In my occasional series called Bucs Throwback Thursday, or in this case Flashback Friday, I take a stroll down memory lane and offer up my own personal insight and anecdotes on days gone by in Tampa Bay football history. Let me know what you think of this week’s column in the article comments, and feel free to share some of your first game memories.

Before offering up this week’s column, I pay my respects to the late, great former sports editor of The Tampa Tribune, Tom McEwen, who often started his column “Breakfast Bonus” describing a large southern-style breakfast in detail before turning the column back to sports.

Over your breakfast of a cold leftover fried pork chop from the night before, two hardboiled eggs covered in salt and black pepper, a cathead buttermilk biscuit with guava jelly, a slice of Florida cantaloupe grown in Duette, Florida and a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice from Parkesdale Market in Plant City,  here is this week’s column.


October 26, 1981.

I turned 11 years old. A fifth grader at Pinecrest Elementary and already an oft-teased Bucs fan. It didn’t help that my orange hair matched the team’s orange uniforms. I had bragging rights for one year after the team came within 10 points of going to the Super Bowl during the 1979 season. The following season Tampa Bay again slipped back into their lovable loser persona, and finished that year 5-10-1.

But things were looking better for me by the time my birthday rolled around that late fall day in 1981. My birthday fell on a Monday, so we had my party a couple days earlier on Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t a big party; a handful of friends and family and a vanilla cake with chocolate Jello pudding icing with holes punched through to marble it. I even landed some cool gifts like a new set of Stomper 4×4 trucks and the birthday cards with a little cash in them.

After the cake and a gallon of T.G. Lee ice cream in the big clear tub were eaten, there was one more card to open. I was hoping for a $20 bill or some exorbitant amount of money to a newly turned 11-year old. What fell out of the card was better than money. It was my version of the Golden Wonka ticket.

Two ticket to see the Buccaneers hosting the Broncos in three weeks.

After my parents picked me up off the floor and brought me back to life with some smelling salts, my grin didn’t leave my face for the next 20 days. I think I slept in my creamsicle Buccaneers footie pajamas from the Sears catalog every night until the November 15th game came along. I even wore my Bucs robe despite the fact we didn’t have air conditioning and it isn’t exactly terry cloth robe weather in Florida in late October.

I didn’t care. I was going to my first Bucs game.

After making sure to do all my chores and even a few extra, not getting in trouble at school and not punching my sister Julie for the next three weeks, the day finally arrived.

My dad and I loaded up in the family car, a 1978 Dodge Diplomat and stopped at the Shop N’ Go near my house for a breakfast of Funyun’s and a Nehi Grape soda, (hey it was my birthday breakfast). Then we drove to Brandon and pulled into the fairly new K-Mart shopping center off of Highway 60. We got on a bus that would take us to the stadium for a whopping $2 per person round trip.

I sat by the window and gazed at the city of Tampa approaching as we traveled down the interstate. The bus driver turned down Himes and I could start to see the stadium emerge in the distance. All the games I had watched on television, all the ones I heard on the radio, the playoff win against the Eagles, the NFC championship loss to the Rams a week later, all of those games happened inside that concrete structure we now pulled up to.

It was my Three Rivers Stadium, my version of Fenway Park, it was the Holy Grail of Bucs football and I was about to go inside for the very first time.

I was in the Promised Land of Bucco Bruce.

Certain smells can take you back in time. Certain sights can stay with you a lifetime. Walking up those concrete ramps and entering the stands, the field was as bright of green as anything I had ever seen. The smell of Tampa cigars wafting through the air mixed with the aroma of the hotdogs grilling in the concession stands are etched in my mind.

I was convinced that this is what heaven looked like. Or at least the way I wanted it to look.

I thumbed though the program my Dad bought for me when we walked in, I watched the legends of my childhood like Lee Roy Selmon, Mark Cotney, Doug Williams and Ricky Bell warming up. The Buccaneer band played in the end zone giving it a college game day feel and the stands started filling up with a sea of orange.

The national anthem came soon and then it was time for kickoff. The game itself wasn’t great. The Bucs offense was sluggish out of the gate, but the defense held tough. The Broncos were up 7-0 at halftime, but it didn’t even matter to me. I was still waiting for someone to walk up and pinch me and wake me from this dream. The second half started and Cedric Brown retuned an interception 80 yards for a touchdown to pull the Bucs even 7-7. The packed stadium went crazy.

Denver ended up scoring the next 17 points and the final gun sounded – yes, referees actually had cap guns they shot off to end the quarters and games all the way up until 1994 – and it was over.

