Monday, October 12, 2009

Super Saturday in Tampa, 10/11/69

Ever since the University of South Florida began playing football in 1997, local fans have become accustomed to having the Bulls and Tampa Bay Buccaneers play home games on the same weekend. See the Bulls on Saturday, go see the Bucs on Sunday and have a nice football doubleheader.

On a warm fall Saturday 40 years ago, football fans experienced something even better than two games in two days. That's because on October 11, 1969, Tampa Stadium played host to two college football games on the same day, a mega-event that became known as Super Saturday. Prior to the playing of Super Bowl XVIII in 1984, this arguably ranked as the biggest sporting event in Tampa history.

The West Coast Bowl Association, sponsors for the first half of the twin-bill featuring the University of Florida and the Tulane Green Wave, anticipated a sellout crowd approaching 52,000.

Meanwhile, University of Tampa Athletic Director Sam Bailey anticipated a crowd of 23,000 for the nightcap between his Spartans and the University of Tulsa Hurricanes, which would approach the school’s single-game attendance record of 23,865.

Just how did this event come together? For starters, the West Coast Bowl Association purchased the game from Tulane, which had been scheduled to host the Gators in New Orleans. Tulane earned a payday of $105,000, or $610,000 in today’s dollars, while Tampa Stadium reaped the financial rewards that accompanied a local appearance by the Gators.
Some boosters of the University of Tampa, however, saw the Gator game as an intrusion that would overshadow their game. UT simply could not match Florida in terms of prestige, fan support, or sponsorship dollars. Still, hosting both games would be a winning proposition as a whole for the city of Tampa.

There was plenty of off-field entertainment and festivities to go along with the football games as well. Prior to the 2 p.m. Florida-Tulane game, the Florida Alumni Club of Greater Tampa hosted a lunch pep rally at Al Lopez Field. The Columbia Restaurant catered the event, called the “Futbol Fiesta-Dos,” which featured performances by the Gator band and cheerleaders, the Plant High School German band and an appearance by Florida head coach Ray Graves.
Between games, fans could return to Al Lopez Field for the “Super Supper,” an event featuring the Miss Tampa Quarterback beauty contest and a concert by recording artist and Florida orange juice pitchwoman Anita Bryant. For her part, Bryant predicted a Florida win but the Oklahoma-native stopped short of saying Tampa would defeat Tulsa.

“I’m sorry Tampa, but old school ties are there,” she said.

Despite Bryant’s protestations, the Spartans were motivated in this game to avenge a 77-0 thrashing at the hands of the Tulsa Hurricanes two seasons earlier. The Gators, who came into their contest against the winless Green Wave undefeated and ranked 12th in the nation, simply hoped to avoid an upset.

“Tulane always gives us fits,” Graves warned prior to the game.

The “host” Green Wave indeed gave more than fits to Florida - they nearly stole the show.
It took a touchdown in the game’s final minutes by Florida to avoid a huge upset. With 2:10 left, tailback Tommy Durrance scored from 1 yard out to pull Florida within a point of Tulane, 17-16.

Urged on by the partisan crowd of 49,102, Graves signaled that the Gators would go for the win rather than settle for a tie. Robinson High product and Gator quarterback John Reaves tossed a pass to Carlos Alvarez in the end zone for a successful two-point conversion, giving Florida an 18-17 lead. An interception on the ensuing drive preserved the heart-stopping victory for the Gators.

The Spartans had no such difficulties in handling the Hurricanes. Before a below-projected but still healthy crowd of 20,179, the Spartans thoroughly outplayed Tulsa on both sides of the ball. Running backs Bruce Brown and Leon McQuay paced Tampa on the ground, combining for three touchdowns en route to a 31-14 victory.

In all, nobody could ask for a better day. The Gators and Spartans each won, the “Futbol Fiesta” and “Super Supper” were both huge hits, and a total of 63,281 fans turned out at Tampa Stadium on the day. In its own way, the day billed as “Super Saturday” helped set the stage for the many Super Sundays awaiting Tampa’s future.

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