Monday, October 5, 2009

James Wilder Leads Bucs to Win, 9/30/84

On Nov. 8, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will debut their Ring of Honor during halftime against the Green Bay Packers. Lee Roy Selmon, the team's only player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, will be the first inductee.

The Ring of Honor -- not to be confused with the previous Tampa Stadium Krewe of Honor featuring Selmon, Ricky Bell, Doug Williams and John McKay -- will feature just one inductee per year and include players and coaches who left an indelible mark on the franchise.

One can only speculate who will be the second inductee in 2010, but a sometimes-overlooked player in Buccaneers history merits worthy consideration: running back James Wilder.

Taken in the second round of the 1981 draft out of the University of Missouri, Wilder played nine seasons for the Buccaneers. Arguably the best running back to ever wear a Bucs uniform, against the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 30, 1984, Wilder proved why he should someday join Selmon as an inductee in the Ring of Honor. Consider that just a week earlier, New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor called Wilder the "best back I've ever played against in my life." He then turned in one of his best games of the season against Green Bay.

In front of 47,487 fans at Tampa Stadium, the Buccaneers and Packers both stumbled into the game with matching 1-3 marks. They delivered, however, one of the more exciting games of 1984.

Wilder opened the scoring in the first quarter with a 33-yard touchdown run, at the time the second-longest scoring run by a Buc at Tampa Stadium.

Things quickly took a crazy turn as Tampa Bay linebacker Scot Brantley intercepted Packer Lynn Dickey's first pass of the game. One play later, however, Tim Lewis intercepted Buccaneer Steve DeBerg. It took but one play for Jessie Clark to score on a 43-yard touchdown run to even the game at 7-7.

The teams traded field goals and were tied 10-10 until late in the second quarter. As the half neared its end, DeBerg engineered a 10-play, 83-yard scoring drive capped by his six-yard bootleg run for a touchdown. Leading 17-10 with 30 seconds left in the half, however, the Bucs gave up a quick 4-play drive that resulted in a 51-yard field goal by Packer Eddie Garcia to make the score 17-13 going into the break.

DeBerg's second interception of the game set Green Bay up at the Tampa Bay 16 late in the third quarter. It took 5 plays, but a 4-yard Lynn Dickey touchdown pass to Paul Coffman put the Packers on top 20-17.

The Buccaneers responded on their subsequent drive. Kicker Obed Ariri -- who would successfully kick three field goals of over 40 yards on the day -- nailed a 49-yarder to tie the game at 20.

With 6:35 remaining in the fourth quarter, Bucs nose tackle David Logan seemed to make the play of the game. Logan intercepted a Dickey screen pass and galloped 27 yards to the end zone, giving Tampa Bay a 27-20 lead.

This set the stage for a miraculous Green Bay comeback. Driving late from their own 25 with no timeouts, the Packers made it to the Tampa Bay 36-yard line. With 8 seconds left, Dickey connected with wide receiver James Lofton on a crossing pattern at the Tampa Bay 22. Surrounded by would-be tacklers, Lofton lateraled to running back Gerry Eillis who took it the rest of the way for a game-tying touchdown.

The Bucs lost the coin toss to start overtime, but the defense forced a Green Bay punt. The Packers pinned the Bucs back at their own 2-yard line, however, and Tampa Bay faced an almost-certain defeat if they were unable to change the field position.

James Wilder made one of the biggest plays of the game for Tampa Bay by catching a 20-yard pass from DeBerg to give Tampa Bay some breathing room. Although the Bucs would punt to end the possession, they would start their next drive on their own 33.

Wilder set the tempo for the drive with a 15-yard carry. Eight plays later, the Bucs had advanced to the Packers 31. The Nigerian-born Ariri then calmly drilled a 48-yard field goal with 4:22 left in overtime to give Tampa Bay a 30-27 win.

Wilder's monster 172-yard day on the ground -- with 44 more receiving -- made the victory possible. After the game, he seemed unaware that he'd tied the NFL single-game record with 43 carries.

"I lost count of how many times I carried the ball," he said. "When you gain a yard, you don't think about how many carries you have."

It has been 25 years since Wilder turned in one of the most dominating offensive seasons in NFL history.

In 1984, Wilder set a then-record with 407 rushing attempts, ran for 1,544 yards and caught 85 passes for 685 yards. Although he fell just 15 yards shy of breaking O.J. Simpson's record of 2,243 all-purpose yards in a season, his 492 total touches from scrimmage for the season remains an NFL record to this day. For this and his other career contributions as a Buccaneer, Wilder should one day take his rightful place in the Ring of Honor.

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