Monday, February 23, 2009

Palmer vs Nicklaus at Palma Ceia, 2/21/64

On February 21, 1964, two of the biggest stars in all of sports, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, came to Tampa to play 18 holes of golf in a charity exhibition. The match, which took place at Palma Ceia Golf & Country Club, would be the first round of golf in Tampa for both players.

Nicklaus, 24, arrived in Tampa coming off a 1963 season in which he won the Masters and the PGA Championship. Palmer, 34, won eight tournaments in 1963, but no majors. He could hang his hat, however, on the then-record $128,000 ($850,000 in today’s dollars) in winnings he earned that season. Local pros Skip Alexander of St. Petersburg and Henry Castillo, Palma Ceia’s resident pro, were paired with Nicklaus and Palmer for the competition.

Prior to the match, Nicklaus and Palmer put on a clinic on the finer points of driving. The two also took turns making jokes to entertain the crowd over the public address system.
Nicklaus joked that the two almost missed the event because of an accident.

“Arnie had a terrible accident,” Nicklaus said. “He fell off his wallet.”

Palmer, in turn, ribbed Nicklaus about his appearance.

“Look at him - white shoes in the winter time. He’s the worst-dressed man in the high-priced field.”

A crowd of 5,000 spectators jammed the pristine course to witness two of the world’s best in action. One of those in attendance, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Joey Jay, recalls getting to meet Palmer after the round.

“I remember it well,” Jay says. “At that time, I was only a small golf fan and had gone with a friend of mine who was a member of the club. Afterwards, I got to meet Palmer over some refreshments and, looking back now, realize it was something special to see these guys at that point in their careers.”

So many fans showed up for the match that people often stood five-deep to watch the action on the course. Children climbed trees to get a better look. One of the kids in attendance that day, Buddy Alexander, enjoyed watching from the gallery while his father played a round with two legends.

Now the head golf coach at the University of Florida, Alexander was only 11 years old at the time and remembers the significance the day held for him, if not for his father.

“Well, my dad played on the tour and was on a few Ryder Cup teams in the 1950s,” Alexander recently said. “So this exhibition probably wasn’t the highlight of his career. Still, it was a pretty big deal to play with those guys at a club just across the Bay from where he lived.

Now for me, it was a huge day. I’d already started playing junior tournaments and competitive golf, so to see Nicklaus and Palmer in person was quite a thrill.”

Everyone in attendance who came to see world-class golf in person did not leave disappointed. If anything, they saw two of the best in the world look quite mortal against a very challenging par-70 Palma Ceia course. Nicklaus hit a ball out of bounds on the 2nd hole, and both golfers hit the ball out of bounds on the 18th hole, where Palmer suffered a double-bogey 7.

“Everybody said this was an easy course,” Nicklaus said after the round. “It’s not. You have to be very careful. It’s tight, but it’s not unfair. It has some wonderful par-3s. I think it plays well to a par-70.”

Palmer appeared poised to tame the course with a 68 when he reached the 18th hole, a 482-yard par-5. On his approach shot to the green, however, Palmer nearly hit the clubhouse. Four strokes later, Palmer was done for the day and finished at even-par 70.

Nicklaus finished just behind Palmer, shooting a 1-over 71 for the day. Alexander and Castillo held their own right along with them, shooting 72 and 74, respectively.

The scores would get better as 1964 progressed for both Nicklaus and Palmer. Nicklaus would win four tournaments that year and finish as runner-up at The Masters, six shots behind Palmer. For Palmer, it would be his fourth overall Masters victory and the final major tournament victory of his career.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tampa "Mobs" Orlando, 2/7/74

On Feb. 7, 1974, the Symbionese Liberation Army announced in a letter that it was holding William Randolph Hearst's granddaughter, 19-year-old Patricia Hearst. The kidnapping drama that would captivate the nation for over a year had only just begun.

A drama of another sordid variety had just begun here in central Florida as well, over of all things, the quest for a National Football League expansion team. Although the NFL would go on to award an expansion team to the Tampa Bay area in April 1974, a rival group based in Orlando still held on to very slim hopes of being awarded Florida's next team.

