Monday, March 29, 2010

Arnold Palmer Plays A Round in Tampa, 3/23/65

In February 1964, golfer Arnold Palmer went head-to-head with Jack Nicklaus in an exhibition at the Palma Ceia Golf & Country Club.This marked the first round of golf in Tampa for both of the legends.

Just over one year later on March 23, 1965, Palmer returned to the scene for another 18-hole exhibition, this time with rising star Juan Antonio "Chi-Chi" Rodriguez of Puerto Rico.

The 30-year-old from Rio Piedras already had developed somewhat of a history with Palmer. The two dueled to the finish in the 1964 Western Open, with Rodriguez finishing 16-under to beat Palmer by one stroke for the title. At that time, the Western Open represented Rodriguez's third win on the tour. By contrast, Palmer had already racked up 44 tour wins, seven of which were majors.

As Rodriguez played a practice round at Palma Ceia, Palmer competed in another exhibition with Gary Player at the Lake Region Country Club in Winter Haven and enjoyed a nice afternoon while shooting a 68.

While Palmer had relatively few concerns of his own, Rodriguez arrived in Tampa banged up and struggling with his game. A lingering hand injury from the 1964 Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas forced Rodriguez to wear a heavy leather device to give his thumb support.

Aside from some international tournaments, Rodriguez had only played three events stateside to start the year, and only had $1,000 ($6,782 in today's dollars) in winnings to show for it. He hoped the exhibition against Palmer could help kick-start his season and prepare him for the upcoming Masters.

As one might expect, Rodriguez spoke effusively about Palmer's influence on the sport.
"He's done more for the development of players than anyone in golf," Rodriguez said. "He's done more for golf in every way than anyone else."

Joining Palmer and Rodriguez was local pro and Tampa city champion Paul Tarnow Jr., a member of Palma Ceia who once shot a 64 at the club and most recently a 66. He figured to have somewhat of a home-course advantage - maybe against anyone other than Palmer.

On a warm, bright and windy day, about 1,400 spectators turned out at Palma Ceia for the golf exhibition. Those hoping to see Palmer at his finest were not disappointed. For anyone hoping to see a close match, well, there was always Palmer.

Palmer shot matching 34's on the front and back nine holes to register a 68 on the day. He improved by two strokes his 1964 outing of 70 against Nicklaus on the same course.
Rodriguez, whether due to his nagging injuries or just having an off day, never really found a groove. During his practice round at Palma Ceia, Rodriguez used an inflatable brace on his left elbow designed to keep his swing straight and reduce hooking the ball. Wearing the brace, Rodriguez posted a 70 on the course.

Because the brace could not be worn during tournament play, however, Rodriguez went without the brace and the results showed. He hooked two shots out of bounds, the first coming on the first hole, and quickly dropped too far behind Palmer to make a match of it.

Rodriguez finished with a 75 on the day, and needed two birdies on the final two holes to avoid an even worse fate. He might have even finished below Tarnow, who registered an uncharacteristic 78 on the afternoon.

"It was disappointing, I'll say that," Tarnow said after the match.

Palmer, however, offered some encouragement when he saw Tarnow struggling out on the course.

"We were walking down the fairway," Tarnow said, "and Palmer came over to me. He told me to slow up, quit rushing. He said Chi-Chi and he knew what I was going through. I did that and played better. He was real nice. Now, I wouldn't take anything for the experience."

As for Palmer and Rodriguez, it would not be long before the two met again. On April 25, Palmer avenged his Western Open setback to Chi-Chi, capturing the 1965 Tournament of Champions by three strokes over the runner-up Rodriguez. For Palmer, this came on the heels of a second-place finish at the Masters behind Nicklaus, and would be "The King's" sole tournament victory of 1965.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Catching Up With Peter Anderson

Peter Anderson, a native of London, England, came to the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 1978 via a trade with the San Diego Shockers of the North American Soccer League. The midfielder played three seasons with the Rowdies and was a major contributor to the team's back-to-back appearances in the league's Soccer Bowl championship games in 1978 and 1979. In March 1980, Anderson scored the game-winning goal in the NASL indoor season championship against Memphis. Today, Anderson serves as president and CEO of Bayshore Technologies in Tampa. He recently sat down to talk about his soccer career and memories of the Rowdies.

