Seattle defeated fellow expansion club Tampa Bay 13-10 in 1976 for its historic first victory. The teams now meet again in Tampa.
Sunday’s Seahawks game at Tampa Bay, Steve Raible says, is now “just one of those long trips that you have to take each year.’’
Forty years ago, though, it was a trip that meant everything for the Seahawks, for whom Raible — now the team’s play-by-play radio announcer — was then a rookie receiver.
Few, in fact, may remember that the Seahawks — who haven’t played at Tampa Bay since 2010 — and the Bucs were initially set up with the hope, if not intention, that they would become bitter rivals. Or at least, that they would for a few years.
Each entered the NFL in 1976 in what was the first expansion for the league since the 1970 merger.
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And showing that even 40 years ago the NFL was hell-bent on creating whatever drama it could out of anything, it tried to fashion a rivalry between the two teams.
In 1976, Seattle was part of the NFC West and played every team in the NFC plus the Bucs, while Tampa Bay was in the AFC West and played every AFC team plus the Seahawks.
The next year, the two teams switched, meaning their only nonconference opponent each year was each other — and with few other realistic expectations, the success or failure of those seasons figured to depend largely on who won the head-to-head matchup.
“If you asked all of the guys, all of us who played in ’76, the one thing that was really important was they were our natural rivals, they were the other guys in the expansion draft,’’ Raible said. “Just everything was set up perfectly for a rivalry — we were in the Pacific Northwest and they were in the far southeast corner of the United States. Two different teams that kind of did it two different ways — we were really focused on the draft and they did it building with a few more veterans and free agents out on the street. They went and got guys like Steve Spurrier at quarterback.’’
Spurrier, a former Heisman Trophy winner who would go on to a long coaching career, started at QB for the Bucs when they hosted Seattle in what was dubbed Expansion Bowl 1 in 1976, while a then-little-known free agent named Jim Zorn started for the Seahawks.
Each was 0-5 heading into that first meeting, though Seattle had played competitively a few times, memorably throwing a Hail Mary on the final play of its first game ever that fell just incomplete against the Cardinals.
And on an 80-degree October day, the Seahawks got the hoped-for win, outlasting the Bucs 13-10.
And outlast is about the best that could be said for what Seattle did. The game is remembered now mostly for still holding the NFL record for most combined penalties — the Bucs had 20, the Seahawks 15 (Sports Illustrated this week published a retrospective story focusing on the penalty record). Seattle Times stories the day after noted that the NFL that week had told officials throughout the league to put an emphasis on watching out for holding. That they did, with the Seahawks and Bucs combining for 15 holding penalties, seven on the Seahawks.
Fittingly, the game came down to a final tying field goal attempt by Tampa Bay that was blocked by Seattle’s Mike Curtis, better known for a standout career with the Baltimore Colts but who served as the Seahawks’ defensive captain in what was his last NFL season.
“I think Mike finally said, ‘OK, I’m tired of this crap and I’m going to go in there and block this field goal,’ ’’ Raible says with a laugh.
Seattle had a long time to celebrate the win on the flight home because, as Raible wryly noted, the plane had to stop somewhere along the way to refuel (Raible can’t remember exactly where), something that wouldn’t happen today.
The Seahawks won the following year as well, 30-23 in Seattle, as the Bucs became infamous for losing their first 26 games.
The rivalry sort of ended there, though. The scheduling format changed the next year and the two teams wouldn’t pay again until 1994.
Raible, though, recalls feeling some of the old rivalry pangs returning when the Bucs got to, and won, the Super Bowl following the 2002 season. Seattle wouldn’t get there for another four years, but now has three appearances and one win.
“They were the first to get there,’’ Raible says. “We were reminded of that a lot back then.’’
But for now, the Seahawks can say they not only won the initial battle but also the war. While Seattle enters Sunday’s game 322-315-1 all-time, the Bucs are just 246-391-1.
For those who were there, the first of those 322 was just as good as any.