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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Sad-Sack Bucs Break Through

08 Dec

The surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers face the New Orleans Saints on this week’s NFL schedule, trying to keep their playoff hopes alive. There was a time when the Tampa Bay franchise couldn’t dream of making the playoffs, and that’s the subject of this week’s Throwback Thursday feature. It happened on December 11, 1977 – a game played between these 2 teams, the Bucs and the Saints. It was historic because it was Tampa’s first victory in franchise history. A team’s first win ever is always a memorable moment, but this day was even more historic, because the hapless Bucs went nearly 2 full seasons before finally breaking into the win column. The NFL played a 14 game schedule at the time, and the Bucs went winless, 0-14, in their inaugural season in 1976. They followed that up with 12 straight losses in ’77, before meeting up with the equally inept Saints on this day.

Tampa’s first 2 years in the league were so laughable that if you check out the old NFL films “blooper” features from the mid-’70s, you’ll find that they’re loaded with Buccaneer lowlights. Their head coach, John McKay, had been a highly-respected college coach at Southern California before taking the Bucs’ job, and luckily, for his own sanity, he had a great sense of humor. Once he was asked in a post-game press conference to comment on his offense’s execution. He answered “I’m in favor of it.” Another time, summing up his team’s performance in a game: “We didn’t tackle well today, but we made up for it by not blocking.” After a 42-0 loss to the Steelers, McKay was asked what his thoughts were during the game. He responded: “I felt like leaving the stadium and hitch-hiking home.” His joking manner and the team’s play earned the Bucs the nickname “The Yucks”.

Although they were a butt of all kinds of jokes in their early days, the Buccaneers’ defense had always been a decent unit, fighting hard in most games even though they had little chance of ever winning. Against the Saints on this day, however, they took matters into their own hands. On a day when the offense, led by journeyman quarterback Gary Huff, played with its’ usual ineptness, the defense hammered the Saints all day, forcing 7 turnovers, including 6 interceptions, 2 of which were returned for touchdowns by Mike Washington and Richard Wood. Also, Greg Johnson recovered a fumble in the end zone for a TD. That meant 3 of the Bucs’ 4 touchdowns that day were provided by the defense in a 33-14 thrashing. Huff pitched in with a short scoring pass to Morris Owens, but he threw for only 96 yards total on the day. In fact, the 2 teams combined for only 488 total yards on the day. In today’s game, the top-flight quarterbacks have passing yardage totals for a single game like that regularly. There were also 18 penalties called on the day against both teams, totaling 157 yards, another sign that it was a game played between 2 sad sack franchises.

All jokes aside, this was a day for the Tampa Bay franchise to celebrate, especially the defense, which was a proud unit despite all the losing and finally was rewarded for it’s efforts.  Players like Washington, Wood, Johnson, LeeRoy and Dewey Selmon, Dave Lewis and Jeris White finally got a moment in the sun. Incidentally, the Bucs finished the ’77 season on a high note, defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 17-7 in their finale to finish 2-12.

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Tampa Bay’s first head coach, John McKay

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

08 Dec

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This is a pair of classic logos of a major college football program, the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Both have been used since 1973, but the one on the left, with the orange-clad cowboy drawing his pistols, has been gradually phased out in the era of political correctness and replaced with the lasso-swinging one instead. The school’s gridiron program began in 1901, and they have won 1 national championship (in 1945) and had 1 Heisman Trophy winner (Barry Sanders). Besides Sanders, former OSU players who’ve gone on to pro football careers include Thurman Thomas, Jon Kolb, Dexter Manley, Jerry Sherk, Kevin Williams, R.W. McQuarters, Terry Miller, Russell Okung and current players Dez Bryant and Dan Bailey.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

08 Dec

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It was such a huge event that it had to be given it’s own special football card. This 1978 Topps “Highlight” card signifies the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ first ever win as a franchise. It took almost 2 full seasons, and after 26 consecutive losses to begin their existence, quarterback Gary Huff led the Bucs to a win over the equally hapless New Orleans Saints. Huff played 7 years in the NFL, and was a classic journeyman. After retiring, he served in various coaching capacities and is currently the senior associate athletic director at his alma mater, Florida State.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Fergy’s Coming Out Party

