Monday, November 29, 2010

Seminoles Fall to Houston at Stadium, 11/26/70

Leading up to their November 26, 1970, showdown against the Houston Cougars at Tampa Stadium, the Florida State Seminoles found themselves in the running for a berth in the Peach Bowl.

In the days before 70 teams went to bowl games, the 7-3 Seminoles were on the outside looking in for a berth in either the Liberty Bowl or Peach Bowl, the only two bowls that remained unfilled.
To get to Atlanta, however, the Seminoles had to beat a very good, very dangerous Houston Cougar squad.

The Cougars entered the game at 6-3 -- a slight step down from the 1969 season which featured a 9-2 record and a Bluebonnet Bowl victory -- but had lost two close games at Oklahoma State and Ole Miss. They were certainly not a team Florida State could take for granted.

The game would serve as somewhat of a "Thanksgiving Night" bowl game for both teams and be televised by ABC in prime time for a national audience. With the Detroit Lion and Dallas Cowboy games already wrapped up, the Seminoles and Cougars would have the undivided attention of stuffed and sleepy football fans around the country.
Unfortunately, organizers of the game were less optimistic about selling the game to the local audience for many reasons.

In 1970, the Seminoles did not have the broad following of the Florida Gators, particularly in the Tampa Bay area. The Seminoles had only been playing football since 1947, while the Gators had a football tradition dating back to 1904. The "Big Three" as we know them today -- Florida, Florida State and Miami -- did not exist. The Florida Gators simply dominated the college football landscape.

The fact that the game was televised seemed to deter local fans from attending, as well as fans from Tallahassee who would otherwise have needed to drive down to see the game.
Also, the game had been moved from its originally scheduled October date, sandwiching it right between University of Tampa home games against Vanderbilt and Florida A&M. The Spartans were enjoying a tremendous season at 9-1, and local football fans might not have wanted to pay for three games in seven days.

Only 18,053 fans -- some 17,000 less than the desired attendance mark -- came out to Tampa Stadium, while an estimated 30 million watched the game at home. Not a single person could rightly claim to not be entertained by what they saw.

The Cougars struck first, marching 65 yards on seven plays to open the game. Houston quarterback Gary "Moon" Mullins connected with Elmo Wright on a 12-yard pass to give Houston the lead, but Florida State blocked the extra point attempt to make the score 6-0.

The Seminoles matched Houston with a 12-yard touchdown pass of their own, this one coming from Tommy Warren to Rhett Dawson with 0:54 seconds left in the first quarter to give Florida State a 7-6 lead.

After forcing a Houston punt, James Jarrett capped a 66-yard, 14-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to make the score 14-6 in favor of the Seminoles.
A Tom Mozisek 2-yard touchdown run for Houston narrowed the score to 14-12, but Florida State immediately answered with a 65-yard touchdown strike from Warren to Barry Smith, extending the Seminole lead to 21-12.

An unsuspecting Florida State took the lead into the break, completely unaware of what awaited them in the second half.

Midway through the third quarter, a heads up play by the Cougars changed the momentum of the game. After intercepting a Florida State pass at the Houston 30, Charles Ford ran another 50 yards to the Seminole 20-yard-line. Before being brought down, however, he pitched the ball to teammate Frank Ditta, who took it the rest of the way for a touchdown. Houston again failed on the point-after-attempt and trailed Florida State by three, 21-18.

It would not matter, however, as the Cougars were only getting started. Houston would go ahead for good on their next possession, scoring on a 2-yard run by Mozisek to take a 25-21 lead as the third quarter came to a close.

The entire fourth quarter belong to Houston. After Mullins hit Mike Parrott on a 25-yard strike to extend their lead to 32-21, the Cougars were literally off and running. Mozisek got into the end zone again, this time on a 70-yard run, and in one of the most memorable moments of the game, Cougar Nick Holm intercepted a Tommy Warren pass and appeared end zone bound.
Seminole Dan Whitehurst, however, had other ideas.

