Monday, September 28, 2009

Hurricanes Top Spartans, 9/28/74

Heading into a September 28, 1974, showdown against the Miami Hurricanes, University of Tampa quarterback Freddie Solomon had every reason to exude confidence.

In a 28-25 loss to San Diego State the previous weekend, the senior rushed for 185 yards on 22 carries, including an 81-yard touchdown run. Veteran San Diego sports scribe Jack Murphy called him “an outstanding back,” while Aztecs head coach Claude Gilbert said
Solomon had earned his vote for the Heisman Trophy.

Meanwhile, Pete Elliott, head coach of the Hurricanes, chimed in with praise for Solomon even as his team prepared to stop the dynamic quarterback.

“Fred Solomon,” Elliott said, “is one of the finest football players I’ve seen. Certainly he’s the most dangerous. His running is something out of this world.”

Miami would need to contain Solomon if they would have any chance of snapping a two-game losing streak to the Spartans. As a sophomore, Solomon led the way for Tampa in a 7-0 triumph over favored Miami in 1972.

In the Hurricanes' favor this time, however, was a human hurricane by the name of Rubin Carter. The nose guard -- who was no relation to boxer Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter and never sat like Buddah in a 10-foot cell -- had just earned the Southeastern Lineman of the Week award for his efforts against the Houston Cougars despite being triple-teamed for most of the day.

“He is a notch above the normal,” Elliott said. “He’s got to be one of the best in the country. You talk about him in a special breath.”

Cut from stone and blessed with above-average speed for a big man at 6 foot 3 and 260 pounds, Carter had the potential to disrupt Tampa’s offense all on his own. The Ft. Lauderdale native earned high praise too from George Gallet, Miami’s sports information director for 38 years, who rated Carter the third-best Hurricane of all-time.

Spartans head coach Dennis Fryzel knew his team would face a daunting challenge against Miami as well. He called the 12th-ranked Hurricanes the best team to come into Tampa since the 1967 Tennessee Volunteers, who christened the new Tampa Stadium with a 38-0 whipping of the Spartans. The Hurricanes would be the first top-20 squad and the highest-ranked team ever to play the Spartans since their showdown against the Vols seven years earlier.

“You want to talk about a complete football team,” Fryzel said, “you talk about the University of Miami.”

The anticipation of seeing stars Solomon and Carter go at it helped push attendance to 41,672 – the second-largest crowd ever for a UT game -- on a warm and humid night at Tampa Stadium. The showdown more than lived up to the hype.

Solomon, as usual, put on a performance that left both sides in awe. The Hurricanes failed to contain Solomon, and he nearly matched his output from the previous week by rushing for 182 yards on 19 carries with three touchdowns -- two by land and one by air.

“Two words, just two words,” Rubin Carter said following the game. “Freddie Solomon.”

A relieved Pete Elliott remarked: “One thing I won’t have to worry about again in my life is how to stop Fred Solomon.”

For all of his efforts, however, the contest is remembered today for two special teams plays that changed the game’s outcome. In the fourth quarter, Miami’s Paul Horschel blocked two Kinny Jordan field goal attempts from 18 and 21 yards.

The last block, coming at the Hurricanes 1-yard line, caused the most distress amongst Spartan fans. Trailing 21-19 with 8:57 left in the game, the Spartans elected to kick a field goal rather than go for a touchdown.

Miami recovered the blocked kick at the 35-yard line, and proceeded to salt away the game on a time-consuming, 65-yard drive that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown run by Don Martin. The Hurricanes took a 28-19 lead, and a too-little, too-late touchdown by the Spartans in the last minute made the final score 28-26.

After the game, Fryzel defended his decision to kick a field goal despite having had an attempt blocked just a few minutes earlier.

“We felt the way that the defense was playing, Miami would not score,” he said. “We would have been ahead 22-21 and that would have been final.”

The Hurricanes may have escaped as victors, but left with more than a little respect for the Spartans.

“That’s one of the fightingest bunch of football players I’ve ever seen,” said Miami quarterback Kary Baker. “They fought us all the way.”

Monday, September 21, 2009

Gators Top the Terps, 9/21/74

While detractors of the University of Florida like to claim the Gators never play non-conference teams on the road, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, 35 years ago the Gators packed their bags to play a road game against the University of Maryland ... in Tampa.

