NFL

The Chiefs and Bucs Played a Wild and Meaningful Game Long Before Super Bowl 55

The matchup for Super Bowl LV is set: the NFC champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs. The two teams have met only 13 times in history, with the Buccaneers holding a 7-6 advantage. One of those Buccaneer wins marked a major high point in franchise history. It was also one of the NFL’s most bizarre games.

Historical context

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered the game with a chance to win the NFC Central, making the postseason in just their fourth season of existence. It was a long, long climb for head coach John McKay to lead them to this point. Three years before this game, the Buccaneers etched themselves into the history books for all the wrong reasons.

The first-year Bucs became the first team in NFL history to finish a season 0-14, and they earned it. They finished last in nearly every statistical category that season, becoming a benchmark to measure all lousy teams in sports for the rest of time. They nearly pulled it off again the following season, not winning their first game in franchise history until their 13th game.

By 1979, the roster had vastly improved — especially the defense, which was led by Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon and his brother Dewey. Combined with thousand-yard rusher Ricky Bell, the Buccaneers raced to nine wins in their first 12 games. They had a firm grip on the NFC Central, leading by three games over the Chicago Bears.

Naturally, after that hot start, the Buccaneers lost three straight games. Disgruntled fans dubbed them the “Chokeneers”.

Mother Nature says hello

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The last chance for the Buccaneers to win the Central came on the final week of the regular season when they hosted the Kansas City Chiefs. Kansas City had already been eliminated from the playoffs by this point. They had nothing to play for except the pride that comes with playing spoiler.

When the game rolled around, however, the main story wasn’t the game itself, but the torrential downpour over Tampa Stadium. Surviving footage shows a waterfall pouring from the concrete stairs of the lower bowl and onto the field.

Playing an organized game of football under these conditions proved next to impossible. Neither team could mount an offensive attack in the driving rain. The Chiefs’ Steve Fuller and the Bucs’ Doug Williams combined for a mere 12 completions, 97 yards passing, and three interceptions. At one point, Bucs running back Jerry Eckwood broke for what looked like a long run, only to drop the wet football and give it right to the Chiefs.

The Buccaneers held the Chiefs to only 80 yards of offense. Kansas City had only one chance to score all afternoon, a 39-yard field goal attempt which was blocked by Lee Roy Selmon.

The Buccaneers finally reach the promised land

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Lee Roy Selmon
Defensive end Lee Roy Selmon of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fights past a Kansas City Chiefs lineman| Hugh Jones/Getty Images

Finally, late in the fourth quarter, the Buccaneers put a promising drive together. Two long Doug Williams completions and a series of runs put the offense at the Chiefs’ two-yard line, setting up a chip-shot field goal for kicker Neil O’Donoghue.

Despite the monsoon conditions, and despite a low snap, O’Donoghue came through with the only points the Buccaneers would need. Three seasons after finishing the most embarrassing season in NFL history to that point, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a division champion.

Their remarkable run would continue two weeks later with a victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional playoffs. The following week, the Buccaneers’ season finally came to an end, as they fell to the Los Angeles Rams 9-0 in the NFC Championship Game.

Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.