From his spot near midfield on the Florida State sideline, Whitehurst decided he had seen enough. As Holm approached, Whitehurst extended his foot onto the playing field to trip the Houston cornerback. His attempt succeeded, and a certain Houston touchdown turned into a 15-yard penalty on Florida State and the ball placed on the 35-yard-line.

"What's 15 yards when you're 30 points behind," Whitehurst said after the game, although the Seminole were only trailing by 18 at the time. "I just knew I had to stop him, and figured if I tripped him the ref might not see it."

Florida State head coach Bill Peterson said after the game that he couldn't be too mad at Whitehurst because he felt like doing it himself. Houston would punch it in on another Elmo Wright receiving touchdown to take a 46-21 lead, and they would add one more on a Joe Depain run from one-yard out to provide the final points in a 53-21 rout.

Along with suffering the indignity of a 32-point defeat, the Seminoles played their way right out of bowl consideration. Peterson summed it up best in the end, saying, "They just gave us a good country beating."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rick Casares the Gator, ca. 1951-53

Earlier this year, the Tampa Bay History Center received a large gift of original drawings, prints, and materials from the family of the late Tampa Tribune artist Lamar Sparkman. Among the countless wonderful artifacts in the collection are a few hundred photographs that Sparkman took of his subjects prior to drawing them for the newspaper.

Some gems recently uncovered include a series of photographs taken of local football star Rick Casares. The Jefferson High School standout led the Dragons to two city titles (1947, 1949) playing fullback while earning All-American, All-State and All-Southern honors as a senior. He went on to star as a two-sport athlete at the University of Florida in football and basketball from 1951-1953. The Chicago Bears drafted Casares in 1955, and he eventually became the team’s all-time leading rusher before being eclipsed by Walter Payton.

In this photograph, Casares is joined at Florida Field by University of Florida head football coach Bob Woodruff, who coached the Gators from 1950-1959. The highlight of both of their careers at Florida came in the Gator Bowl on January 1, 1953. Casares scored the first touchdown of the game on a two-yard run and kicked two extra points as the Gators defeated Tulsa 14-13 for their first-ever bowl game victory.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Gator/Spartan Twin-Bill at Stadium, 11/14/70

In 1969, Tampa Stadium hosted a doubleheader featuring the University of Florida against Tulane, followed by the University of Tampa against Tulsa. A total of 55,553 fans turned out for the "Super Saturday" games, and the event proved to be so successful that organizers tried the concept again on November 14, 1970.

This time, the 6-3 Florida Gators would square off against the 2-7 Kentucky Wildcats. The Wildcats were technically the home team since the game was moved from Lexington, thanks in large part to the efforts of local attorney Tom MacDonald of the West Coast Bowl Association. This would be the first Southeastern Conference game played in Tampa since the two teams faced each other at Phillips Field in 1949, a contest won 35-0 by the Paul "Bear" Bryant coached Wildcats.

As in 1969, the game would be a homecoming for Florida's starting quarterback John Reaves. Against the Green Wave the previous year, the Robinson High graduate led the Gators to a late come-from-behind 18-17 victory.

In the nightcap, the 8-0 University of Tampa Spartans would play host to the 5-4 Bengals of Idaho State. The Spartans -- ranked No. 1 in the nation among small colleges -- entered the game in pursuit of a school-record ninth consecutive victory. Running back Leon McQuay had something special to play for as well, coming into the game with 72 total points on the season.

After scoring five touchdowns the previous week against Southwestern Louisiana, McQuay needed only two touchdowns to break the record for points scored by a Spartan in a single season held by Charlie Harris (84 points in 1952).

The Gators and Wildcats opened the day of football at Tampa Stadium with an early afternoon kickoff. In front of 44,312 fans, the Gators and Wildcats both got off to slow starts.
Jim Getzen put the Gators on the board in the first quarter with a 29-yard field goal to give Florida an early 3-0 lead. Kentucky answered back with three of their own, courtesy of a 33-yarder by Bob Jones to even the score at 3-3 in the second quarter.