01 Dec

The Oakland Raiders, one of 2016’s surprise teams, host the Buffalo Bills this Sunday in a game with massive playoff implications for both teams. For this week’s Throwback Thursday feature game, we’ll travel back to opening weekend of the 1974 season for a matchup between these two old AFL clubs. Played on September 16, 1974, it was the opening Monday Night Football game of that season, and featured the powerhouse Raider club of coach John Madden against the Bills and their record-breaking running back, O.J. Simpson, who had eclipsed the 2,000 yard rushing mark the previous season. “The Juice” was the featured player in the Bills’ offense, which was a classic ground and pound rushing attack that relied on the elusive running style of Simpson and the blocking and bruising running style of his backfield mate, fullback Jim Braxton. The other member of Buffalo’s backfield was a young second year quarterback, Joe Ferguson, who had been a rookie third round draft pick out of Arkansas in 1973 and was coach Lou Saban’s choice to become the team’s starter in his rookie campaign. Despite being an inexperienced first year player, Ferguson didn’t have to worry much about carrying his team on his shoulders in ’73, as his main job was to turn around and hand the ball off to Simpson, and occasionally Braxton. The plan entering the ’74 campaign was pretty much the same, and on this opening nationally televised Monday Night game, the Bills attacked the rough and tumble Raider defense with a steady diet of their running backs. Ferguson completed a short scoring pass to J.D. Hill for the only touchdown of the first half, with the Raiders countering with a George Blanda field goal.

The Bills entered halftime with a 7-3 lead, but shortly before the mid-game break, something happened that changed the course of this contest – O.J. suffered a sprained ankle and would not return in the second half, putting a ton of unexpected pressure on Ferguson’s shoulders to produce some offense with his arm in the second half. Getting an obvious lift from Simpson’s absence, the Raiders scored on a 15 yard Clarence Davis run and added another Blanda field goal to surge ahead 17-13 going into the final quarter. Ferguson came of age in that final stanza, however. He drove his club downfield and hit wideout Ahmad Rashad with an eight yard TD toss to regain the lead. Then Oakland’s Art Thoms picked up a Buffalo fumble and ran 29 yards to paydirt to give the Raiders a 20-14 lead. Fergy responded again, driving the Bills downfield, without the aid of Simpson’s running, and capping the drive with another scoring pass to Rashad, this time from 13 yards out, as the Bills captured a hard-fought 21-20 win. Ferguson would go on to prove his worth as a solid NFL signal caller, playing 12 seasons with Buffalo and 17 total years in the league.

 

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Buffalo Bills’ QB Joe Ferguson

 

 

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

01 Dec

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We recently featured the logo of the Temple University Owls, and here’s another Owl logo, that of the Rice Owls, another college football team. Rice’s football program began in 1912, they have been members of the old Southwest Conference and the Western Athletic Conference, and currently play in Conference USA. Former Owls who have gone on to play pro football include Buddy Dial, Tobin Rote, Billy Howton, King Hill, Don Maynard, J.D. Smith, Tommy Kramer, Frank Ryan, O.J. Brigance, Earl Cooper, Darryl Grant, Larry Izzo and Bert Emanuel.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

01 Dec

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1974 Topps football card of former wide receiver Ahmad Rashad, who played 10 seasons in the NFL. Born Bobby Moore, he changed his name in 1972 after converting to a small sect that practices unorthodox Islam. Rashad began his pro career with the St. Louis Cardinals, was traded to Buffalo for quarterback Dennis Shaw in 1974 and after playing only one season there, signed with the Minnesota Vikings, where he had his most success, making the Pro Bowl 4 times. After retiring, he became a successful sports broadcaster with NBC and ABC, covering basketball, football and baseball.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Saints Come Marching In

24 Nov

The New Orleans Saints face the Los Angeles Rams on this week’s NFL schedule, so this week for our Throwback Thursday feature we’ll travel back to opening day of the 1967 season, when the Rams took on New Orleans in the Saints’ very first game in the history of their franchise. NFL owners weren’t very kind to expansion franchises in those days, allowing them to only stock their teams with aging veterans and castoffs through an expansion draft, although they were allotted extra picks in the college draft. Coached by Hall of Famer Tom Fears, New Orleans went for a big name in the expansion draft when they plucked star running back Paul Hornung from the powerhouse Green Bay Packers, but the move backfired as a spinal cord injury forced Hornung to retire before ever playing a game for the Saints. Their roster was dotted with past-their-prime players like Billy Kilmer, Jim Taylor, Ernie Wheelwright, Doug Atkins and Jackie Burkett.

