Monday, June 28, 2010

Rowdies Rebound Against Sockers, 6/25/80

“Words come easy,” said Tampa Bay Rowdies head coach Gordon Jago, “but it is action that counts.”

Heading into a June 25, 1980, showdown at Tampa Stadium against the San Diego Sockers, the Rowdies were most certainly a team ready for action. A treacherous month of play on the road left the team in desperate need of some home cooking. A rash of injuries and an inability to win on the road resulted in three consecutive away defeats.

Consider, the Rowdies were 7-1 at home, where they outscored their opponents by a 21-12 margin. On the road, however, Tampa Bay sported a disappointing 3-6 mark and averaged just 1.1 goals per game. The team’s most recent road trip featured a 4-1 loss at Minnesota, and a 2-0 defeat at Rochester in unseasonable 40 degree weather.

Sidelined by groin injuries were midfielder Peter Baralic, striker Oscar Fabbiani, and defender Manny Andruszewski.
Jago hoped to err on the side of caution before rushing any of the players back onto the field. Injuries had been a recurring theme throughout the season and Jago needed his players to fully-recovered for his team to have any chance at making a return to the league championship game.

Injuries aside, Jago wondered, as did many in the media and “Fannies” throughout Tampa Bay, why the team struggled so mightily on the road. Not only that, but why the Rowdies failed to even resemble the team normally so strong on the home pitch of Tampa Stadium. He questioned the effort of his team – without singling out anyone in particular – in the game against Rochester, when the Rowdies failed to generate any real scoring chances.

The team’s attitude, he felt, had to improve starting with San Diego.
Several members of the Rowdies, however, we just tired of hearing about their team’s road woes.

“All this talk about the road makes me a little sick,” said team captain Jan Van Der Veen. “I think we talk too much about it. I don’t think it’s a big dilemma now, but it could be if we continue to talk about it.”

Defender John Gorman said, “I don’t think we’re in a crisis just yet.”

Rather than dwelling on the negative, Mike Connell, one of the team’s leaders, saw the upcoming game as a chance for redemption.

“We’re in front of our fans and I don’t think there’s any doubt that we will play better and win.” Connell proved accurate on both counts.

In front of a welcoming crowd of 23,911 at Tampa Stadium, the Rowdies produced another dominant home performance.
Midfielder Peter Anderson, who had recently been converted to forward due to the team’s rash of injuries, got things started for the Rowdies at 24:55 of the first half. Striker Neill Roberts got the play going by intercepting a clearing attempt by San Diego defender Martin Donnelly. What followed were a series of pinpoint passes between Roberts, Anderson and Steve Wegerle. Anderson then converted Wegerle’s feed past San Diego goalie Volkmar Gross for the opening score.

The goal must surely have felt like sweet redemption for Anderson, who had become -- in the eyes of many fans --one of the scapegoats for the team’s poor road play in June.
He played an all-around superb game, registering several other chances including a header that just missed in the opening minutes of the second half.

Not long after that, a ball passed by Wegerle and intended for Anderson ended up on the foot of Keith Bailey. The 18-year-old rookie, playing in just his third professional game, calmly hit the top-shelf just past the finger tips of Gross to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead at 62:47.

Wegerle’s second assist of the game catapulted him past Rodney Marsh in the Tampa Bay record book for most career assists with 51. The Rowdies were thwarted on a few more scoring chances, but were able to shut down San Diego the rest of the way and hang on for the 2-0 victory.

“These boys have gone through a hell of a month,” Jago said after the game, “and it was very good to see them get this victory.”

Anderson too relished the victory in light of the criticism directed his way and to that of his teammates.

“If players say I can’t play, it’s time to get out,” Anderson said. “But all the players came up to me before the game and said they’re behind me 100 percent. That’s a good feeling.”

Today, Anderson looks back on the controversy of that week as a turning point in his career.

The week before, one of our forwards (Oscar Fabbiani) was injured, and Coach Jago asked me to do the team a favor and play his position, Anderson recalls. I was also injured and could hardly walk at the time, but he insisted on taking me on the road trip. We had a week's rest after that trip right before we played San Diego at home.