Rommie Loudd, a former pro personnel director for the New England Patriots, led the charge for the Orlando group, known as the Florida Suns Booster Club. A collegiate standout at UCLA, Loudd went on to play linebacker for the Los Angeles Chargers and Boston Patriots of the American Football League from 1960-62. After retiring, he joined the Patriots coaching staff and made history as the first black assistant coach in the AFL.

Loudd arrived in Orlando in 1972 and announced his intention to land the city an NFL franchise. The effort to bring a team to the Tampa-St. Petersburg area had taken flight in 1968 and, by anyone's reckoning, was better organized and had more stability. Still, Loudd persisted in his quest and sought to alienate anyone who chose to align with Tampa's efforts over his own.

The key to Orlando's hopes rested on the expansion of the Tangerine Bowl (today the Citrus Bowl). Revenue bonds would be needed to finance the stadium's improvements, and by February 1974, nobody had stepped up with the financial backing to make this happen. At a booster club meeting for his Florida Suns on Feb. 7, Loudd shared his theory why.

According to a Suns booster who attended the meeting, Loudd alleged "Tampa syndicate money is being pumped into Orlando to fight the Suns and the expansion of the Tangerine Bowl football stadium." Loudd also said he reported the wrongdoing to NFL expansion committee chairman Dan Rooney. The booster called Frank Vaught, the sports director of WDBO Channel 6 in Orlando, who went on air with the report.

Made aware of the report, state attorney E.J. Salcines of Tampa responded to its damaging nature by threatening to subpoena Loudd for any information he may have had concerning organized criminal activity in Tampa.

Loudd, for his part, initially did not deny making the statements and said any comments he made were meant for the consumption of the booster club and not the public. Salcines, however, did not see it that way.

Salcines and Orlando state attorney Robert Eagan issued separate subpoenas on Feb. 9 for Loudd to testify about his statements. If the statements were false and made by an "overzealous enthusiast," Salcines said, then Loudd owed immediate public apologies to anyone he offended in Orlando and Tampa.

On Feb. 11, Loudd met with attorneys from Orange and Hillsborough counties. Predictably, Loudd said his comments were taken out of context.

After his meeting with Loudd, Eagan said "the sum and substance is that no evidence was forthcoming of a mob or syndicate being involved. We told him this kind of statement was damaging to all and we were happy to hear him say he didn't make it."

Loudd also denied ever reporting any wrongdoings to the NFL or Rooney. In an interview with the Tampa Tribune, Rooney confirmed he had not spoken to Loudd since he became chairman of the expansion committee.

His credibility in tatters, Loudd's long-shot chances of bringing an NFL team to Orlando had effectively come to an end. P.R. Inc., a Winter Park-based media firm representing Loudd and the Florida Suns Football Club, issued an immediate press release ending its affiliation with the group.

The public embarrassment did not completely derail Loudd's effort to bring football to Orlando. Later in the year, he successfully landed a World Football League franchise, known as the Florida Blazers, to play at the Tangerine Bowl.

Beset by severe financial difficulties despite reaching the league championship game, the Blazers relocated to San Antonio for the 1975 season. Loudd's legal problems, however, were not entirely a thing of the past.

In February 1976, almost exactly two years to the day he made his comments to the Suns booster club, Loudd was sentenced to two years in prison for conspiracy to deliver cocaine in Orlando.

Loudd later moved to Miami and became a minister, but at the age of 64, he died of complications from diabetes in 1998. Today, he is remembered as one of the many colorful characters that populated the Central Florida landscape leading up to the arrival of the NFL.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Catching Up With Trent Dilfer

One of the most polarizing players in the history of the Buccaneers, Trent Dilfer played six seasons for Tampa Bay from 1994-1999. The Bucs drafted the quarterback out of Fresno State with their first pick in the 1994 draft, and hopes were high from day one. Although he helped lead the Buccaneers to two playoff berths, Dilfer never quite lived up to the expectations of the fans or his organization. He achieved the ultimate success during the 2000 season, however, as he quarterbacked the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl victory. In town last week covering Super Bowl XLIII for ESPN, Dilfer took some time to open up on his years as a Buccaneer.