Q. What was your first impression of Tampa?

A. My first impression was: this is a really cool place to play. I came here to play a game with San Diego, who I was playing for then, in 1978. In San Diego, our crowds were around 10,000. We played here in a mid-week game and it was like 35,000. The fans were great, friendly. The whole place was just electric. I knew I wanted to come here.
About three weeks later, San Diego's general manager called me into the office and told me that there was an issue with the coach. He said it was like a marriage. Some of them work out, and some of them don't. This one, he said, doesn't, and we're going to trade you. He said that I could be traded to any of six different teams. He told me the teams, and one of them was Tampa. I told him I wanted to go Tampa. He said, "I thought you would say that, and here's your ticket." He had an airline ticket for Tampa ready to go!

Q. Your first visit to Tampa must have made a lasting impression on you.

A. The whole thing. Everything was very professional and crisp. It was just a model franchise. I never experienced anything like it before or after. It's hard to explain it, but it's very special. The front office were friends with the players, everyone was very connected.
It's kind of interesting because even now when someone recognizes you, it brings a smile to your face. I was at a youth baseball game the other day and an older guy came up and said, "You're coaching baseball now? I remember you when you were on the Rowdies." The first thing I think is: "How can people possibly remember 30 years ago?"

Q. The Rowdies had a unique bond with the fans you don't see nowadays.

A. It was just a lot of fun. The people were neat people. It wasn't fan worship or anything like that, just nice people. I met the Maniscalco family during my first couple weeks in Tampa. They are still my friends today. I go to their weddings, the weddings of their grandchildren now. The mother, Mary, called me her English son. It's more than just playing for a team. I've made friendships to last the rest of my life.

Q. It must have helped that you played on some pretty good teams, too.

A. We had good teams, we had a good mix. Everybody enjoyed being here. It was a happy team, at least during my three years with the Rowdies. When you've got that mix, everyone's happy, they want to play for the team, you're going to be successful. I think we were successful during those three years I was here -- nothing particular to do with me -- it just so happened to be here at the right time.

Q. What do you remember about the Soccer Bowl in 1978 against the New York Cosmos?

A. I remember an hour before the game, our coach, Gordon Jago, came up to me and said that Rodney Marsh isn't going to play. This was the first time I knew that there was an injury problem with Rodney. I was a midfielder, and he said that I was going to have to play up front and captain the team. That was kind of shocking, so late in the proceedings. It threw us off a little bit.

I remember Roberta Flack singing the national anthem. I thought that was pretty cool. I remember walking onto the field at Giants Stadium and thinking this must be how the Romans must have felt. The place was packed and the seats go straight up. There were rings of people. I remember, obviously, losing the game. I always felt it was a little bit unfair that we had to play in Giants Stadium on their home field. They played on AstroTurf, and our field here was on grass. When we played them down here, we had a distinct advantage. We lost 3-1. I think we were all gutted. We felt like we'd let down the fans. I don't think that I had a good game, so I don't have many good memories of it at all. I have a copy of the game at home, but I've never brought myself to watch it. So I really must not have had a good game. (laughs)

Q. Winning the NASL Indoor championship in 1980 must have felt like redemption after two consecutive seasons of falling short in the title game, right?

A. Yeah, we beat Memphis. I scored the winning goal in the final. I remember scoring the goal and the whole place erupted. The guys that played in the two losing finals felt like they let down the fans a bit, so it was nice. We all knew were capable of it as well. The team had very high expectations, and we went into games expecting to win. We had a good team. We didn't have too many superstars, and everybody was about the same kind of player. I enjoyed it. It's always better to win. I remember those games a lot more. The losses I kind of erase from my memory.

Q. Why do you think that the relationship between the fans and the Rowdies has endured after all this time?

A. I think it's because the Rowdies had an unbelievable road map of success. There would be people who didn't know the rules of soccer, never kicked the ball, who would come to the games. We would do clinics almost daily with high schools and middle schools, or being out in the community doing charity events. We were playing in summer months as well. There wasn't professional baseball yet, and the Bucs had just started and they weren't very successful. There's not the huge competition that there is now for the entertainment dollar.