Gator partisans must have felt nervous later in the second when Kentucky running back Houston Hogg scored from eight yards out to put the Wildcats up by a touchdown.
With 17 seconds left in the half, Reaves put his Gators back in the game by connecting with Willie Jackson on a 70-yard touchdown strike. The Gators and Wildcats went into the locker room tied 10-10.

In the third quarter, the Gators kept Kentucky out of the end zone with a huge goal line stand, forcing the Wildcats to settle for a field goal. Kentucky took a 13-10 lead, but it would be short-lived.

Reaves tossed his second touchdown of the day -- this time to Jim Yancey from 10 yards out -- to give Florida their first lead of the game, 17-13.

With the game's outcome still in doubt, Reaves led Florida on an 80-yard, fourth quarter drive to put the game out of reach. Reaves' second touchdown pass of the game to Yancey, a 14-yarder, capped the drive and gave Florida a 24-13 lead which would end up as the final score.

Reaves' three touchdown passes allowed him to tie former Gator Steve Spurrier for the school record of 36 career touchdown passes. Like Reaves, Leon McQuay of Tampa would also have a record-setting day.

In the evening contest, the Spartans had a far easier time putting away their opponent than Florida did with Kentucky. In front of very respectable crowd of 20,238, the Spartans put on a clinic for the team from Idaho.

As a team, the Spartans rushed for 465 yards and scored 10 touchdowns en route to a 68-7 shellacking of the Bengals.

"We just did everything right," said Spartan head coach Fran Curci.

McQuay carried the ball only 16 times, but he ran for 213 yards and scored three touchdowns, enough to propel him into sole possession of first place for most points scored in a season by a Spartan.

The enjoyment of the day for the event organizers and fans of the Gators and Spartans became subdued later in the evening, however, as the news came out that a plane carrying the Marshall University football team had crashed in West Virginia, killing all 75 people on board. Dave and Rick Bankston, who played linebacker for the Spartans, had an older brother on Marshall’s freshman football coaching staff. They were relieved to find out that their brother -- who sometimes traveled with the varsity team -- had not been on the trip.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Rehe Captures Florida Federal Open, 11/10/85

Organizers of the Florida Federal Tennis Open knew they were going to have a challenge marketing the event in 1985.

Some of the biggest names in women’s tennis had all politely declined to enter the tournament. Martina Navratilova – winner of the 1983 Florida Federal – skipped the 1984 event and had no intention of returning in 1985. Other top-ranked women skipping the tournament were Pam Shriver, Hana Mandlikova, Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, Zina Garrison, Helena Sukova, and Manuela Maleeva.

A rising star on the women’s tour, 16-year-old German Steffi Graf, likewise withdrew prior to the start of the tournament.

Then, just a week before the tournament began, the last of the dominoes fell: Chris Evert Lloyd. The winner of 18 Grand Slam events withdrew from the tournament in Largo due to a knee injury and the demands of a heavy travel schedule.

“I’m disappointed,” tournament co-director Barry Siegel said. “I certainly won’t lie about it.”

Still, Siegel and others had reasons to be enthusiastic about the upcoming tournament. Being held for the first time at the Bardmoor Country Club in Largo, the tournament lineup may not have been big on star-power, but it was loaded with fresh talent.

“It’s a good field,” Siegel said. “The best way to describe the field is that these are the top players of the future of women’s tennis.”

Among these in the field were Largo’s own Bonnie Gadusek, the tournament’s top seed and the 10th ranked player in the world. Michelle Torres, the winner of the 1984 Florida Federal Open, returned to defend her title, and Kathy Rinaldi, who in August beat Graf to capture the A&P Tennis Classic championship in Mahawh, New Jersey, was the 11th ranked player in the world and one of the top young players in the game.

