules.

A dinner with Jackson ran afoul of the NCAA’s compensation rules and Bo was ruled ineligible for Auburn’s baseball season. Incensed at Culverhouse’s idiocy, Bo Jackson vowed never to play a snap in Tampa Bay.

Culverhouse picked Bo Jackson #1 overall in 1986 anyway.

Bo Jackson, true to his word, signed a deal with MLB’s Kansas City Royals.

Steve Young’s Buccos, bereft of weapons, went 2-14 again in 1986. Culverhouse cleaned house. He fired 2nd-year coach Leeman  Bennett. He turned over the roster. He waived Tampa’s draft rights to Bo Jackson, clearing the way for the Raiders. He traded Steve Young, who he considered a massive bust, to the San Francisco 49ers. Tampa received San Fran’s 2nd and 5th round picks in the 1987 NFL draft in return.

With Young off the roster, Culverhouse used the #1 overall pick in the 1987 NFL draft on Miami’s Heisman Trophy-winning QB, Vinnie Testaverde. He used San Fran’s picks on LBs Winston Moss and Henry Rolling. Moss proved a reliable pick, remaining with the team long enough to make TSB‘s roster. Rolling… not so much. Young, of course, went on to win a handful of Super Bowls in San Francisco and earned a place in Pro Football’s Hall of Fame.

The 1987 NFL Draft is considered the year of the Linebacker. Had Culverhouse held steady with Steve Young at QB, it’s very likely that instead of Testaverde, Tampa would have drafted the best Linebacker in the class at #1: Alabama’s Cornelius Bennett.

So in the course of 5 short years, Hugh Culverhouse’s Buccaneers passed on four Pro Bowlers and a Hall of Fame QB. Is it fair to say Young would have developed as the same HoF QB without the guidance of Joe Montana and SF Coach Bill Walsh? Is it fair to think Bo Jackson would have slashed defenses in Tampa the way he eventually did with the Raiders? Maybe, maybe not. What is undeniable, regardless of location, is talent. Gault, Fryar, Young, Bo and Bennett possessed massive potential. Young managed over a 50 percent completion percentage with even the infamously bad USFL’s LA Express. Jackson crushed baseballs and safeties alike. Gault had world-class speed.

Tecmo Super Bowl allows us a fun game of “what if?” What if Hugh Culverhouse hadn’t goofed himself out of Bo, Young and the others? We’ll assume the Steve Young Buccos didn’t draft Testaverde and instead took Bennett. Otherwise, we’ll preserve all draft picks, regardless of who made them: Tampa gets Willie Gault with the 18th pick in the 1983 draft, etc, etc. We’ll also, assume, with a stocked offense, Tampa runs a balanced attack leaning a bit more toward the passing game. And instead of worrying about trades, we’ll keep each player on their original team as well: Young as SF’s backup QB, Bennett with BUF, etc.

NFC Central Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Given sim stats in line with their upgraded personnel we end up with a perennial Super Bowl contender. A no-doubt-about-it Tampa Bay playoff squad. An orange and cream steamroller in the NFC Central. Young instantly becomes a top-10 TSB QB. Gault is a force to be reckoned with. Jackson’s speed and power translate seamlessly to Tampa Bay. With Haddix in the backfield and Bennett in the center, Tampa’s defense can hold its own against even San Francisco and Buffalo.

And in a MAN/COM or MAN/MAN game? Forget about it. I wouldn’t want player 2 controlling an un-effed Tampa Bay squad. It would be pick your poison trying to defend the Bucs. The magic of Tecmo Super Bowl shows us just what could have been if Tampa had a decent front office in the 1980s.

If only.


NOTES:
[1] In fact, of their 14 losses, Tampa failed to score in 5, and didn’t score at all until week 3.
[2] Another “What if:” Culverhouse wasn’t the intended owner of the Bucs. He was only brought in when financial troubles muddied the relationship between intended owner Tom McCloskey and the NFL.
[3] See what I did there?

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Keith Good

Keith Good is a future Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and 8-bit game geek. A perpetual optimist, he convinces himself every September that this could finally be the Cleveland Browns' year. He was once told to eff off by Tecmo great Kevin Mack. You can check out his other work at www.keithisgood.com and follow him on twitter @keithisgood.

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