During our final training session before that game, Jago told me that Fabbiani was fit, he was dropping me to the bench, and he was not going to put me back in my normal mid-field position. While he was talking to me, behind his back Fabbiani literally went down with an injury in a scrimmage that team was playing at the end of practice. I told Jago that I would never play out of position again, and that he might want to rethink his strategy regarding Fabbiani, as he was lying on the floor with a bad injury.

I must have been the only option because he quickly apologized and asked me to play out of position again for the 'team and the fans.' It was nice to score the winning goal, but my relationship went downhill with the coach. I played every minute of every game, but it was not the happy marriage it once had been.

For one night, however, the Rowdies were back in top form and within two points of first place Fort Lauderdale in the standings. Still, this team would eventually have to conquer their demons on the road and overcome numerous injuries if they hoped to be a team of action come playoff time.

* written by Travis Puterbaugh

Monday, June 21, 2010

Meet Buccaneer Bruce, 6/14/75

In April 1974, the National Football League announced that a new franchise would be placed in Tampa beginning in 1976. A name-the-team contest sponsored by WFLA radio took place nine months later in which the name Buccaneers was selected over other choices such as Sailors, Buzzards, and Coastal Tides.

Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse then commissioned renowned Tampa Tribune artist-cartoonist Lamar Sparkman to take the next step and design the team’s logo. On June 14, 1975, the Buccaneers finally gained an identity when the team revealed their colors and new look to the public.

The end result was one of the most unique looks in all of football and a logo that would be the subject of debate for decades.

The colors – orange, red and white – were each selected for a particular purpose. Orange, which would serve as the team’s primary color, reflected the area’s ties to the citrus industry as well as warm, Florida sunshine. Red, while also reflecting warmth, is a power color that symbolizes “courage and fortitude in battle.”

Originally, the team hoped to go with an orange, white and green color scheme. These colors, however, too closely resembled the uniforms of Florida A&M University, and even more importantly, the Miami Dolphins. Rather than risk upsetting the Dolphins, the Buccaneers hoped to create their own identity with a color-scheme unique to the NFL.

The Buccaneers also announced that the team would go with a basic white uniform for most home games. This would conceivably give the home team an advantage in warm weather games against opponents wearing dark jerseys such as the Chicago Bears or Oakland Raiders.

Speaking of the Raiders, the team went to great lengths to avoid creating a logo that would too closely resemble that of Oakland’s own pirate. The Oakland Raiders logo, of course, features a pirate with a patch over his right eye and two swords crossing in the background.

The Tampa Bay look needed to present a clear distinction between a pirate and a buccaneer. Sparkman said that he used noted swashbuckling actor Errol Flynn, smuggler Jean Lafitte and the Musketeer D’Artagnan as inspirations for his design.

This would be perfect for Sparkman, who grew up drawing pirates and created countless pieces of Gasparilla-themed artwork during his career. His goal was to create a character that was “a cavalier, not a hairy-legged slob.”

Thus, Tampa Bay’s buccaneer would be unlike any traditional pirate-themed logo. The character which came to be known as “Buccaneer Bruce” or “Bucco Bruce” would not wear an eye patch. Instead, one of his eyes would be winking. Rather than swords, he would clench a dagger between his teeth. Finally, the buccaneer would wear a wide-brimmed plumed hat.

“The plume feather adds class,” Sparkman said. “I put the dagger in his mouth to add aggression, and then had him wink. It is a half wink and half sneer.”

James M. “Red” McEwen, the chairman of the team’s advisory committee, loved everything about the look.

“I think what we wanted was a sort of high-class cut-throat, and we got him,” said McEwen.
“We believe the colors, the emblems and the uniform styles are most suitable and genuinely represent Tampa Bay.”

Over time, the logo and colors would unfortunately become more associated with a losing tradition than anything else. Through no fault of Sparkman’s, the Buccaneers on the field often failed to embody the ideals associated with his design: courage, gallantry and victory.

In years when the team enjoyed success – particularly during the team’s breakthrough season of 1979 -- there were few complaints to be made about the logo or colors. During the bad times, such as the 0-26 start from 1976-77 or the 14-consecutive losing season from 1983-96,

“Buccaneer Bruce” and the so-called “Creamsicle” uniforms became convenient scapegoats.
That the team’s fortunes began to turn around in 1997 when a new logo and color-scheme were unveiled has lent further speculation to the theory that somehow the original colors and logo were factors in the team’s poor results.

