Tampa Bay Buccaneers: What if Tony Dorsett was drafted over Ricky Bell?

Tony Dorsett, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
Tony Dorsett, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images) /

With the 2021 NFL Draft coming up in the next couple weeks for this week’s “what if” scenario we look at how the fate of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could have been much different if familiarity didn’t rule the day at the top of the 1977 NFL Draft.

Heading into the 1977 Draft, two running backs were head and shoulders above all the other prospects. They were Tony Dorsett of Pittsburgh and Ricky Bell of USC. Dorsett was a former National Champion and Heisman Trophy winner, but Bell was recruiting and coached by then-Buccaneers coaches John McKay. Long story short, McKay and the Bucs chose Bell number one overall, the Dallas Cowboys traded with the Seattle Seahawks for the number two overall pick and drafted Dorsett since Seattle was worried about Dorsett publicly stating he didn’t want to play for an expansion team. The Cowboys remained the Cowboys while the Bucs and Seahawks remained the Bucs and Seahawks.

What would have happened if the Buccaneers ignored  Dorsett’s lack of desire to play for an expansion team and drafted him instead of Bell? After all, it wasn’t like he has the leverage of baseball like John Elway… or Bo Jackson. Well, buckle up because let’s dive in.

If Dorsett goes to the Buccaneers, the Seahawks can stay put, allowing the Seahawks to do the same, and take the other top running back in Bell. Dallas is then left with a still talented team. Dorsett struggles in his first couple of years in Tampa, due to the lack of talent around him, but eventually finds his stride, as do the Buccaneers, more on that later.

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Seattle, with Bell, wide receiver Steve Largent, and quarterback Jim Zorn, come alive rather quickly and make a couple of playoff appearances in the late 1970s. As for Dallas, without Dorsett, still are able to win Super Bowl XIII in 1977 and make the big game again in 1978 still losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers, thanks to their defense, Roger Staubach, and talented roster.

1979 is where things get interesting. With the Buccaneers defense, quarterback Doug Williams, and Dorsett coming into their own, the Buccaneers still get to the NFC Championship. In reality, they were blanked 9-0 by the Los Angeles Rams. With Dorsett, they are actually able to score and advance to Super Bowl XIV, ultimately succumbing to the Steelers dynasty in a hard-fought battle.

By 1981, Dorsett, Williams, and the Bucs defense are back in the playoffs in Dallas where they meet the Cowboys and their new rookie running back, James Wilder. Yes, in this alternate reality, the Cowboys’ glaring need for a running back forces them to take Wilder in the back of the first round before the Buccaneers can snatch him up early in the second. The Buccaneers still fall to Dallas in 1981, but in 1982, get their revenge and defeat Dallas, ultimately heading to the NFC Championship game where they fall to Washington.

So let’s recap, had Tony Dorsett been drafted by the Buccaneers, Ricky Bell is a Seahawk, James Wilder is a Cowboy, and the Buccaneers are the final victim of the Steelers dynasty in the 1970s. There are other potential results to this as well, maybe Hugh Culverhouse pays Doug Williams, and maybe John McKay stays on board longer. We’ve already dived into the Williams “what if” scenario, and we can tackle McKay another day.

Let us know what Buccaneers “what if” scenario we should dive into next, and check out our last trip to the multiverse below.

Next. Our previous “what-if” scenario. dark