Q. You were a top draft pick coming out of Fresno State and were considered to be the savior of the franchise. How did you approach that situation?

A. Well, to start I was young and dumb. I thought that if you had the success I had in college, it would translate to success in the NFL. I had these grand illusions that I was going to come in and immediately change the way the Buccaneers played football. It didn't take me long to realize that wasn't going to happen. The first two years with Sam Wyche were a great struggle. I'd never experienced failure like that before. I got physically beat up, emotionally beat up. I really learned a lot about how to overcome failure and deal with adversity that I hadn't dealt with in college. It was healthy, and the lessons I learned will be what help me answer the rest of these questions.

Q. What was it like as a rookie to try and learn Sam Wyche's offense?

A. Mind-boggling. The quarterback was asked to do so much. Way more than any other quarterback was asked to do in the National Football League. Light years more. We had hundreds and hundreds of code words for plays and formations and motions at the line of scrimmage. Not only were you trying to dissect defenses, not only were you just trying to run your offense, but then you had a whole other layer of complexity with how you were communicating to your team. It just became overload. I felt we were trying to trick people more than just line up and play good football. My fundamentals went to crap. How I played football totally changed because my mind was so cluttered with all this peripheral stuff that I didn't think mattered.

Q. Would you equate that with Jon Gruden's system and maybe the difficulties other young quarterbacks, such as Chris Simms and Bruce Gradkowski, had trying to learn his offense?

A. Gruden overloads the brain, but he does it differently. They have so many plays, there's so much volume. The nomenclature is so intense in that offense that it takes a lot. Different beast. In mine, so much had to be done at the line of scrimmage. For a rookie or second year quarterback to do, it was virtually impossible.

Q. Not only that, but you had some competition at quarterback with Craig Erickson and Casey Weldon. Did having to look over your shoulder hinder your progress in any way?

A. I never looked over my shoulder. Not one time. I admired Craig greatly. He was a big help to me and had a big impact on my career. I didn't realize it until later, but he taught me how to work. I became known as a film junkie, and if not the hardest, one of the hardest working quarterbacks in the league in the film room. I learned that from Craig. I got pulled a couple of times for bad performances, but there was never a doubt in my mind, or really anybody else's, that when this thing took shape that I was going to be the quarterback.

Q. Can you describe the impact of Tony Dungy's hiring as head coach on the franchise as well as on your career?

A. I think Tony brought stability. He simplified things. He changed the culture of the organization more than anything else. You know, Sam wasn't to blame for everything. He didn't have a full deck of cards to work with. Tony got more involved on the personnel side of things. We got better people. Not that we were great, but we got better. Tony really knew how to develop a player. He could take a Shelton Quarles, who was an undrafted free agent, and turn him into a starting player. He could take a Derrick Brooks, who was a very good college player, and turn him into an 11-time Pro Bowler. He could take a John Lynch, who Sam Wyche almost wanted to cut, and turn him into a 9-time Pro Bowler. So Tony and his staff knew how to develop players, and they did the same with me. Not to the extent that they did with guys on the defensive side of the ball, but they still knew how to develop a player.

Q. In 1997, the Bucs got off to a 5-0 start and earned a playoff berth. What was that taste of success like after a rough start to your career?

A. Well, we really started having success at the end of 1996. We started out 1-8, and then we won a bunch of games late in the season. That did worlds for carry-over, momentum, and confidence building. We went into 1997 feeling we were a good football team. We had some success offensively, not lighting up the scoreboard, but felt like we did what we were asked to do. I was playing the best football of my career to that point. We had direction. We had clear, concise expectations. I'm very proud of that season. Especially John Lynch and myself, who were here for those two years with Sam Wyche just being awful. John and I took a walk this morning on Bayshore and talked about how we look back and those are some of the proudest years of our lives.

Q. Lynch points to a game against San Diego in 1996 as the real turning point for the franchise. Do you agree?

A. I really believe it was in 1996 during that game in San Diego. How we won it, coming back, making big plays to get us there, going across the country and winning on the road. So many elements of that game really did change the mentality of our team.