Recently, however, the colors and “Buccaneer Bruce” logo have enjoyed a renaissance with the team and fans. Last season, the Buccaneers donned the original colors for the first time since 1996 in a turn-back-the-clock game against the Green Bay Packers. The orange-and-white themed game brought back positive memories for so many people and proved to be a highlight in an otherwise dismal pewter-and-red season.

Sadly, Sparkman passed away this past January at the age of 88. Fortunately, however, he was able to witness the public’s fondness and respect for his iconic creation one final time.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The End of "Banditball," 6/15/85

On March 6, 1983, football fans in the Tampa Bay area were officially introduced to a new product. The Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL were brash, exciting, and advertised as “All the Fun the Law Allows.”

In their first regular season game, the Bandits defeated the Boston Breakers 21-17 in front of a crowd of 42,437 at Tampa Stadium. The era of “Banditball” had begun. Just slightly over two years later, this enjoyable era of spring football was about to come to a premature end.

As the 1985 season drew to a close, the Bandits were a franchise in a state of disarray. Its managing general partner, John Bassett, had been waging a losing battle against inoperable brain tumors and no longer had day-to-day involvement with the franchise. In fact, Bassett had no intention of owning the team beyond the 1985 season.

Even the Bandits -- a model franchise on and off the field -- were not immune to the financial difficulties facing the troubled USFL. On June 12, Bandit management had to call in letters of credit from its limited partners for $200,000 each. Still, the team was better off financially than any other team in the league. As general manager Ralph Campbell described them, they were the best of the worst.

No one was quite sure, however, what would happen to the team after the season. Numerous options were on the table for the franchise. The team could be sold and moved to another market, merged with an existing team, or remain in Tampa under new ownership and play again in the fall of 1986. Due to Bassett’s failing health, his idea to form a new spring league was simply no longer on the table.

On the field, the Bandits had once owned a league-leading 9-3 record and seemed to be the class of the USFL. After a franchise-worst four-game losing streak, however, a trip to the playoffs was no longer even a foregone conclusion.

Injuries and locker room disruptions also played a part in the team’s sudden demise.
The Bandits, never a dominant team on defense, could not overcome injuries to key defensive players such as Fred Nordgren and Kelly Kirchbaum.

On the other side of the ball, Eric Truvillion, the team’s all-time leading receiver, became the star of an ongoing drama between himself and head coach Steve Spurrier. It finally came to a head on June 13 when the Bandits deactivated Truvillion from the roster, effectively ending his career in Tampa Bay.

“If you feel like you have a player who is disruptive,” Spurrier said, “you remove him, and that’s what has happened. Something that had been going on for a long time finally came to a head.”

Remarkably, the Bandits could still lose their two remaining games, and with one loss by the Jacksonville Bulls, sneak into the playoffs. Even more remarkably, the Bandits were still in a position to host a playoff game based on the USFL’s prerogative to award home-field advantage based on attendance. The Bandits ranked second in the entire league, trailing only Jacksonville.

The Birmingham Stallions, with a league-best 12-4 mark, came riding into Tampa for the last regular season game – and potentially final ever Bandits game -- at Tampa Stadium on June 15, 1985.

On “Fan Appreciation Night,” the Bandits gave the roughly 24,000 who showed up some positives lasting images to remember, although the team struggled to put up any points for most of the first half.

An 11-play, 92 yard drive culminated in a three-yard touchdown toss from Birmingham’s Cliff Stoudt to Jim Smith midway through the first quarter. This accounted for the only scoring until the final minute of a half which had featured an assortment of turnovers, missed field goals, punts, and stalled drives.

Trailing 7-0 with 1:51 left, Bandit quarterback John Reaves engineered a perfect two-minute drill, taking his team seven plays for a game-tying touchdown. Reaves found receiver Spencer Jackson in the end zone from five yards out to send the Bandits into the locker tied 7-7 at the half.

In the third quarter, the Bandits intercepted Stoudt three times, and were able to convert the second pick into go-ahead points. A 34-yard field goal by Zenon Andrusyshyn at 7:18 of the third quarter gave Tampa Bay a 10-7 lead.

Stoudt’s third interception – and second of the game by Dwayne Anderson – led to a 12-yard rushing touchdown by Gary Anderson at the 1:09 mark of the third quarter. Heading into the final quarter of USFL football at Tampa Stadium, the Bandits held a 17-7 lead.