I think it was a family sport. It was an experience to go to a soccer game. They may not have understood it so much, but it was a show. The Rowdies did a great job of putting on a show. The players bought into it and people had fun. The people who tell me about going to the games when they were younger use the word "fun." They remember going to the games with their parents and having fun. That's what sports should be. It gets almost too complicated now. We analyze it so much that we lose the fun part of it. I'm trying to teach my children to have fun with sports. There's so much pressure on people to win and they are only 10 years old. It's okay to lose. That sounds very un-American, but at that age they should just love the sport. There'll be plenty of time to have the pressure of performing. I've got some opinions about that, but I'll save that for another day. (laughs)

Q. A former teammate of yours, Farrukh Quraishi, is part of the effort to bring the World Cup to Tampa in 2018 or 2022. Do you think Tampa has a chance to become a host city?

A. I'm also on the World Cup committee with Farrukh, and have known him for over 30 years. He's an unbelievably talented and passionate man about soccer. I'm very proud of what he's done, and he's been like that ever since I met him. He had a lot more vision about what he was going to do after soccer than anyone I ever met in the sport. He wanted to do the camps because he'd get to meet people. He's a connector, and he's a very connected person. He ran the Orlando site in 1994 for the World Cup. So he's had a huge amount of responsibility on his shoulders and I think he's doing a fantastic job. He's got his heart in it and he's Tampa through and through.

I think Tampa is very lucky to have him, and I think that Tampa will get the games. Whether it is in 2018 or 2022, I think Tampa will be one of the premiere sites. Raymond James Stadium is made for soccer. That's why we didn't get it in 1994. It had nothing to do with the fan base or anything else. The Culverhouses wouldn't spend the money to make Tampa Stadium a soccer-friendly stadium. This stadium is clearly made for soccer. I think we'll get four or five games and I think this town's economic impact will be unbelievable. I hope it's in 2018. If it gets to 2022, I'll be in the wheelchair section watching it. (laughs)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Negro League Baseball in Tampa, circa late 1930s

The Pepsi Cola Giants were one of the many semi-professional baseball teams once located in the Tampa Bay area and showcased some of the best African American talent in the state. This image, taken in the late 1930s, came during a time when teams such as the Giants served as feeders for professional Negro League teams. The best of the best from local semi-pro teams were likely to be signed by major clubs such as the New York Black Yankees, Indianapolis Clowns and Newark Eagles.

This photograph features players such as Alex Broome, “Schoolboy” Allen, Adam Young, John McQueen, Nathaniel Davis, Tete Guzman, Red Lopez, “Mutt” Brooks, J.B. Broome, John Gibbons, and Pepsi Cola Giants owner George Morris.

The Tampa Bay History Center is currently hosting an exhibit on loan from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum called “Shades of Greatness: Art Inspired by the Negro Leagues Baseball.” The exhibit, which also features a component highlighting local Negro League players from the Tampa Bay area, runs through April 25.

Photograph Courtesy of Special & Digital Collections, Tampa Library, University of South Florida

Monday, March 8, 2010

Long Day at the Sombrero, 3/3/85

By the spring of 1985, the Tampa Bay Bandits – then in the third season of their existence – had come to be known as one of the most innovative and entertaining teams in all of the USFL. Their style, which under the leadership of head coach Steve Spurrier featured the use of trick plays, unique formations and reliance on a vertical attack, became known as “Banditball.”

On March 3, 1985, a different but equally entertaining kind of offense rolled into Tampa, one which generated an obscene amount of yardage and for which most defenses had no way to consistently stop. The offense – dubbed the run-and-shoot and quarterbacked by former University of Miami star Jim Kelly -- had become the talk of the league.

Just one week earlier, Kelly led the Houston Gamblers to a 34-33 come-from-behind win over Steve Young’s Los Angeles Express. In that game, Kelly threw five touchdown passes, going 35-for-54 with a league-record 574 passing yards. For some perspective, Norm Van Brocklin of the Los Angeles Rams, who threw for 554 yards in a game in 1951, still holds the NFL record for most passing yards in a game.