Q. By 1998, you were no longer a surprise. Teams didn't look past the Buccaneers, and you missed the playoffs at 8-8. What happened that season?

A. Huge disappointment, probably the most disappointing year of my career for two reasons. One, I got blamed for it. There's no doubt at the end of the year who the fall guy was: me. I never said this publicly, but I thought it was very unfair and not justified. Our defense was not nearly as good that year. They lost a lot of games for us late in the game. You can't say that when you're playing with them at the time. Our defense really underachieved, but they had developed this status here in Tampa. Nobody wanted to blame the defense, so it went directly towards me. I really feel like the coaching staff and the team threw me under the bus in that situation. Nobody came to my defense or our offense's defense. Without a doubt the worst experience I had in the NFL was 1998 and the off-season because the entire organization completely threw me under the bus.

Q. The following season, the Bucs got off to a bit of a slow start -

A. I didn't help the cause. I threw three interceptions in the opener against the Giants. They had 130 total yards of offense and we lost. I had every opportunity to erase 1998 in that first week of the season and I didn't. From that point on, no matter what happened, people weren't going to look past 1998 and the first week of 1999. I didn't realize it at the time, but that was the beginning of the end of my career in Tampa. Even though I went on to play great football after my benching, won four of five games and got us to where we were going before my injury, nobody was ever willing to see me as the guy who was going to take the Bucs to the Super Bowl. The beginning of the season, though, that was all on me.

Q. You had started playing really well midway through the season. People forget that because you were replaced by Shaun King and that situation took on a life of its own.

A. He was the new fresh face and people started to forget about the beginning of 1999. I get it now. I have a much broader perspective on how this league works: perception is reality. At the time it was ridiculous because all you had to do was turn on the tape and watch me play in that five game span and watch Shaun play. It was like watching a college quarterback and a pro quarterback. People looked past that. He was a local kid, and our defense was winning games. It was as hot as it has ever been. I'm not really bitter about that because I'm the one that set the table in 1999 with the opening game. I get that. It could have been handled better by the organization. They could have given me a chance to be here longer. After the season, they had to buy back two years of my contract, which was for eight years. I think it was a $5 million buy-back, on top of my base salary. The way it has been explained to me is that it was a financial decision. Shaun was making a couple hundred grand and I was making close to $6 million a year. I understand that, but it was more a p.r. decision. That's been admitted to me since, but it allowed me to make a move and go into free agency.

Q. Did you feel there was unfinished business in Tampa or were you just ready to turn the page?

A. No, I really did. To this day, I have great pride in what we were able to accomplish, taking them from the Yucks to the Bucs as we know them now. I always really deep down wanted to finish what I started. There was regret leaving because I knew this team was close and that we would have a chance down the stretch.

Q. The next year in Baltimore, you replaced Tony Banks at quarterback and end up here playing for the championship. Was it the ultimate vindication?

A. As I look back, obviously it was appropriate to a certain degree. I thought it was most appropriate that we came here as a Baltimore Ravens team, with me as the quarterback, and won the Super Bowl in the fashion we had always said we were going to win it here in Tampa.

Q. Final thoughts on the Tampa Bay years? Warren Sapp, Mike Alstott, John Lynch, Tony Dungy, are all retired now. What are your reflections on the guys you played with and your time here.

A. And Ronde Barber and Derrick Brooks, of course. I saw Sapp the other night, and Brad Culpepper, and said the one thing about this group of guys, is that in our time here we all developed really big football IQ’s. Coach Dungy and his staff made us smart football players. We did things right, both on the field and off the field. When I think about those guys, you know they were great teammates and we're still great friends, but we've all had a lasting impact on the league in mentoring guys, teaching other guys how to play the game the right way. Now, most of us work in television. You'll see Ronde and Derrick on TV, and Lynch is getting ready to go on TV too. Most of our expertise comes from our training by Coach Dungy. We've been able to impact the guy beyond just our years in Tampa. I think that says something about Coach Dungy, his staff, and how they trained us.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Super Bowl Media Day Trivia Contest

On Sunday, February 1, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals will meet on the field to decide the winner of Super Bowl XLIII. This past Tuesday at the NFL's Media Day, players from the Steelers and Cardinals squared off to determine which team knew the most history about Super Bowls played in Tampa. Representing the Cardinals were center Patrick Ross and longsnapper Nathan Hodel, while the Steelers were represented by fullback Carey Davis and linebacker Larry Foote.

