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1976 was a learning experience


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 1, 2000

TAMPA -- Before the Bucs' inaugural season, in 1976, Rich McKay decided he wasn't coming to Tampa. The plan was for him to finish his senior year of high school in Los Angeles while his father, former Southern California coach John McKay, got the Bucs started.

Then one day, Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse took the 16-year-old McKay to lunch for a little one-on-one.

"(Culverhouse) told me, "This will be the worst year of your parents' lives,' " McKay said. "He said, "This next year will be a shock to the system, and the more of the family that is around, the better off everybody will be.' Well, that really hit home. I understood it, and I kind of felt like I could help my family by being in Tampa. So that's why I came.

"And man, let me tell you, it was a huge shock to the system. I mean, (USC) would lose to UCLA in a year and that would be the end of the world. And you have to remember that even though we might have lost to UCLA, we still would have won eight or nine other games that year. But in Tampa, well, we weren't going to have a winning year, and we knew it."

But an 0-14 year? McKay said that no matter how his family tried, it couldn't have prepared for zero victories.

"It made for a very, very tough environment in the week leading up to the game because you dreaded Sundays," McKay said. "You didn't look forward with any anticipation. You just couldn't wait until Monday came and you could move on and get it over with.

"During those times, you don't go out much, you don't go out to dinner, you don't go to parties. You play it close to the vest, stay home and try to weather the storm."

The teenage McKay didn't have many friends to turn to, either. He started at Tampa Jesuit High with about a month left in his junior year and then trudged through a lonely summer of golf.

"I would say that I played 36 holes of golf every single day that summer (mostly alone at Palma Ceia Golf Club)," he said. "I would work out throwing the football in the morning, run and then play golf every single day. I probably hadn't played more than 30 rounds of golf in my life before that. But I bet I left that summer as a 6-handicap, which was a good thing because I went to play golf for Princeton, and that was a lot of fun."

He also said a few other good things, "believe it or not," came from 1976: He met his wife, Terrin, who was a cheerleader at Tampa's Academy of the Holy Names (which cheers for Jesuit, an all-boys school); he has wonderful memories of playing quarterback for Jesuit (even though the Tigers went 3-7); and his family grew much closer.

Overall, however, "I don't think about 1976 very often because it was so tough," he said. "I remember Christmas -- wow, I mean that's a Christmas to forget. And the thing was, you looked at who was coming back and you didn't think you were going to win any next year, either."

The Bucs went 0-12 in 1977 before finally winning, 33-14 over New Orleans, on Dec. 11.

Q: If you could go back and change anything in your life, what would it be?

A: "It would definitely be that I would let us win one game in 1976. Just one win, any one, it doesn't matter which one."

Q: What's the most valuable lesson you learned from the 1976 season?

A: "I learned that you can't get too caught up in it. You need to realize it's your profession, it's a game, and at the end of the road, there are more important things. But in the moment, it's tough to have that perspective. When you step back, though, family is much, much more important. You might lose some games, and it's going to be very disappointing. But when you wake up Monday morning, you're still going to have your family, and that is what's important."


Jan. 18, 1976


Steelers 21, Cowboys 17

MVP: Lynn Swann, Steelers wide receiver (four receptions for a Super Bowl-record 161 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown catch).

IN THE NEWS: July 3: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that the death penalty is a constitutionally acceptable form of punishment. July 4: The United States celebrates its Bicentennial. Aug. 4: A mysterious disease that eventually kills 29 people strikes an American Legion convention in Philadelphia. Nov. 2: Democrat Jimmy Carter is elected president.

BEST PICTURE OSCAR: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

MUSIC OF THE MOMENT: Frampton Comes Alive!/Peter Frampton


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