We made our way back to our bus and took the 30 minute trip back to Brandon to get our car. My dad, sensing my disappointment in the loss, suggested going to Pizza Hut for dinner before going home. In 1981 going out to eat was a special treat. To go to Pizza Hut was like winning the supper lotto.

As I sipped on my Pepsi in those thick red plastic glasses and stared out the window as the cars whizzed down Highway 60 we talked about the game and the sights and sounds. We both were amazed at how long TV timeouts felt when you are sitting in the stands, and we laughed at the restroom troughs that the old Tampa Stadium had as opposed to urinals.

I think I held it all game long.

The pizza arrived. We ate, we laughed some more and finally started making our way to the car. I tried to freeze that moment. A son and his Dad, spending a whole day together watching football, eating pizza. I didn’t want it to ever end. Somehow as I got in the car I didn’t feel like an 11 year-old. Somehow, I felt a little older.

I told myself if I ever become a Dad, I hope I am like my father. Taking my kids to football games, eating pizza and laughing. Creating those memories that, even today as I have a hard time remembering where my wallet is most mornings, I can still remember every detail of that special birthday 39 years ago.

Mark, Douglas and Larry Cook

As an adult and a father, I have taken my son to football games. I have went with my Dad and my son to football games. My hope turned into a reality.

The Bucs lost the football game that November afternoon 24-7 to the Broncos, but I didn’t lose.

I won. I won a memory that nothing will ever take away.

Football.

Pizza.

And an everlasting bond shared between a father and a son.


VIDEO THROWBACK

Finding highlights of that Broncos and Bucs game was difficult, but here is the NFL Films recap of the 1982 season. And below that is a bonus video. For those who missed out on the great toys of the 70s and 80s. Enjoy.

Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at [email protected]
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Horse

Good story Mark, I was at that game with my wife and two kids. The kids are in their 50’s know. The way one survived the 70’s & 80’s Home Buc games, was all about the tail gating before and after!.

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revfish

And I remember how everyone used to boo when the advertisement came out that said, “Heeeeeeeeeerre come the Vacuuuuums”. Don’t know if you remember it, but our family used to always mimic it

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bucballer

Remember it? That was an awesome advertisement that came on the stadium screens! Well… not necessarily awesome, but an awesome memory indeed! Seems like the earlier games had more of the stadium announcer talking more… Dave Pear on the sack or Dewey Selmon on the tackle! They don’t seem to do this anymore. Used to update u on the stats too of a player sometimes…that was Jimmie Gile’s 4th receiving TD of the season! Good time indeed. I remember all of the things u spoke of Mark… especially the piss troughs! Ha! Ha! Ha! Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00… Read more »

stb_tcb

And what was the Italian place that always had advertisements during timeouts that blasted that little snip from the Billy Joel Italian restaurant song? I was such a clueless kid, I used to think it was so cool that they got Billy Joel to sing something for their commercial!

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werliaros1

How about when the dog paused, looked at the crowd and then booed back. That was classic

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danielob

I loved going to the games, win or lose (mostly lost in the 1980’s, unfortunately) and eventually had 2 season tickets in the “cheap” seats up in section 328, top row, right by the flag pole for 12 years. I remember the rise and fall of the Bucs, how we became dominant in the late 90’s- 2000’s and eventually the super bowl, but I have great memories of the games and the fans, I always brought my radio to listen to the play-by-play with Gene and company, which is always superior to the television I have to listen to at… Read more »

bucballer

Yep Daniel, had the old headphones on so I could listen to radio call the game, especially during those… what did seem like really long… TV timeouts! Good times indeed!

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e

Somewhere in the closet, I still have my “away” Bucs electric football team. I decided that the home color was to close to the Broncos that came with the set. Interestingly enough, my QB has the #12 sticker on him.

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Spitfire

Great story Mark! I was just being born that Sept but I remember going to a cream sickle game every year as a kid starting at 6. My Dad worked higher up for Scotty’s and would manage to get tickets once a year. I remember as a kid peeing in those troughs and seeing as many or more Bears, Green Bay or Vikings fans at the game. My first game I didn’t understand what was goin on very much but I remember us being up by 1 and the whole crowd counting down the game clock from 7 only for… Read more »

revfish

Mark, just to make sure, did you ever get the copy of the game cartoon I sent you out of the program from that day??

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awwdembucs

Great stories Mark: I took my son to his 1st Bucs game, it was the 1st win at home against St. Louis. After the game it was like the Bucs had won the SuperBowl. He lives in Seattle now BUT is still a Bucs FAN.