T.P. First question for Arizona. This is for you Patrick. Who sang the National Anthem prior to Super Bowl XXV in 1991?
P.R. Whitney Houston.
T.P. Correct. Whitney Houston's rendition provided a memorable backdrop to the game, which was played at the start of the Persian Gulf War. The next question will go to you, Nathan. In 2001, what former Tampa Bay Buccaneer started at quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV?
N.H. Oh, it was ball-control guy. He was just with the 49ers. Trent Dilfer?
T.P. You got it. Dilfer led the Ravens to the Super Bowl in his first year with the Ravens after six seasons with Tampa Bay. You guys are off to a good start. Back to you, Patrick. Who was the Bills kicker who missed the game-winning field goal in Super Bowl XXV?
P.R. Scott Norwood.
T.P. Yes, Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal that would have given the Bills a 22-20 lead with just seconds to go in the game. Alright, Nathan this one is for you. Who was the losing head coach of Super Bowl XVIII?
N.H. Raiders and Redskins ... I don't know how long ago that would have been. John Madden, maybe?
T.P. Sorry, the losing head coach was Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins. That's okay, there are still a few questions left. Patrick, here's a true or false question. In Super Bowl XXV, the New York Giants controlled the ball on offense for over 40 minutes?
P.R. True. They had a good running game.
T.P. That is correct. The Giants dominated the line of scrimmage and held the ball for 40:33 of the game. Okay Nathan, here's your final question. What former University of Miami linebacker won Most Valuable Player honors in Super Bowl XXXV?
N.H. Uh, University of Miami linebacker? Derrick Brooks?
T.P. Sorry Nathan, he played for Florida State and plays for the Buccaneers. It was Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens, who registered 11 tackles and 6 assists in the game. Good job guys, you correctly answered four out of the six questions.

Now let's see if Pittsburgh can do any better. The first question goes to you, Carey. True or false, the Raiders were based in Oakland at the time of their 1984 Super Bowl XVIII appearance?

C.D. Ummm, false. No true, true.
T.P. You had it right the first time, so I'll give it to you. The Raiders left Oakland for Los Angeles in 1982. Larry, here's a true or false question. In Super Bowl XXV, the Buffalo Bills committed zero turnovers.
L.F. False.
T.P. Sorry but that's true.
L.P. How's that true? Thurman Thomas fumbled!
T.P. No, this was the one Super Bowl when Buffalo played turnover-free football.
L.P. That was a trick question!
T.P. Ok, back to you Carey. What singer, known for his hit song "Copacabana," sang the National Anthem prior to Super Bowl XVIII?
C.D. Who is that? I have no idea.
T.P. Barry Mannilow. It was a bit of a different world back then.
C.D. Oh, man.
T.P. Here's another Super Bowl XXV question for you, Larry. Who were the head coaches for the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV?
L.F. Bill Parcells and Marv Levy.
T.P. Yep. For Parcells, it was his second Super Bowl and for Levy, it was the first of his four consecutive appearances. We're down to your last question, Carey. Who started at quarterback for the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV?
C.D. Kerry Collins?
T.P. That's right, good job. Unfortunately for Collins he threw four interceptions and passed for only 112 yards in the 34-7 loss. And finally, Larry, what running back scored on a 74-yard touchdown run en route to winning Most Valuable Player honors for Super Bowl XVIII?
L.F.: Marcus Allen.
T.P. You got it. Allen rushed for 191 yards and scored two touchdowns for the Raiders in their 38-9 victory over the Redskins. Thanks for playing guys.

So there you have it. The Steelers and Cardinals both correctly answered four questions, so if this quiz is any indicator, it should be a pretty good game on Sunday. Final prediction: Steelers 24, Cardinals 23.

Best of luck and thanks to Patrick Ross, Nathan Hodel, Carey Davis, and Larry Foote.