The defense, which had given up 132 points during the team’s four-game losing streak, had somehow held Birmingham to just seven points despite losing battles in time of possession, total yardage, and first downs. Turnovers proved the difference, as Tampa Bay produced five interceptions and made other critical stops to snuff out Birmingham drives. The Stallions would not get on the board again until the waning seconds of the game, an ultimately meaningless touchdown pass that narrowed the final score to 17-14.

This game marked the only time in team history that the Bandits won at Tampa Stadium by scoring fewer than 19 points.

“It was the first time in three years we beat a good team and really didn’t play well on offense,” Spurrier said after the game. “Obviously the name ‘Banditball’ turned into defense tonight.”

With a playoff berth assured through victory and a Jacksonville loss, the Bandits closed out the regular season the following weekend with a disheartening loss on the road to the Baltimore Stars. Turnovers on their first four possessions – and six overall – doomed the Bandits to a 38-10 defeat.

Tampa Bay finished the season with a 10-8 mark, the worst of any qualifying playoff team. Despite their stellar home attendance marks, the league sent the Bandits to the west coast for their first-round playoff game against the Oakland Invaders.

A crowd of just under 20,000 fans watched the Bandits play valiantly, but ultimately fall to the top-ranked Invaders, 30-27.

Out of the playoffs and with an ultimately doomed future, the curtain had finally come down on the memorable three-year run of “Banditball.”

Monday, June 7, 2010

Catching Up With Jim McVay

From 1982-1986, Jim McVay served as the Director of Marketing for the Tampa Bay Bandits of the United States Football League. During that time, he devised the marketing strategies for the most innovative and fan-friendly product in the entire league. Today, McVay serves as the President/CEO of the Outback Bowl, one of the most popular and successful games of the college bowl season. McVay recently sat down to reflect on the era of good times and fun known around these parts as “Banditball.”

Q. What were the challenges of introducing a new football team into this market?

A. The Bucs were not successful when we started out. They were getting ready to go on strike. Nobody liked Hugh Culverhouse. He was not universally accepted. The guy wouldn’t spend any money on the team. Then the labor strike during the 1982 season enabled us to get the door open.

Then along came John Bassett hiring good-looking Steve Spurrier, a Heisman Trophy-winner from Florida with a great reputation. You had John Reaves, Jimmie Jordan, Florida, Florida State, Miami kids with local connections. Then you had Burt Reynolds, the number one box office draw. Back then was bigger than Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, all these guys combined. He was number one by far. Jerry Reed did our in-stadium music.

So here comes this fun, show-bizzy atmosphere built around Steve Spurrier and his wide-open offense. You talk about putting it together with a marketing blueprint. We had all the elements lined up. You have to have the right product, you have to have the right promotion, you have to have the right packaging, and you have to have the right pricing. It was a wonderful combination, and that’s why the Bandits did so well. It’s the other teams in the USFL that struggled a little. Not everybody was as well-managed as the Bandits and had the same organizational philosophy as John Bassett.

Q. Why is it that the Bandits seemed to have figured out the secret to succeeding, but so many other markets struggled?

A. If everybody would have followed John’s blueprint, the league would have had a chance. What really caused the problems was losing control of the salary parameters that had been established for the players. You don’t need to pay the players a ton of money. You hire a couple of high-priced guys and pay them some glamour money. When you start competing with the NFL, position by position, salary for salary when their revenues dwarf ours, sooner or later owners are going to say, “Why are we taking these losses?” That’s where the league got in trouble. Too many owners were spending money they didn’t have.

Q. Was this a league-wide problem or just a few rogue owners?

A. There were a few rogue owners, but it’s tough to tell guys who are multi-millionaires or billionaires how to run their business. They’ll do what they want to do. But what needed to be done was to get everyone to agree to stay within a certain financial parameter that met our television revenue and projected gates so that we could sustain ourselves and build an audience year after year. Then you get your larger television ratings and then your gate grows. Guys got ahead of themselves, didn’t like the idea of losing games, so they started throwing money at different players and positions that really didn’t make sense in our league. There is a market and there is a need for spring football. We really could have made that thing work, but guys got a little anxious, got a little spendy, and that’s how we got in trouble.