Fans in the Crescent City found reason to be optimistic after the Saints finished 5-1 in the preseason, and when rookie John Gilliam returned the opening kickoff in the opener against the Rams 94 yards for a touchdown, there was outright jubilation. One fan supposedly jumped up and yelled “this is going to be the greatest football team in history!” when Gilliam reached the end zone. Reality set in eventually, however, and Ram quarterback Roman Gabriel ran 2 yards for a score and threw a TD pass to Les Josephson, while Dick Bass ran for another touchdown as the Rams prevailed 27-13. The Saints finished the ’67 season with a 3-11 record, finishing last in the Capitol Division but playing competitive football in nearly every game. Some bright spots came out of that inaugural season for the new franchise, as defensive back Dave Whitsell came up with 10 interceptions to lead the league and set a team record that still stands to this day, earning him a Pro Bowl berth. Also, a young rookie receiver named Danny Abramowicz emerged as a rising star, one who would continue his excellent play for seven years with the Saints, becoming one of only a few bright lights to shine during a dismal losing stretch that would last over 20 years.

 

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John Gilliam returns opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

24 Nov

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Logo of a college football team, used from 1960 until 1971, the Temple Owls. The school, located in Philadelphia, started it’s football program in 1894 and currently plays in the American Conference. Former Owls who’ve gone on to play pro football include Bucko Kilroy, Joe and Dan Klecko, Nick Mike-Mayer, Todd Bowles, Raheem Brock, Jim Cooper, Randy Grossman, Kevin Ross, Steve Watson and current players Muhammad Wilkerson and Tyler Matakevich.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

24 Nov

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1969 Topps football card of former pro football quarterback Bill Kilmer. This is the second time we’ve featured a Kilmer card on Rayonsports, which is understandable since his career spanned 18 seasons. He began his playing days with the San Francisco 49ers, became the first starting QB for the New Orleans Saints when he was picked in the 1967 expansion draft, and had his most success during an eight year stay in Washington, where he was named to the Pro Bowl twice and led the Redskins to the Super Bowl in 1972 .

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Monsters of The Midway

17 Nov

On this week’s NFL schedule, there is a clash of 2 of the oldest franchises in the league, the Chicago Bears and New York Giants. Our Throwback Thursday feature harkens back to the 1963 NFL championship game played between these teams on December 29, 1963 at Wrigley Field, and was the fifth and final title game played at the venerable old ballpark. Wrigley was without lights in those days, and then NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle asked Bears’ owner George Halas to move the game to Soldier Field, which was uninhabited since the Cardinals had moved to St. Louis in 1960. Halas refused, so Rozelle, fearing the game could go into multiple overtimes and into darkness, moved the starting time up from 1 PM to noon. This was the Bears’ first appearance in the title game since 1956, when they lost to these same Giants at Yankee Stadium. Halas’ club had ridden the efforts of a fierce defense nicknamed “The Monsters of The Midway” to an 11-1-2 record and the Western Division championship, breaking a 2 year run of Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers. The Giants, meanwhile, were an offensive powerhouse guided by aging quarterback Y.A. Tittle, who had a spectacular season throwing the ball, leading the league with a then-record 36 touchdown passes.

The game was a classic matchup of a stingy defense and a high-scoring offense, and as the old adage goes, offense sells tickets but defense wins championships. The Bears prevailed 14-10  as Tittle was subjected to some brutal punishment from the Chicago defense. Coached by future head coaching legend George Allen, the Bears’ defense dominated the NFL in the regular season, allowing just a shade over 10 points per game and finishing first in all statistical categories for the year, including in total interceptions with 36. Allen concocted a zone defense that combined a strong pass rush led by ends Doug Atkins and Ed O’Bradovich, a strong secondary that featured Rosey Taylor and Richie Petitbon, and a crew of linebackers who were both strong tacklers against the run and defended the short pass well in Bill George, Joe Fortunato and Larry Morris. Tittle had some success early as he led the Giants on an 83 yard scoring drive capped off by a 14 yard touchdown pass to flanker Frank Gifford, but was mauled by the Bears for most of the game.  He completed only 11 of 29 passes in the game and was intercepted 5 times. He also suffered a knee injury in the second quarter that affected his play the rest of the game.

Chicago’s quarterback was also an aging veteran, Bill Wade. He scored both of his team’s touchdowns on short QB sneaks, both set up by his defense. Allen, the defensive wizard, was awarded a game ball for his unit’s dominating performance, while the beating Tittle took effectively ended his career. He came back to play the next season but the Giants finished with a 2-10-2 record. In the second game of the year he was blind-sided by Pittsburgh’s John Baker and suffered crushed cartilage in his ribs, a cracked sternum and a concussion, but stilled played in every remaining game that year before retiring at the end of the season.

 

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Bear linebackers, from left, Larry Morris, Bill George and Joe Fortunato