Monday, June 8, 2009

Steve Young Becomes a Buc, 6/5/84

As the calendar turned from May to June in 1984, the song "Let's Hear It for the Boy" from the Footloose soundtrack reigned at the top of the charts for the second week in a row.

Tampa Bay Buccaneer fans, disheartened by a 2-14 season in 1983, were finally given reason to say "let's hear it for the Bucs" on June 5. That afternoon in the National Football League's supplemental draft, Tampa Bay selected a franchise-quality player from the rival United States Football League: quarterback Steve Young of the Los Angeles Express.

Tampa Bay earned the first selection overall in the draft by having the league’s worst record in 1983. The timing could not have been better either, as the Buccaneers had gone two consecutive seasons without any first round picks. It is worth a brief detour to explain how that happened, one of the more amusing stories in team history.

In the 1982 draft, the Buccaneers held the 17th overall selection and intended on drafting defensive end Booker Reese out of Bethune-Cookman College. At the team's draft table in New York, equipment manager Frank Marcuccillo manned the speaker phone to receive instructions from personnel director Ken Herock. Murcuccillo heard the name of Penn State guard Sean Farrell with instructions to write his name on a card.

With the Buccaneers on the clock, Murcuccillo was told to turn in the card. What he failed to hear due to a poor connection were instructions to write the name Booker Reese on a card as well, and to turn that card in as the selection.

Consequently, Tampa Bay selected Reese by mistake. To make up for it -- or to make things worse, as history would show -- the Buccaneers traded up in the second round with the Chicago Bears in order to select Reese. Tampa Bay also threw in their number one draft pick in 1983 for the honor.

Reese started just seven games in two seasons with the Buccaneers before being traded to the Los Angeles Rams for a 12th round pick. This would be the least of the team's problems, however, as the departure of quarterback Doug Williams resulted in the trading of yet another first round pick.

To replace Williams, the Buccaneers sent their first round pick in 1984 to the Cincinnati Bengals for Jack Thompson, a third-string quarterback. Thompson, like Reese, would play just two seasons in Buccaneer orange before walking the plank.

This brings us back to the supplemental draft in June 1984, and the team still desperate to find a replacement for Williams. If anyone could do that, it would have been Steve Young.

While starring at Brigham Young University, Young set or tied 13 NCAA records and captured both the Davey O' Brien and Sammy Baugh Awards as the nation's top quarterback. In short, Young had a track record for winning and could beat defenses through the air or on the ground.

His status as an elite collegian earned him a contract with the Express believed at the time to be the highest in the history of sports, a 10-year, $40 million deal to be paid in an annuity over 40 years. Under contract with the Express, the Buccaneers could merely draft his NFL rights and hope to negotiate with him down the road. Despite the length of his deal, Young's contract with the Express officially expired in November 1987.

As expected, the Buccaneers used their number one selection on Young. It would take another season, however, before Young could negotiate his way out of Los Angeles and the sinking USFL. He would finally sign with the Buccaneers just after the start of the 1985 campaign.

As Buccaneer fans know, this would not turn out to be a marriage made in heaven. Young shared quarterback duties with Steve DeBerg for two forgettable seasons in 1985 and 1986. Under head coach Leman Bennett, the Buccaneers posted matching 2-14 records during those seasons.

Yet for all of his talents, Young could barely make an impact on those terrible Buccaneer teams. Sharing time with DeBerg in 1985, Young threw three touchdowns and eight interceptions in five games. As the team's primary starter in 1986, he threw for 2,282 yards and eight touchdowns while rushing for 425 yards on the ground. Still, the local media named Young as the team's Most Valuable Player that season for his efforts.

When Ray Perkins took over as head coach in 1987, the writing was on the wall for Young in Tampa Bay. With rookie Vinny Testaverde set to become the new quarterback of the future in Tampa Bay, the team sent Young to the San Francisco 49ers for two draft picks and $500,000 in cash.

As a 49er, Young would go on to have a Hall of Fame career, becoming one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and winning a Super Bowl as a starter in January 1995. It's hard to imagine his career playing out the same way had he remained in Tampa, but in the summer of 1984 Buccaneer fans could still dream of a bright future with Young behind center for years to come.

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