Q. The Bandits were known for their creative promotions. What were some of your favorites?

A. We did a little of everything. We had a Miss Tampa Bay bikini contest, we had a Krazy Karat contest where we gave away diamonds, we had mortgage burnings, we gave away a million dollar deferred annuity, we had car giveaways. We had seven automobiles out on the field for one game. We gave away seven brand new beautiful Dodge cars, and as the cars were being taken off the field, one of the cars disappeared. It was gone. Somebody got in the car, drove out the stadium and kept going. The police said what happened, were there any witnesses? I said, “yeah, there were 50,000 witnesses!” We never did find that car.

We did enough things around the game to add an element of entertainment and pizzazz to a product that people wanted. You can’t have a bad product and do all this fun, gimmicky marketing stuff. People want to watch football, and if they’re treated properly with the right promotions, packaging, pricing, then you’ve got a chance. John and the group were smart enough to give it a local flair with guys who had local ties, and then you do all the fun stuff. We used to get complaints from the concessionaire during our games. They’d tell us to stop doing all this halftime stuff because nobody was coming down to buy popcorn or hot dogs.
Everybody was staying in the stands at halftime!

You’ve got 100 beautiful girls on the field in bikinis or Jack Harris standing out there in a fireman’s suit burning mortgages and the table catches on fire, or we’re giving away diamonds. We made the fans feel like we respected them and weren’t going to take advantage of them. These things worked because they were wrapped around professional football. You’ve got to have the right product.

Q. What do you remember about the Smokey and the Bandit saga of 1985?

A. This was great. In the beginning, we developed an idea to have a black horse named Smokey, and a man dressed in black with a red bandana who was The Bandit. This became our logo. We thought it would be appropriate to have guy ride out onto the field to the “Banditball” theme song by Jerry Reed. It was really a great entrance.

So we’re doing some promotion, engaging and activating local sponsors. Kash n’ Karry was one of our big sponsors, and the horse and rider were part of the marketing and promotional concept with the store.

Before the 1985 season, the rider – who also owned the horse -- came to us and said because we are using their likenesses in advertisements that he wants to be paid “x” amount of dollars more. So I sat down with John Bassett in his office and I told him that the guy who rides the horse wants some more money or he’s not going to do it. Bassett, in his quick-witted and clear-thinking way, looks at me and says, “You think that’s the only black horse in Florida?”
I think the guy ended up coming around, but the brand had been built with a lot of money invested in advertising and promotions. There were a lot of moving parts that made us successful.

Unfortunately, the strength of who we were, and our model, couldn’t carry over to every team in the league to build the continuity and sustainability to make the league work. All we could do from our perspective is run our franchise the best that we could, and we did. We were called the model franchise of the USFL. The logos, the colors, the music, the atmosphere, everything was first class.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Grudge Match at Tampa Stadium, 5/26/85

Due to the brief history of the league, few rivalries were truly able to take hold in the USFL. Between expansion, relocation, and owners swapping franchises, the familiarity between teams that breeds contempt was hard to find.

There were two teams, however, who were exceptions to the rule: the Tampa Bay Bandits and the New Jersey Generals.

New Jersey running back Herschel Walker explained it as such: “There is no love lost between these two teams. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because they’re from the South, and we’re from the North. Plus, the owners don’t like each other.”

In 1983, the Bandits won the first USFL game played at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, a 32-9 victory over the Generals. The Bandits were able to hold Walker to 39 yards on 19 carries. A year later Tampa Bay again defeated New Jersey, this time 40-14 in a laugher at Tampa Stadium.

Tampa Bay nearly pulled out a third win in their first of two meetings in 1985. Although quarterback John Reaves passed for 410 yards, the Bandits blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost to the Generals, 28-24, behind a rushing touchdown by Walker with 24 seconds left.

"Of all the games we have lost in three yeas," head coach Steve Spurrier said, "that hurt the most because we gave it away."

By the time of the rematch on May 26, 1985, the Bandits had won two lopsided contests and suffered one heartbreaking defeat to the Generals. If the competition felt heated on the field, by this point some serious competition had already taken place off the field between New Jersey owner Donald Trump and Tampa Bay owner John Bassett.

It is well known that Trump garnered the most headlines and attracted the most attention during his two seasons as owner of the Generals. He led the charge among USFL owners to move from the spring to the fall and compete head-to-head against the NFL.

