The Vegas Golden Knights aren’t the typical expansion team story. In their first season in the NHL, they won their division and advanced to the Stanley Cup finals, where they lost to the Washington Capitals.
For most expansion teams, regardless of the sport, it takes a while to get the wheels off the ground and take flight.
In the NFL, the greatest expansion success story was the Carolina Panthers, who went a respectable 7-9 in their first season in 1995. A year later, they were one of the best teams in the league and lost in the NFC Championship.
But that wasn’t the case for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they first entered the NFL in 1976. Whew buddy, they were bad.
At the end of a 1976 season that ended with an 0-14 record, Buccaneers coach John McKay reportedly told his players “stop by my office tomorrow and pick up some fake noses and mustaches so no one recognizes your sorry asses.”
Sorry John, it’s records week here at SB Nation, and that means recognizing some of the all-time best and worst players and teams in NFL history. More than 40 years later, the expansion Buccaneers still decorate the record books.
The worst losing streak in the Super Bowl era
About 15 months after the Buccaneers played their first game, they finally got a win. In between that September 1976 debut and the December 1977 victory were 26 consecutive losses.
That’d be an all-time record if the Chicago Cardinals hadn’t lost 29 straight between 1942 and 1945.
During the Super Bowl era, no other team has even got to 20 consecutive losses. The Detroit Lions once dropped 19 straight beginning in 2007 and ending in 2009, with an 0-16 season sandwiched in the middle.
The Cleveland Browns are currently at 17 consecutive losses, but they improved a lot in the offseason with additions including Tyrod Taylor, Jarvis Landry, and Damarious Randall. If the football gods have any mercy, Cleveland will find a win before November.
And that’d leave the 1976-77 Buccaneers where they’ve always been, right at the top of the list of the losing-est losing streaks in modern NFL history.
Longest time before first win
This goes hand-in-hand with the first record and shouldn’t be surprising. If you have the worst losing streak ever that also coincides with the introduction of the team, then there’s no way around the fact that it’s also the worst start ever for a franchise.
That doesn’t just apply to NFL history — it’s a record in all major American sports.
The second closest was the Miami Heat’s 17-game losing streak to begin their first season in the NBA. They finally beat the Los Angeles Clippers to improve to 1-17 on Dec. 14, 1988 — 39 days after their Nov. 5 debut.
But 26 straight over a span of 15 months? Nope, no team is even close.
The second worst start in NFL history belongs to the Dallas Cowboys, who lost their first 10 in their expansion 1960 season. That losing streak was broken with a tie, and the Cowboys finished the year 0-10-1 before winning their first ever game in Week 1 of the 1961 season.
It doesn’t look like we’re getting an expansion team in the NFL anytime soon, and if we ever do — the rules have since been changed to give expansion teams a better shot. It’s hard to imagine any team ever topping the Buccaneers’ horrible start.
The worst point differential ever
It wasn’t bad luck that caused the Buccaneers to lose over and over again. They were completely awful at football.
In 1976, they scored 125 points — or 8.9 points per game. They gave up 412 points on defense — or 29.4 points per game. Yes, their average game came out to about a 20-point loss.
Tampa Bay racked up a negative-287-point differential in 14 games, the worst in NFL history. Second place belongs to the 1981 Baltimore Colts, who were at negative-274 over the course of a 16-game season.
The 125 points scored by the Buccaneers are the fewest any team in the Super Bowl era has finished with in a season.
They got shut out five times — setting an NFL record that they broke a year later when they got shut out six times in 1977. It still stands today. The Buccaneers’ offense was historically bad.
It took 32 years to get a kick return touchdown
In 2007, Micheal Spurlock found a seam up the middle, broke to the right sideline and ran 90 yards for a touchdown.
In their 32nd season, 512th game, and 1,902nd try, Tampa Bay finally returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the first time.
The Buccaneers have since had three more kick return touchdowns.
Cleveland’s 1-31 record over the last two years means we’re in the midst of a historically terrible era for a franchise. But even the 2015-17 Browns haven’t been able to scratch the 1976-77 Buccaneers from the record books.
So there are peaks in the Bucs’ history to offset those early valleys. But boy oh boy, were they valleys.