Carling Bassett, a finalist the previous year, returned to the tournament, and a promising pair of 14-year-olds -- Gabriela Sabatini and Mary Jo Fernandez – were each considered rising stars.

First-round play opened on November 4, as the top-seeded Gadusek earned a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Caroline Kuhlman. Seventh-seeded Terry Phelps ousted Gabriella Mosca, a 15-year-old Argentinian who took Chris Evert Lloyd’s place in the draw. It took Phelps only 38 minutes to overwhelm Mosca, who only won two points the entire second set. Pam Casale, one of the fiercest competitors on the tour, made quick work of the up-and-coming Fernandez, 6-2, 6-3.
While Bassett and Sabatini both won their first round matches, two other top seeds were not so lucky.

Gadusek, the No. 1 seed, suffered a humiliating defeat to Lisa Bonder, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1. Gadusek credited her problems to effect of the damp weather on her strings.

“My strings were getting loose because of the dampness and humidity,” she said. “I lost feeling in the ball and I didn’t get it back.”

Bonder, for her part, almost didn’t finish the match.

“I was nervous and cold, and I think I ate too many raisins," she said. “I almost died right there on the court.”

Rinaldi, the No. 2 seed, never even set foot on the court, as she withdrew due to a severe case of tonsillitis. Her last-minute replacement, Amy Holton of Sarasota, went down 6-1, 6-1 to the defending champion Torres.

Sabatini, Bassett, Torres and Casale all breezed through the second round to set up some interesting quarterfinals match-ups.

Casale fell to the No. 3 seed Sabatini 6-0, 6-1, in a 52-minute match, and Bassett took care of unseeded Grace Kim, 6-2, 7-5. The Lisa Bonder-Ann White match, however, proved to be one of the more interesting matches in the tournament.

Bonder accused White, who won the match 6-2, 6-4, of using intimidation tactics during a let-call at 2-2 of the first set. White argued for two minutes that there was no let on her serve. The delay seemingly zapped Bonder’s focus.

“Anne’s very intimidating,” she said. “She gave me some mean stares and she growled. The whole thing was intimidating.”

An exhausted Michelle Torres – who the day before needed three hours to get past her opponent – fell meekly to Stephanie Rehe, 6-1, 6-2.

In the semis, Rehe continued her winning ways with a gutsy 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Bassett. The 16-year-old Rehe, who turned pro just two months earlier, wrestled the match away from Bassett by overcoming nine game-points trailing 2-1 in the third set. The game lasted 22 minutes and took 32 points to settle, ending when Bassett pushed a volley long.
Sabatini cruised into the finals with a 6-1, 6-2 dismantling of White.

“I was embarrassingly bad today,” White said. “When things go bad, they go really bad.”

Although the crowd may have preferred seeing Sabatini play her doubles partner Bassett in the finals, Rehe’s victory set up an extremely compelling final between two players who had just turned pro in 1985. The two delivered a thrilling finale to the tournament in front of a crowd of 5,176.

Trailing the 12th ranked player in the world by a score of 4-2 in the third set, Rehe rallied to win three straight games and held on to capture the match 6-4, 6-7, 7-5. Sabatini admitted to playing nervous, and it showed, as she sprayed an uncharacteristic 48 unforced errors.

Despite the lack of “big name” talent, the tournament proved to be a resounding success. Nearly 26,000 people attended the tournament, 5,000 more than had attended the previous year at the Innisbrook Resort.

As for Rehe and Sabatini, what could have been the start of a great rivalry never materialized. Although Rehe climbed to as high as No. 10 in the world by 1989, a serious back injury put her on the shelf for a year, and just eight years after her victory in Largo, she would be out of the game permanently.

Sabatini, on the other hand, became one of the best players of her generation. The winner of the 1990 U.S. Open, Sabatini earned induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2006.