Yes, on Sept. 21, 1974, the Terrapins and Gators squared off at Tampa Stadium in a contest that served as a University of Maryland home game. How did this happen?

After the 1965 season, the two schools signed an agreement to play home-and-home contests. The West Coast Sports Association, the sponsors responsible for bringing Gator games to Tampa, later contacted Maryland about moving the game to Tampa Stadium.

When the agreement between the schools was originally signed, the Gators had just made a Sugar Bowl appearance and the Terrapins were coming off a losing season and head coaching change.

The first game in the series (although the 12th overall) came in 1971, when the Gators barely escaped with a 27-23 win at The Swamp in Gainesville.

Coming into the 1974 meeting, however, the Gators were facing a Maryland team tied with them for the No. 14 ranking in the United Press International poll. The Terrapins finished 1973 with an 8-4 record -- the school's first winning record since 1962 -- and a berth in the Peach Bowl.

Maryland, 0-1 after a close opening loss to top-ranked Alabama, was clearly a favorite to challenge for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. Installed as a six-point favorite against Florida, the Terps figured to give the 1-0 Gators a run for their money.

"I'd have to say when we signed Maryland," said Florida athletic director Ray Graves," the idea was for a breather. Now look what I've gotten (Florida head coach) Doug Dickey into."

The late-arriving crowd of 41,410 knew from the get-go that the game would be no breather for the Gators. On the third play of the game, Florida quarterback Don Gaffney fumbled and Maryland's Harry Walters recover the ball at the Gator 27.

The defense stiffened, however, and limited the Terps to a 31-yard field goal attempt. The kick by Steve Mike-Mayer was good and the Gators quickly trailed 3-0.

The game then settled into a defensive struggle for most of the first quarter. Early in the second quarter, freshman running back Tony Green energized the Gators with two big carries. Running from his own 35-yard line, Green sprinted 35 yards into Maryland territory at the 30-yard line. Just two plays later, Green again broke loose on a marvelous run, breaking two tackles en route to a 26-yard touchdown run. A successful extra point gave Florida a 7-3 lead.

Maryland answered right back with a touchdown of its own. A halfback pass by future Tampa Bay Buccaneer Louis Carter to Walter White set up the Terps at the Florida 7-yard line. John Schultz punched it in two plays later to give his team a 10-7 lead heading into the half.

The third quarter belonged to Florida. The Gators were able to march down the field on their opening drive of the half. Walk-on kicker David Posney attempted a 49-yard field goal -- the longest of his career -- into a strong wind and just barely cleared the uprights to tie the game at 10-10.

Although he missed a 41-yard try later in the quarter, the Gators were imposing their will defensively and a Wayne Fields interception set up Florida in Maryland territory at the 28.

Quarterback Jimmy Fisher of Tampa led the Gators on what would be the deciding scoring drive of the game. On 3rd-and-12 from the Maryland 17, Fisher connected with Plant High product Lee McGriff at the 2-yard line. McGriff then shed two tacklers and found his way into the end zone for the score. Following the successful extra point, Florida took a 17-10 lead into the final quarter.

The teams both played a tight fourth quarter, and Maryland had one quality chance to tie the game late. Facing 3rd-and-2 at the Florida 17, Richard Jennings gained the first down but fumbled after a jarring hit by Tyson Sever. Glenn Cameron recovered for the Gators at the 12 to all but seal the game for Florida with three minutes left in the game.

The win sent the Gators to a 2-0 mark, while the Terps fell to 0-2 on the young season. Maryland would recover, however, and go on to win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. The Gators, meanwhile, slumped later in the season en route to an 8-4 mark and a Sugar Bowl berth.

The Terrapins would ultimately avenge the defeat in Tampa one season later, as the two teams met in the 1975 Gator Bowl, a game Maryland would win 13-0.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Rodney Marsh Testimonial, 9/14/79

Try and imagine an alternate world in which former Buccaneers LB Derrick Brooks -- rather than being released by the team following the 2008 season -- instead decided to retire. The Buccaneers, in a show of respect and gratitude for his 13 years of service, then would announce they would host a game at Raymond James Stadium in his honor.

