Monday, December 1, 2008

Repus Bowl I, 11/27/83

In mid-November of 1983, Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown contemplated coming out of retirement. Brown wanted to deny Franco Harris, who he deemed an unworthy heir, his all-time NFL rushing record of 12,312 yards.

"I think it's better to die with your boots on like an old soldier," Brown said.

It spoke volumes about the sad state of affairs in Tampa that, even at the age of 47, Brown quickly dismissed the idea of dying like an old soldier in a Buccaneers uniform.

Things were so bad in here during the 1983 season that by Week 13, the Buccaneers had a 1-11 record in the first year of the post-Doug Williams era. Only the Houston Oilers
, also at 1-11, were arguably worse than Tampa Bay.

In a match-up of irresistible force versus immovable object, the Buccaneers and Oilers met at Tampa Stadium on Nov. 27, 1983, to crown the league's worst team. Tampa Tribune columnist Tom McEwen even nicknamed the contest "The Repus Bowl" – super spelled backwards -- in a nod to the game being the exact opposite of the upcoming Super Bowl in Tampa on Jan. 22, 1984.

Tampa Bay head coach John McKay seemingly took little offense at the moniker, saying, "I'm almost beyond the stage of ridicule."

The match-up, however, was not completely without significance. At stake, a claim to the top pick in the 1984 draft. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, the team traded its first-round draft choice in 1984 to the Cincinnati Bengals the previous spring to acquire the third-string quarterback Jack Thompson. Although AFC Central division rivals, the Bengals suddenly had a huge interest in seeing the Oilers defeat the Buccaneers. McKay wasn't so sure when asked if he thought his own team felt the same desire to beat Houston.

"I'd be lying if I said yes," McKay said, "but I haven't seen the opposite either."

McKay could not have anticipated a more opposite result from his team than the one he got that afternoon. In front of a season-low crowd of 38,625 (with 20,474 no-shows), the Buccaneers tied the second-highest scoring output in team history by putting 33 points on the board against the league's 27th-ranked defense. This from a team ranked dead last among all 28 teams in points per game and coming off nine-consecutive scoreless quarters, which actually extended to 10 with a scoreless first quarter.

Nothing could have been quite so unpredictable as quarterback Jack Thompson, nicknamed "The Throwin' Samoan," tossing four touchdown passes, joining Doug Williams as the only the Tampa Bay quarterbacks to accomplish the feat. The Tampa Bay running game, decimated by a season-ending injury to starter James Wilder, got an 80-yard effort from a sore-kneed James Owens, who also ran for a touchdown.

The defense even rebounded with a strong effort, recording three interceptions and two sacks of Houston quarterback Oliver Luck, despite various injuries to starters Lee Roy Selmon, John Cannon, and Scot Brantley.

The Bucs being the Bucs, however, nothing came easily against the Oilers.

Kicker Bill Capece, just two weeks away from being famously declared "kaput" by McKay, missed a 41-yard field goal that would have given the Buccaneers an early 3-0 lead. Following a 6-yard touchdown pass from Thompson to Adger Armstrong on the first play of the second quarter, Capece missed the extra point attempt.

Barely 5 minutes later, Thompson connected on a 25-yard strike over the middle to Kevin House for his second touchdown pass of the game. The Buccaneers again struggled to complete the PAT, this time not even getting a chance to kick due to a poor snap by Jim Leonard. Still, Tampa Bay took a 12-3 lead into the locker room at the half.

The Oilers opened the second half with an 81-yard kickoff return that set up a 1-yard touchdown run by the great Earl Campbell to cut Tampa Bay's lead to 12-10. The rest of the third quarter, however, belonged to Tampa Bay. Thompson made his second touchdown connection of the day with Kevin House, this time on a 41-yard post pattern, and James Owens ran the ball in from 4 yards out to give the Buccaneers a 26-10 lead at the end of the third.

Campbell's second touchdown run of the game early in the fourth quarter added some late drama, but Thompson put the game away with his fourth touchdown pass of the day, a roll-out pass from the 2-yard line to Jim Obradovich. Houston added a late touchdown that amounted to window dressing as the game concluded with Tampa Bay on top, 33-24.

The excitement surrounding Thompson's outstanding performance (17 of 29 passing for 224 yards with 4 TD and no interceptions) could be somewhat tempered by virtue of Houston's terrible defense, but the career backup quarterback acquired for a first-round pick still breathed a sigh of relief.

"I think I'm worth (a No.1 pick)," Thompson said after the game. "I tell you again, it is a long-range judgement, not one to be made quickly."

In John McKay's judgement, for once that season, the Bucs weren't the worst team on the field, let alone the entire league. After the game, McKay boasted "the better team won, so you can knock off that manure you've been putting in the paper about whatever kind of bowl it was supposed to be. If Houston wins another game, they (still) are the worst team."

Houston did win another game to finish 2-14, but the Buccaneers did not and also finished with a 2-14 mark. Jack Thompson's judgement time came during the offseason, when Tampa Bay acquired quarterback Steve DeBerg from Denver to replace him as after just one season as the starter.

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