The run-and-shoot offense seemed like a perfect fit for Kelly, a smart quarterback capable of making quick decisions and having the accuracy to hit receivers who would adjust their routes based on what the defense gave them. The offense – which thrived on creating mismatches – featured four receivers and a lone running back, while eschewing tight ends or fullbacks.

This created the potential for a big play on any play, and Kelly excelled in the system. The season prior in 1984, Kelly earned USFL MVP honors after throwing for 5,219 yards and 44 touchdowns.

Needless to say, the Bandits understood that they would have their hands full while entertaining Kelly and the Gamblers at Tampa Stadium. Free safety Zac Henderson, one of the defensive players responsible for making on-field defensive adjustments to Houston’s varied formations, anticipated a challenging afternoon.

“Everything happens so quickly,” he said before the game. “They can flood the field with three receivers on one side, so it will be important for us to take the deep pattern away and make them throw short.”

Nearly 30,000 fans endured what Spurrier called the “longest day in Bandits history.” Simply put, Tampa Bay was outplayed by Houston in all facets of the game and found themselves down by two touchdowns in the first quarter. While the defense held the Gamblers to just one first-quarter touchdown -- a four-yard pass from Kelly to Richard Johnson -- Tampa Bay’s special teams contributed greatly to its early hole.

Right after Gary Anderson 5-yard rush provided the game’s opening touchdown for Tampa Bay, the Bandits surrendered a 94-yard kickoff return touchdown by Clarence Verdin to even the score at 7. Then, trailing 14-7, the Bandits gave up another touchdown, this time a 79-yard punt return by Gerald McNeil to make the score 21-7.

“It started getting out of hand after that,” Spurrier said.

Houston extended its lead in the second quarter, this time on Kelly’s second touchdown toss of the day, a 13-yard pass to Vince Courville that made the score 28-7. The Bandits answered on their ensuing drive, as quarterback John Reaves found Spencer Jackson for a 14-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit in half. Houston then tacked on a 31-yard field goal at the end of the quarter and took a 31-14 lead into the locker room.

If any team in the USFL had a chance to make up a 17-point deficit, it was Spurrier’s Bandits. The third quarter began promisingly enough as Reaves connected with Eric Truvillion for a 3-yard touchdown pass to make the score 31-21.

The Bandits had life, but not for long as Kelly engineered two touchdown drives in 2:30, connecting on strikes of 58 yards to McNeil and 20 yards to Verdin to give Houston a commanding 45-21 lead.

With the game out of hand, Spurrier pulled Reaves to start the fourth quarter in favor of backup quarterback Jimmy Jordan. Jordan found rookie receiver Steve Carter for a 52-yard touchdown pass, but that would be the high point of his afternoon. Jordan would throw four interceptions in his stint and get sacked in the end zone for a safety.

The Gamblers went on to win the contest 50-28, the most points ever given up by the Bandits in their three-year history. The teams also combined to set two USFL records: most passing attempts in a game (103) and most return yardage (370).

For his part, Kelly posted only “pedestrian” numbers by his standards, completing 19 of 31 attempts for 261 yards and four touchdowns in just three quarters of action. The Bandits conceded after the game that Kelly, and the run-and-shoot offense, more than lived up to the hype.

“It was frustrating,” said nose tackle Fred Nordgren. “When he rolls back there and delivers the ball as fast as he does, you have to sprint back to the ball. You don’t just rush the passer. You have to read which way he’s going to roll. It’s a simple offense. What makes it tough is the way they execute.”

Cornerback Alvin Bailey put it more bluntly.

“We knew going in that we weren’t going to stop them,” he said. “We just wanted to slow them down some.”

Strong safety Doug Beaudoin, even more so.

“Thank God we only play them once a year,” he said.

In two seasons in the USFL, Kelly racked up 9,842 total passing yards and 88 touchdown passes. While he would go on to see even more success during a prolific career in the NFL, it would not come in the run-and-shoot system. Instead, Kelly helped revolutionize the no-huddle attack as a member of the Buffalo Bills en route to his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Monday, March 1, 2010

S.O.S. for Spartans football, 2/27/75

With the University of Tampa's football program on life support, a massive effort began to convince the school’s board of trustees not to eliminate the program. The “Save Our Spartans” campaign gained traction as community leaders and local football fans truly realized the urgency of the situation.

