TAMPA — Home sweet home.
Uh, not quite.
When the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers take the field at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday night against Carolina, they will be seeking to end a streak of home futility that harkens back to the bumbling early days of the franchise.
With six consecutive home setbacks dating to last November, Tampa Bay could end the evening saddled with its first seven-game home losing streak since 1977.
Thirty-five seasons have passed since the 1977 club followed up the first win in Bucs history, a 33-14 victory at New Orleans, by beating the St. Louis Cardinals 17-7 in the season finale at Tampa Stadium.
Safety Mark Cotney had an interception in that game as the Bucs posted their initial home victory after 13 straight losses at “The Big Sombrero.’’
“I wish I could go back and revisit that St. Louis win,’’ Cotney said Tuesday. “I admired our fans so much. They were so thrilled just to have an NFL team in Tampa, they wouldn’t boo us no matter how the game turned out.’’
Before beating the Cardinals, the 1977 Bucs had scored only three points in six home games, suffering five consecutive shutouts at Tampa Stadium.
On the day Tampa Bay ended its home losing streak, current Bucs coach Greg Schiano was still in grade school and Debby Boone topped the singles charts with “You Light Up My Life.’’
This year’s edition of the Bucs is more competitive, but Tampa Bay hasn’t enjoyed a home win since topping San Diego 34-24 last fall.
“This is our opportunity,’’ Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “We’ve got a national stage and everybody will be watching. This is our opportunity to get something going, especially at home against a division opponent. They don’t like us, and we don’t like them.’’
Unlike the genial home crowds of 1977, these Bucs have heard their share of catcalls at Raymond James Stadium.
Establishing a home advantage has been challenging for the Bucs in recent years.
During a 14-year span from 1995-2008, Tampa Bay posted a 73-39 mark at home. But since 2009, the Bucs have won only 11 of 35 games at Raymond James Stadium.
And here come the resurgent Panthers (3-3), who have rebounded from an 0-2 start behind the league’s No. 3 defense.
“Winning at home is key,’’ Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “You want to establish this is our base, this is where we play and you have to defend it every opportunity you get. From the time I started playing football, it was always about home. Coach (Mike) Ditka used to have a saying, ‘Win the ones at home, split the other ones, and you’ve got an opportunity to get into the playoffs every time.’”
At this point, the Bucs (0-6) will take any victory they can get.
“It’s hard to go on the road and win in other people’s stadiums,’’ veteran linebacker Adam Hayward said. “You’ve got to win at home in this league. We’ve struggled to do that and it’s about time we turn it around. We’re right there every week and we’ve got to find a way to get over the hump.’’
Cotney, 61, was surprised to hear about the extent of Tampa Bay’s home woes.
“Our fans back in the day were so supportive, even though we hadn’t given them very much to cheer about by losing our first 26 games,’’ said Cotney, a big hitter who had both knees replaced three years ago. “I had no idea about the team’s current losing streak at home. All I know is I never walked off the field at Tampa Stadium embarrassed about our product.’’
Schiano, 3-8 at home, is eager to turn Raymond James Stadium into a snakepit for opponents.
“It’s frustrating, because it’s not just this year,’’ Schiano said. “I don’t think we established it last year, either. It’s one of the frustrating things. I’ve seen that stadium be an intense home-field advantage and I know we can get it back. Hopefully, that starts Thursday night.’’