In the absence of Major League Baseball, going to a ballgame meant a trip to Al Lopez Field to see the Class-A Tampa Tarpons of the Florida State League. The
On the afternoon of Aug. 10, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson hosted lunch at his
The contest, dubbed the Suncoast NFL Football Classic, was sponsored by the Tampa Jaycees (Tampa Junior Chamber of Commerce) and spearheaded by Jaycee president Bill Marcum. In the years that followed, Marcum played an instrumental role in bringing the NFL to
The crowd for the game exceeded all expectations. The Jaycees would have broken even at the 20,000 mark, and would have considered 30,000 a major success. More than 42,000 showed up for the game, at the time the largest crowd to ever attend a sporting event on the state’s West Coast. This despite weather reports warning of a 90-percent chance of rain and gridlock in traffic that caused thousands to miss the start of the game. Many, in fact, couldn’t find nearby parking and weren’t able to reach their seats until after the start of the second half.
By contrast, a game played four years earlier had set a low standard for success. The upstart American Football League came to town for an exhibition between the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets on August 9, 1964. The game, held in a breadbox of a stadium called Phillips Field, drew a crowd of only 5,887. To compound the embarrassing attendance, game promoter Mac Mascioli found himself $39,000 in the hole for his efforts. The construction of Tampa Stadium truly paved the way for exhibition games such as these to succeed. While professional teams could be lured to
Many raved about Tampa Stadium, which had just opened in November 1967. Redskin head coach Otto Graham called the turf the best he had ever seen and likened it to a putting green. Bill Kastelz, a reporter for the Jacksonville Times-Union, called the stadium “perfect” and suggested
Certainly the teams on the field didn’t much matter to those in attendance. The Falcons and Redskins hardly represented the best and brightest of the NFL. The Falcons were an expansion team created just two years earlier, and finished the 1967 season with a 1-12-1 record.
The game itself provided plenty of excitement after a scoreless first half.
The Falcons responded just 39 seconds later with a 52-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Randy Johnson to tight end Ray Ogden to make the score 14-3. This set the stage for furious fourth quarter rally by the Redskins.
A 43-yard field goal by Gogolak early in the fourth quarter pulled
On the ensuing kickoff, the Redskins were flagged for offsides, a 5-yard penalty. Taking advantage of the opportunity to kick again,
After the game, Tampa Mayor Dick Greco called the event “a great day for
Even flush with success and pride, not Greco, the game’s organizers nor fans in attendance could have predicted that 40 years later the city would be preparing to host its fourth Super Bowl. The road to Super Bowl XLIII began with the Falcons, Redskins, Bill Marcum and the Jaycees in 1968. The former mayor couldn’t have put it any better when he said: “We owe them a debt of gratitude.”