Monday, August 16, 2010

Spurrier Headlines at Tampa Stadium, 8/15/70

In mid-August 1970, the Tampa Bay area prepared to host the first of two National Football League exhibition games held at Tampa Stadium that summer.

Beginning in August 1968, the stadium had played host to three NFL exhibition games – two in 1969 – and a regular-season American Football League game between the Miami Dolphins and Boston Patriots in November 1969. All were well-attended affairs – averaging 35,214 fans per game -- with only the AFL contest drawing fewer than 30,000.

The goal for the showdown Aug. 15, 1970 between the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers was to exceed the attendance high of 40,915 set in 1968. In the days leading up to the game, it appeared by all calculations that it would be a reality.

The games, organized by local promoter and Tampa Jaycees president Bill Marcum, were showcases intended to highlight the viability of the Tampa Bay area as a pro market. Healthy attendance figures were obviously a source of pride, and Marcum hoped San Francisco and Cleveland would help fill Tampa Stadium’s benches.

Although this would certainly not be the case today, at the time the 49ers and Browns were actually a compelling matchup. The two franchises were originally members of the All-American Pro Football Conference from 1946-49 before being absorbed by the NFL in 1950.

Under third-year coach Dick Nolan, the 49ers were thought of as somewhat of an up-and-coming team. The Browns, meanwhile, were one of the most-successful franchises in football, winning NFL titles in 1950, 1954, 1955, and 1964. Since joining the NFL, the Browns sported a record of 180-71-7, a .717 winning percentage. In fact, the team had only one losing season in its entire history, going 5-7 in 1956. In other words, the Browns of 1970 were still considered a marquee draw.

The contest featured some local rooting interest as well. The 49ers had two starters with Tampa roots – center Forest Blue of Chamberlain High School and defensive tackle Earl Edwards of Blake High School – while the Browns featured another Chamberlain product and Florida State University standout, tight end Chip Glass.

The game’s biggest draw, however, was University of Florida product and 1966 Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier. The 49ers drafted the quarterback in the first round of the 1967 entry draft, but Spurrier spent the majority of his time as the punter and second-string quarterback behind John Brodie. Spurrier started at quarterback in only six games during his first three seasons as a professional.

The game in Tampa would mark Spurrier’s first time playing in Florida as a pro. Despite the obvious preference of local football fans, Spurrier would once again serve as Brodie’s backup, but split equal time throughout the contest.

Despite voluminous pregame rain and horrendous traffic jams on Dale Mabry Highway and Himes Avenue, a near-record crowd of 41,851 fans made it into the stadium.

An unforeseen accident at 6 p.m. on the Interstate 4 (now I-275 South) exit ramp at Dale Mabry involved police officers on their way to help control traffic. This inadvertently contributed to the massive gridlock, and many motorists simply decided to park by the interstate and walk to the Stadium.

Despite the problems outside the stadium with traffic and backed-up parking lot entrances, fans were treated to a pretty good overall product on the field.

Anyone who came to see Spurrier play could not have left disappointed. After sitting out the first half, Spurrier played throughout the entire second half of the game. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 175 yards, and played well enough to help the 49ers win the game. His offense, however, left too many points on the field. The 49ers committed critical turnovers – a fumble by Bill Tucker, and interceptions by Spurrier and running back Larry Schrieber – that snuffed out three potential scoring drives.

The Tucker fumble came at the worst time, as the 49ers were driving down the field with time running out and trailing 17-10. On fourth-and-seven at the Cleveland 17, Spurrier found Tucker for a nine-yard gain – good enough for the first down – but Cleveland forced a fumble and recovered the ball at the seven yard line, effectively ending the game.

Despite a solid statistical performance, Spurrier expressed his frustration after the game at not being able to convert drives into points.

“I don’t feel good at all,” Spurrier said. “Any time you get inside the 10 yard line three or four times and can’t get points, something is wrong.”

San Francisco owner Lou Spadia came away extremely impressed with Tampa, calling it “football country” and the “best non-league football city in our experience.”

Cleveland owner Art Modell praised Tampa for the excellent turnout despite the inclement weather, noting that the city remained well on the NFL’s expansion radar.

“What a tribute to the community,” Modell said. “What a stadium. You’re high on the highest plateau as an expansion city for a franchise when it happens.”

Marcum, meanwhile, lamented the loss in revenue due to the inclement pregame weather and parking problems outside the stadium.

“We’d have sold out, “Marcum said afterward, “if only it hadn’t rained.”

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