With the board’s decision due Feb. 27, 1975, supporters of the football program had less than a week to raise money and rally the troops in the sport’s defense. Billboard space all over the bay area and ads in the local newspapers were purchased to raise awareness. Football players took to the streets, passing out leaflets and pledge cards urging support for the program.

Said Marvin Scott of The Sword and Shield Club, the primary fundraising group for University of Tampa athletics: “I just can’t give up until they absolutely say we’re dead.”

If Scott and others hoped to generate renewed support for the program, they were unlikely to find it in the most likely of places: the university’s campus. A petition endorsing the finance committee’s recommendation to drop football was signed by 80 percent of university faculty. The student government, meantime, didn't show a strong response in either direction. If anything, a feeling of indifference permeated the discussion.

The student newspaper, The Minaret, ran an issue debating the pros and cons of dropping the football program. The front page headline summed up the newspaper's conclusion: "Drop Football Now."

Everyone seemed to agree that even if the program survived, expenses had to be cut. One way to save money, besides curtailing travel, would be to return to NCAA Division II status. The program moved up to Division I in 1971, and thus earned the prestige that accompanies such status. Despite producing numerous NFL players, the Spartans did not have a realistic shot at winning national titles or even playing in major bowl games. But if moving back to Division II meant football would still be played at Tampa Stadium on Saturdays, it had to be considered.

By Feb. 27, nearly $110,000 ($436,000 in today’s dollars) had been pledged to save the program. An impressive number, but still well short of the $200,000 suggested by the executive committee that might buy the Spartans at least one more year on the gridiron.

Jim Metcalf, president of the local chapter of University of Tampa alumni, said the effort to save football was worthwhile despite the long odds.

“The community is rallying behind something that has so long been a part of the University of Tampa,” he said. “The point is we are trying to help what we regard as an integral part of the University of Tampa. We feel that football makes the University of Tampa all the more part of this community.”

He added, however, that “if we can be shown that there simply is no way for football to make it, that it is not worth the money and the effort, then we’ll say so long.”

Late in the afternoon Feb. 27, the board of trustees of the University of Tampa said “so long” to football after 41 seasons.

In a 16-9 decision, the board voted to end the program effective immediately, rather than playing one final season in the fall. University president Dr. Bob Owens called it a “milestone decision at the University of Tampa,” while chairman of the board Harris Mullen called it a difficult and emotional decision.

“Football is a wonderful sport,” he said, “but it boils down to the cost being too great, and the risk being too high.”

Head coach Dennis Fryzel likened the news to the death of a close family member.

“This is an extremely sad day for the city of Tampa,” Fryzel said. “This is a community football team. When you can get 40,000 people to a game like Miami, it shows you’ve got the community, the people on your side.”

Karl Funds, who served as the editor-in-chief of The Minaret in 1975, today looks back at the decision with no regrets.

“The university absolutely could not have survived,” he says. “There was not big enough money in this town 35 years ago to support the program.

There were a few voices – a few – that were loud and had some money and power behind them. The S.O.S campaign was a valid effort, but it was too little too late. They had a right to be heard, but the football program was bleeding. The facts were overwhelming. It really wasn’t a choice.”

Former University of Tampa strong safety Rick Thomas (1970-71) believes that, on the contrary, the program might have thrived if given an opportunity to succeed.

“It was too bad that it happened so quickly,” he says. “Holding on a few more years would have made a huge difference. People forget the University of Miami considered dropping football in the 1970s, too, and now look at them.”

No one will ever know whether the program could have survived beyond 1975, but in a cruel twist of fate, Thomas says players themselves may have helped decide the program’s fate.

“Originally when the board of trustees said they were going to eliminate the program, it was meant to be after the 1975 season,” Thomas says. “The underclassman wanted to leave and go somewhere they had a chance to play or even start. The team captain, Ben Hoover, went in front of the board and told them if they wanted to drop the program, to do it now.

We had recruits and players who transferred to big-time programs all over the country who’d become All-Americans, and eventually go on to play in the NFL. With just a little more patience,” he says, “who knows what kind of national recognition the program would have given us.”