The Green Bay Packers, a team tormented by Brooks over the years, would graciously provide the evening's opposition. Former Buc Warren Sapp, in a show of solidarity with his longtime teammate, would even agree to make an appearance in a red and pewter uniform for one last hurrah.

Brooks himself would not only play in the game, but act as the head coach of the Buccaneers as well. To top it all off, all financial proceeds from the game would go directly into his own pocket.

In the parlance of the international soccer world, such a game is called a testimonial. While a game of this sort for Brooks or any other football player seems unthinkable, such an event occurred in honor of Tampa Bay Rowdies great Rodney Marsh at Tampa Stadium on Sept. 14, 1979.

Just over one month earlier, Marsh announced that the 1979 season would be his last as an active player for the Rowdies. He planned on calling it quits to pursue a career in coaching, and per the custom common in his native England, Marsh had a testimonial coming his way for his many contributions to the franchise.

The testimonial also gave Marsh the opportunity to go out on his own terms, something that did not happen during the NASL championship game earlier that week.

On Sept. 8 at Giants Stadium, the Rowdies faced off against the Vancouver Whitecaps in Soccer Bowl '79. For the second straight season, the Rowdies found themselves one win away from a championship, and for the second straight season, came up just short.

For Marsh, it was a particularly bitter pill to swallow. Trailing by one goal late in the game, coach Gordon Jago benched Marsh at the 78:32 mark in an effort to bring his team's struggling offense to life. Marsh, for one, didn’t buy the strategy.

"In my opinion, I have played for the Tampa Bay Rowdies for four years," Marsh said after the game," and whenever a clutch play was needed, Rodney Marsh was the one who supplied it. I can't make a clutch play sitting on the bench."

Marsh certainly wouldn't have to worry about being benched by Jago or anyone else in his testimonial game. Jago bowed out of coaching the game, citing his terrible record in "friendlies" and a preference for enjoying the game in the stands with his family. Jago's decision thus left Marsh as the player-coach for the game against Tampa Bay's long-time rivals, the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers.

A crowd of 20,655, as well as former teammates joining the action on the field, turned out to say farewell to Marsh in the first-ever testimonial game to be played in America. Fittingly, the night belonged to Marsh both in spirit and on the field.

He tallied the game's first goal in the 9th minute on a nifty setup by Jan Van Der Veen to give the Rowdies a 1-0 lead.

NASL scoring leader Oscar Fabbiani set up Marsh's second goal in the 39th minute and Perry Van Der Beck added a goal in the second half to round out the scoring for Tampa Bay. Ft. Lauderdale failed to get on the board, and Marsh's playing career in Tampa came to an end with a shutout victory.

A night for Marsh that included two goals, gifts from team sponsors, a plaque from a local 11-year-old and a payday of roughly $50,000 concluded with a gift from Marsh to the fans: his thanks.

Following the game, Marsh retired to Tampa Stadium's press box where he got on the mic to address the crowd.

"I would like to thank the magnificent players of the Tampa Bay Rowdies for four wonderful years," he said. "The spirit on the club is magnificent. There is only one thing better in my mind and that is the spirit of you fans. You have given me four years that I will never forget."

Marsh made one final promise on his way out.

"I'll be back," he said.

True to his word, Marsh returned to coach the Rowdies beginning in 1984 and stayed with the organization as an executive until its dissolution in 1993.

Although 30 years have passed since the testimonial game, Marsh has endured as one of Tampa's most iconic sports figures. Former Rowdies play-by-play announcer Jack Harris recalls what Marsh meant to the community.

"Rodney Marsh made the Tampa Bay Rowdies part of soccer lore," Harris says. "He was the heart and soul of the team and the catalyst for its near- greatness. It was Rodney that people came to see, and he seldom disappointed."

His legacy, however, is perhaps best summarized in his own words.

"I think you won't notice how good Rodney Marsh was for Tampa until he is gone," he once said. "Good for Tampa, good for the Rowdies, on and off the field."

Monday, September 7, 2009

Kosar, Hurricanes Triumph in Tampa, 9/1/84

The Florida Gators and Miami Hurricanes once enjoyed a rich tradition of gridiron competition against each other. Until 1988, the schools met every year beginning in 1938, with the lone exception of 1943, when Florida did not field a team. While the Gators had a history of playing games in Tampa dating back to 1912, their meeting on Sept. 1, 1984, would be the only time these two teams would square off here.