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scubog

awwdembucs: I too was at that game and have the framed commemorative poster from that first home win still hanging proudly in my Bucs room. Beside it is a framed piece of the goal posts that were torn down by the fans (not me). What a great way it was to finish that 1977 season on a two-game winning streak.

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twspin

Hella walk down memory lane here Mark. I enjoyed it. I was part of those days. When I look at my son and tell him me and my dad use to get Free Buc tickets from Winn Dixie with a 50 dollar grocery purchase, He looks at me like a deer in headlights! And those were great seats too! Those were the days. Concessions and beer was cheap. And you could actually meet and greet the players without crowds. Meeting And shaking Leroy Selmon’s hand as a kid are forever etched in my mind. His hands were so big, they… Read more »

Morgan

my first year at USF – I don’t think I went to that game – but I went to plenty during my time at USF – tix were easy to get and cheap

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stb_tcb

I really love these flashbacks, thank you for writing them! I was at that same game, sitting on about the 23-yard line on the west side of the stadium (south end) about 40 or 50 rows up. My father had bought season tickets since the very first season and I had the privilege of going to every home game the Bucs ever had until I went away to college. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have these kinds of memories brought back into the forefront of my mind. I watched that video at the end,… Read more »

danielob

Forgot to mention, I have alot of Bucs games from the 80’s on VCR tapes, including Vinny’s first start. Haven’t accessed them for awhile so they might not be in great shape but would be interesting if i could transfer them to DVD format.

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Jonbuc

Excellent piece, Mark. I’m @ your age…and was a Buc fan from a far ( Montana ). The Sears catalog was my only source for Buc gear ( barely ) and that was a rare game I got to watch on TV as Montana broadcasts all the Bronco games. Thanks for the nostalgia…very well done.

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werliaros1

Thanks for the great story. I too remember the smell of the cigars and listening to the Bucs Band. Boy I miss the atmosphere of a jam packed Sombrero and listening to Mark Champion on my Buc helmet earphone radio. My first NFL game was in Buffalo and I also remember seeing that ticket for the first time. It elicited a visceral reaction that is so hard to explain. I wished we could go back to relive some of those moments. Guess we are getting old.

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Horse

Anybody know if Mark Champion is still doing radio in Detroit?

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dotASC

Love it Mark, but wish it was a longer piece. Not complaining; I eat up these nostalgia pieces like I used to eat up my breakfast reading the Tom McEwen pieces! I’m a new father here myself, and boy can I relate. Took my boy to his first sporting event (Rays home playoff vs Oakland game 3) at the super inappropriate age of 5 months old last fall, and I’d consider that fatherly act one of my life’s crowning achievements. It was deafening, so we left after half an inning, but I’ll treasure it until the day I die. When… Read more »

BucWonder

Great article Mark. I think many of us can relate to it. Thanks, and I love the Tom McEwen opening.

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scubog

I hope my son (now 32) has such fond memories of his first game. It was against the Packers in 1996. Of course he was shocked to see grown men peeing in the troughs, and even the sinks, while standing back three feet (before social distancing) displaying their “weenies”. It was hot as always so he wanted a blue sno-cone that upset his stomach. He asked if we could go home. I told him it was only half-time and we stay until the end. He said, “what if I puke?” I told him it would just be blue water and… Read more »

Captain Sly

Hahahaa Funny! Way to initiate the kid Scubog Spoken like a real Pirate! Grhhhh..
Nice story Mark especially the part about driving up and seeing the old stadium. Although I must say I don’t miss the Old Sombrero however reading this makes me call back a tear or two. It was a little Moving, Great Job!

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Dman

Hey Mark, great story and nicely written.

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Thunder Sack

Probably my favorite article I have read on here. The pictures and descriptions bring back a ton of memories! Thanks for that.

And I love the description of the giant southern breakfast before each article. A very cool quirky thing that McEwen did there.

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drdneast

Loved the walk down memory lane. As I do now, I have had season tickets since 1980. Took my dad to a Bucs game in 1979 against the Minnesota Vikings when they had a chance to clinch the division title and ended up losing in the last minute of the game. Talk about your heartbreak. Then i had to drive all the way back to Rockledge, Fla. Geeesh. Loved the video clip of the 1981 season. i believe the Bucs ended up losing to the Cowgirls in the playoffs back then when Dougie had another one of his flat games.… Read more »

scubog

As I recall that was the game in which we missed a couple extra points and a field goal to lose the game. So, not much has changed.

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