Standing in direct opposition to him was Bassett, who believed that the USFL could only succeed as a spring alternative to the NFL. When USFL owners decided on April 29 to officially move to the fall, Bassett announced his intention to break away from the USFL and form his own spring league.

The two clearly had major philosophical differences on the future of the USFL, and while many fans and media members might have liked to view the game as a grudge match between Bassett and Trump, in actuality neither owner even planned on attending in person. While Trump watched the game from his weekend home in Connecticut, Bassett recuperated in his Toronto-area home from radiation treatments for his brain tumors.

On the field, the Bandits would have their hands plenty full containing Herschel Walker without also having the weight of league matters on their shoulders. Walker came into the game having rushed for over 100 yards in seven consecutive games. If the Bandits could control Walker -- who happened to be both New Jersey's leading rusher and receiver -- they could force quarterback Doug Flutie to beat them, and Flutie had yet to become anything more than a deft scrambler and mediocre passer in his rookie season.

Without the services of star nose guard Fred Nordgren, who had been lost for the season due to a broken leg, the task of stopping Walker may have been too much to expect.

Still, anyone hoping to see a good game did not leave Tampa Stadium disappointed. In fact, the estimated crowd of 35,000 may have witnessed one of the most exciting games in Bandit history.

A first half duel between Walker, and Tampa Bay's own rushing star Gary Anderson, set the tone for the game.

Walker started the scoring late in the first quarter with a 12-yard rushing touchdown to give New Jersey a 7-0 lead. Anderson answered back less than three minutes later on an 8-yard pass from John Reaves to nod the game 7-7.

Both Walker and Anderson added second quarter rushing touchdowns and the teams headed into the locker room tied 14-14.

Midway through the third quarter, Reaves found tight end Marvin Harvey on a 21-yard strike to give the Bandits a seven-point lead. Walker and the Generals would not go away, however, and the running back notched his third rushing touchdown of the day early in the fourth quarter to once again even up the contest.

With the score tied and time winding down, the Bandits marched 63 yards on 11 plays to set up a potential game-winning field goal by Zenon Andrusyshyn with 1:36 left in the game. The kicker known as "Z" to his teammates nailed a 29-yarder to give Tampa Bay a 24-21 lead. Still, the fireworks in this game were just getting started.

A hallmark of his collegiate and 21-year professional career, staging late comebacks was simply Doug Flutie's specialty. Despite only pedestrian statistics to that point (5 completions for 68 yards), Flutie would go on to produce the finest comeback of his rookie season.

Working with no timeouts and the Bandits running a prevent defense, Flutie completed five passes for 44 yards while driving the Generals 51 yards in 1:32 to set up a game-tying field goal. With just four seconds left in regulation, Roger Ruzek split the uprights from 40 yards out to send the game into overtime.

Tampa Bay punted after their first possession of overtimes, setting the stage for Flutie to cap the comeback. It didn't take long, as he connected on a much-disputed 49-yard strike to receiver Clarence Collins.

One referee ruled offensive pass interference on the play, which would have nullified the catch. He then changed his mind, calling defensive pass interference on corner Warren Hanna. Safety Marcus Quinn disputed that Collins even made a catch, saying that the ball hit the ground. A second referee ruled the pass a catch, but said that he did not see any interference on the play.

"It was a real mess," Quinn said after the game.

The "catch" and declined pass interference call set New Jersey up at the Tampa Bay 18-yard line, almost certainly guaranteeing a Ruzek field goal attempt to win the game.

With 11:07 remaining in overtime, the Generals lined up for the game-winning kick. Punter Rick Patridge, on for the hold, fumbled the snap. Instead of dropping on the ball -- which because the play came on second down would have given New Jersey another chance to kick -- Patridge scooped up the football and made a break for the end zone. Diving towards the pylon, Patridge became the unlikeliest of heroes as his nine-yard rushing touchdown delivered New Jersey to victory.

It was a stunning end to another late-game collapse against New Jersey. The defeat cost the Bandits a chance to clinch a berth in the playoffs. The defense, which had kept Tampa Bay in the game despite a three-touchdown, 166 yard rushing performance by Walker, simply could not stop Flutie when it mattered most.

Defensive end Mike Clark called the game a "tough loss."

"It's going to be kind of tough to get over this one for the whole team."

Indeed, if the next few games were any indication, it may have been a loss from which the franchise never truly recovered.