The week leading up to the game found the Gators embroiled in controversy. On Aug. 26, coach Charley Pell announced he would resign at the end of the season. Pell's decision came as the result of an NCAA investigation into Florida's program concerning various significant rules violations.

On the field, the Gators had to cope with the loss of starting quarterback Dale Dorminey, out for the season with a knee injury. The team would turn to a redshirt freshman, Kerwin Bell, to lead the team against a stifling Miami defense.

The Hurricanes, under first-year coach Jimmy Johnson, simply wished to keep up their momentum following an opening week victory over the top-ranked Auburn Tigers. Besides, it wasn't as if they would need any extra motivation against their long-time rival.

"It's a deep hate that goes way, way back,” said Miami defensive end Kevin Fagan. “Us not be up for the Gators? You gotta be kidding."

In front of a sold-out Tampa Stadium crowd of 72,813 - the stadium's second-largest gathering at the time - the Gators and Hurricanes put on a terrific show.

The teams exchanged first-quarter field goals before the action heated up in the second quarter.

Lake Wales native Lorenzo Hampton registered the first big play of the game, a dazzling 64-yard touchdown run. The raucous pro-Florida crowd reveled in their team's 10-3 lead, but the Hurricanes answered with scores on their next three possessions.

Following a Greg Cox field goal, Miami converted a recovered fumble in Gator territory into a touchdown. Running back Darryl Oliver's 21-yard touchdown gave the Hurricanes the lead, 13-10.

Cox added his third field goal of the night after a Miami drive stalled at the Florida 10-yard line, and the Hurricanes took a 16-10 lead into halftime.

Both teams continued playing strong defense in the third quarter, as a pair of field goals were all either offense could muster. Holding onto a tenuous 19-13 lead in the fourth quarter, Miami would soon need to rely on its greatest weapon, quarterback Bernie Kosar.

The second-year signal caller who led his team to a national championship as a freshman showed no signs of going through the so-called "sophomore slump." Facing a thin Florida secondary, Kosar was 25-33 for 309 yards. He would save his best moments, however, for last.

Driving late in the fourth quarter, the Gators seemed to have evened up the game when Kerwin Bell found Frankie Neal in the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown pass. The extra point gave Florida a 20-19 lead with 41 seconds left, still more than enough time for Kosar to work his magic.

After the kickoff, the Hurricanes started at their own 28. On the first play of the drive, Kosar found tight end Willie Smith for a 36-yard gain to the Florida 36. One play later, Kosar completed a 16-yard strike to Eddie Brown that put the ball on the Florida 20, well within Greg Cox's field goal range.

The Hurricanes gained eight yards on their next two plays, the last a handoff designed to center the ball in the middle of the field for the wining kick. With his team facing a third down and time rapidly expiring, Kosar called a timeout. Kosar, in consultation with coach Jimmy Johnson, pleaded for one more offensive play.

"Bernie said he felt we could score a touchdown," Johnson said after the game. "It was a unanimous decision on the part of our coaches."

With just seven seconds left, Kosar fired a perfect strike to Eddie Brown in the end zone to cap a five-play, 76-yard drive that encompassed all of 29 seconds to give Miami a 26-20 lead.
Miami would add to the margin on the final play of the game, as Tolbert Bain intercepted Bell's desperation pass and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown, giving the Hurricanes a 32-20 win over the Gators.

"Words can't describe the feeling," Kosar said after the comeback victory. "We never lost our confidence."

Neither did the Gators. Despite blowing the late lead, Florida in 1984 turned out to be a team good enough to push Miami to the brink. Following a tie with LSU and a victory over Tulane, Florida fired Charley Pell and replaced him with offensive coordinator Galen Hall.

The Gators didn't miss a beat, as Hall led Florida to eight consecutive wins and a 9-1-1 finish. Still, because of NCAA rules violations, the Gators forfeited their SEC championship and were deemed ineligible for postseason competition.

The Hurricanes would not enjoy 1984 nearly as much as Florida. The 'Canes would drop four regular-season games, including two of the most infamous losses in school history: a 42-40 defeat to Maryland in which they blew a 31-point lead, and of course, the Hail Mary loss to Doug Flutie and Boston College.