49ers, Bucs could use injection of bad blood
January 10, 2003
GARY PETERSON: TIMES COLUMNIST
YOU CAN'T SHUT UP the Raiders and Jets this week, not that you'd want to. The closer they get to Sunday's playoff game, the more they cackle, yap and hoot at one another. For the uninitiated, this is how you run a playoff experience, with hot and cold running animosity.
Then there's the small matter of the 49ers vs. Buccaneers, a would-be rivalry celebrating a quarter-century of non-aggression bordering on ambivalence. It's not that they haven't had chances to develop professional-grade loathing. They've played 14 times since 1977. Sadly, there's scarcely been heard a fightin' word. Worse, most games have ended with the teams too busy kicking themselves in the keister to express any serious animus toward the other side.
Even presented with fertile ground, they've left it unplowed. For example, 49ers coach Steve Mariucci considered the Tampa Bay job last year before Jon Gruden took it. But if you read the story earlier this week, you know there's no meat on that bone.
As for the last time they met, when Warren Sapp was a pivotal figure in plays that resulted in serious injuries to Jerry Rice and Steve Young, well, Sapp may be playing coy now, but here's what he said at the time:
"I didn't mean to hurt either one of those guys."
This is a story of unrequited malevolence, of opportunity lost. Here is a whiff-by-whiff account:
• Oct. 30, 1977 (SF 20, TB 10): The 49ers hand the Buccaneers their 21st consecutive defeat. Given a chance to crow, embattled 49ers coach Ken Meyer stays real. "Gentlemen," he says, "it wasn't an artistic success, but I'll take a win any way I can get it."
Spoken like a man who will be fired at season's end.
• Dec. 10, 1978 (SF 6, TB 3): The 49ers come into the game 1-13, yet are favored to beat the Bucs. The game lives down to its billing, with the teams trading field goals in the second quarter before San Francisco's Ray Wersching wins it with a 30-yard kick on the game's final play.
"We're not a very good offense," Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Rae says, "but neither are the 49ers."
The 49ers don't argue. "This isn't much to write home about," receiver Freddie Solomon says.
• Dec. 9, 1979 (SF 23, TB 7): Once again the 1-13 49ers beat the Buccaneers. Rookie coach Bill Walsh is carried off the field by his players. "In the last couple of minutes, some of the guys were asking each other on the sidelines how we could mess this up," Walsh says.
Tampa Bay's third consecutive defeat leaves its playoff chances in question and its players and coaches irate. Coach John McKay assesses quarterback Doug Williams (three interceptions) thusly: "His throwing just stinks."
• Oct. 26, 1980 (TB 24, SF 23): Two teams who haven't won in more than a month play it down to the wire. Garo Yepremian (yes, that Garo Yepremian) kicks a field goal with 47 seconds left to put the Bucs on top. Walsh asks Wersching to try a 63-yarder as time expires. The kick dies a horrible death at the 5-yard line.
"I don't know if it's fair or not to try from that far away," Wersching says. "You have to try to win the game, though, and we didn't have any alternative."
• Dec. 4, 1983 (SF 35, TB 21): The win snaps a two-game losing streak for the 49ers and vaults them into a first-place tie. The 2-12 Bucs find themselves shoulder deep in another lost season.
"Even though we won, we made some big mistakes," says San Francisco nose tackle Pete Kugler. "We can't rest on what we did today."
"We'll be back," McKay says. "I mean, we'll be back in the playoffs. But not next year."
• Nov. 18, 1984 (SF 24, TB 17): The 49ers welcome back holdout pass rusher Fred Dean and run their record to 11-1. But they're not happy about it.
"We just can't put back-to-back games together," Walsh laments.
Meanwhile, it's more of the same for the Bucs. "I think perhaps they didn't take us seriously," says quarterback Steve DeBerg (yes, that Steve DeBerg), "and at that, they still beat us."
• Sept. 7, 1986 (SF 31, TB 7): Quarterback Joe Montana injures his back in the season opener, though the severity of the injury (surgery, an eight-week layoff) aren't disclosed until the following week. Certainly it's nothing the 49ers could (or would) pin on the Buccaneers.
Walsh is too busy extolling how his team played "up to our highest expectations." As for DeBerg: "That was terrible," he says. "This is as bad as they get."
This is a recording.
• Nov. 22, 1987 (SF 24, TB 10): Both teams are in full dynasty mode, the 49ers en route to the fifth in what will be a streak of 16 consecutive seasons with double-digit victories, and the Buccaneers headed for the fifth in what will be a streak of 12 consecutive seasons with double-digit losses.
Time capsule moment: Tampa fans boo DeBerg, imploring coach Ray Perkins to insert rookie Vinny Testaverde.
• Sept. 17, 1989 (SF 20, TB 16): George Seifert's second game as head coach features Mike Holmgren's first real test as offensive coordinator. With the 49ers down 16-13, 3:17 to play and on their own 30-yard line, Holmgren calls the plays that get them to the Tampa Bay 4.
Montana then suggests a play, and Holmgren does what any self-respecting coordinator would do given the circumstances. He defers. Whereupon Montana runs for the game-winning touchdown.
"If I never had to do that again, it would be OK with me," Holmgren says.
The Bucs can relate. "They're a team that's done that so many times," Testaverde says. "It was a sick feeling watching them do it live."
• Nov. 18, 1990 (SF 31, TB 7): The 49ers tie an NFL record with their 18th consecutive regular-season victory. Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Chandler, who relieves an ineffective Testaverde, is impressed.
"That pass rush," he says, "was something you couldn't imagine."
• Dec. 19, 1992 (SF 21, TB 14): The 49ers, 20-point favorites, don't come close to covering. Then they don't come close to hiding their disgust. "I don't think we're off track," quarterback Steve Young says. "But I'd like to see us put a little more coal on the fire."
Tampa Bay coach Sam Wyche is so happy, he's nearly delusional. "There's a little bit of pride in being a Tampa Bay Buccaneer today," he says.
Emphasis on "little."
• Nov. 14, 1993 (SF 45, TB 21): Another typical whack job, with another typical self-deprecating take.
"We all have to do better defensively if we expect to continue winning ballgames," Seifert says.
• Oct. 23, 1994 (SF 41, TB 16): The first glimmer of hope for ill will between these franchises. Several 49ers -- Merton Hanks, Dana Hall and Dexter Carter among them -- accuse the Buccaneers of cheap shots and dirty play. The bad blood obscures the first NFL start of Tampa Bay quarterback Trent Dilfer.
"He had a tough time," 49ers safety Tim McDonald says. "He had a really tough day."
So do prospects for long-range rage. Because this game leads us to:
• Aug. 31, 1997 (TB 13, SF 6): Rice blows out his knee. Young suffers his third concussion in 10 months. Sapp is apologetic.
He ought to be. After 25 years, these teams should have come up with something better than this body of work.
It's like the man said: It's a sick feeling watching them do it live.
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