Monday, November 1, 2010

John McKay Hired in Tampa Bay, 10/31/75

By late October 1975, fans of Tampa Bay's new professional football team had to be wondering when their first head coach would be hired. With the first exhibition game just nine months out, the Buccaneers still had no players and only a hint of who would be leading the team into battle.

Speculation had been running rampant since July when Tampa Tribune columnist Tom McEwen confirmed that University of Southern California head coach John McKay had been offered the job by Buccaneer's owner Hugh Culverhouse.

A winner of four national championships with USC, McKay admitted to having interest in the Tampa Bay position and that it was the only job outside of USC he had under consideration. In other words, he would either coach the Trojans for another five to six years or become the first head coach in Buccaneer history.

"Tampa is the only place in which I am interested," McKay said. "My wife and I haven't worked this hard to get where we are to talk of going to some cold climate."

On Halloween, the announcement became official that John McKay would become vice president and head coach of the Buccaneers. Although USC made a serious play to keep McKay in Los Angeles, Culverhouse evidently lured McKay to Tampa with a five-year contract, which included a house, an insurance policy, transportation and full authority over hiring of his coaching staff.

The deal -- worth between $1.5 and $2 million ($5.9 million in today's dollars) -- represented an exorbitant amount to pay a head coach at the time. Consider that in 2009, the Sports Business Daily estimated the average salary of an NFL head coach at $2.5 million per year. McKay may have had some misgivings about leaving a comfortable situation behind, but in Tampa he had a chance at long-term financial security.

In McKay, Culverhouse seemingly had his target in mind from the beginning, never seriously considering any other coaches. The only credible name to surface other than McKay was that of his close friend, former Notre Dame head coach Ara Parseghian. Culverhouse and Parseghian never talked, however, and no offers were ever made.

In the weeks prior to the announcement, Culverhouse went on the record and said, "I'm not interested in anybody but John McKay. We want him and him alone. I just believe he would be perfect for the Tampa job."

Since he planned on retaining his duties at USC until the end of their season, McKay did not leave Los Angeles immediately and come to Tampa. There was also the small matter of a game that night against the University of California. Instead, his first interview with the local media came over the telephone.

In one of the first of thousands of quips to come during his time in Tampa, the notorious cigar aficionado McKay said that he "took the job because of the Tampa cigars."

He explained his decision to leave the comforts of USC as part of a desire to try something new.

"I've been a college coach, either an assistant of the head man, for 27 years now," McKay said, "and I figured that was enough. My family is grown and I thought I might enough the challenge.

Tampa Bay's Vice President of Football Operations Ron Wolf said that he could not have been happier at the chance to work with McKay.

"He gives us instant credibility," Wolf said. "He also gives you something to write about. This man coaches a team that currently has more players in the National Football League (36) than anyone else."

The reaction to McKay's hire outside of Tampa was uniformly positive.

Parseghian said that, "Tampa has itself one heckuva head coach and it makes for a beautiful marriage."

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Paul Brown described the signing a "fine start for Tampa Bay" and called McKay "a very worthy addition" to the NFL.

Denver Broncos head coach John Ralston -- who coached against McKay at Stanford -- said that the Buccaneers "just couldn't pick a more qualified person."

Dan Rooney, general manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers, called the Tampa Bay's signing of McKay "a step towards becoming one of the great pro franchises in the NFL."

On a day with so much excitement and optimism, nobody could have anticipated how brief a honeymoon it would be for McKay as a head coach in the NFL. He would find out soon enough that nothing in his illustrious college career could have prepared him for life as head coach of the expansion Buccaneers.

Time would certainly prove, however, that he was the right man for the job. McKay eventually orchestrated one of the most stunning turnarounds in league history, bringing Tampa Bay within one game of the Super Bowl in just the team’s fourth season. On December 5, the Buccaneers will recognize McKay’s contributions to the franchise as he becomes the team’s second Ring of Honor inductee alongside Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon.