In Bucs Throwback Thursday, 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 occasional column in the article comments.
Each week before offering up a new Bucs Throwback Thursday, 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 three cage-free egg omelet, with sharp cheddar cheese melted over a mixture of bell pepper, onion, mushrooms and bacon all from Sunny Tomatoes Fruit Stand in Parrish, Fla. topped off with a glass of Ft. Pierce-grown tangerine juice, here is this week’s Throwback Thursday section.
Damn you COVID-19.
This morning I should be packing up the rest of my things and Ubering to the airport to catch a flight to Denver to see the Buccaneers take on the Broncos on Sunday. I am not a huge fan of traveling, but the last few years covering the Buccaneers have afforded me the opportunity to visit some terrific cities across the United States and even to London, England.
Last season I went to Phoenix for the NFL’s annual meetings and to Bucs games in Los Angeles, London, Nashville and Detroit.
Mark Cook and Scott Reynolds in London – Photo by: PR
This year I hoped to travel to Denver, Las Vegas and either Chicago or New York.
But as we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot of the way we do things. Technically, I could still go to these cities and be credentialed, but in all honestly, due to the NFL rules for media members and the way things are handled at stadiums, there really is little to no benefit to seeing a game in the stadium versus watching at home on television. We have no access to players in the locker room, no field access and no in-person press conferences. All of that is done via Zoom conference calls.
So in the recliner I will sit.
Again, damn you COVID-19.
My first time traveling to cover the Buccaneers was back in 1996 when I just helped Scott Reynolds out for home games, getting quotes in the locker room and going back to the office to transcribe them for the old Buccaneer Magazine.
I was a full-time underwriter for Geico during the week, and part-time sportswriter on the side. Reynolds called me one night and said he needed someone to fly to Green Bay to cover the game and asked if I were interested.
Intersted? Uh, yeah.
The only problem was I hadn’t been on an airplane since I flew for the first time from Germany to the United States in 1972. I was born in Germany and came to America with my German mother and American solider father. Back in 1996 The Buccaneer Magazine actually traveled on the team plane with the players and coaches.
So I arrived at the old One Buc Place at 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday, boarded one of three team buses and drove to the airport where we traveled directly out to the tarmac to board the plane.
As the captain told us to put on our seat belts and the plane started rolling towards the runway, my heart started pounding and I was getting flushed. I don’t remember which player it was, but one of them noticed my anxiety and laughed telling me, “Don’t worry, you think God would let a plane with Tony Dungy on it crash?”
Dungy, who was in his first year as coach of Tampa Bay was – and still is – a well known man of faith, so that put me at ease somewhat.
Photo by: Mark Cook/PR
We arrived in Wisconsin a few hours later and landed in what looked to be a cornfield. Later on I learned it was actually Appleton, Wisconsin, and not Green Bay. No one on that plane was happier than I once the plane touched down.
From there we loaded up on buses again and drove to Appleton, which is a quaint little downtown straight out of “Back To The Future” where we were staying in the team hotel. After a shower and a call home using my GTE calling card (there were no cell phones), our photographer Cliff Welch and I made our way downstairs to the hotel restaurant for dinner. When we checked in, the Buccaneers gave us the itinerary of the weekend, including when we needed to be on the bus to the stadium the next morning.
Feeling grateful I arrived safely via plane I even went to the team chapel meeting the next morning before the buses started leaving the hotel for the 45-minute drive to Green Bay.
As we drove through the Wisconsin countryside we started getting into Green Bay. The city wasn’t full of skyscrapers or modern high-rise buildings – at least not in 1996 – but more of older residential homes.
And then it just appeared.
Where the ghosts of Vince Lombardi, Paul Hourning and Willie Davis once roamed.
Lambeau Field – Photo by: Getty Images
The “Ice Bowl.”
The “Frozen Tundra.”
Negative 15 degrees.
The Packers beat the Cowboys 21-17 for the NFL Championship.
As we arrived at the stadium for the 1:00 p.m. kickoff (noon Green Bay time) I was amazed at the sights around the stadium. First of all, the outside of Lambeau Field looked like a college stadium from 50 years ago. It looked like aluminum siding covering the entire outside. For concessions it was essentially brats, beer and RC Cola. I expected the Fonz and Richie Cunningham to arrive any second. It really was like being transported back into time.
And the fans?
Absolutely rabid. As far as you could see, all the way around the stadium there were tailgates. Grills, beer, tents, music just people adorned in Packers jerseys having fun.
Bucs fans can tailgate pretty well, but sorry, they can’t compare to how they do it in Green Bay before – and after – Packers games.
I just had to get on the field and walk the turf. After dropping my bag and computer off – well more a word processor than a computer (remember this was in 1996) – I made my way down onto the field.
It was just as magical as I expected.
Photo by: Mark Cook/PR
The game itself was honestly an afterthought. The whole trip had been surreal. Green Bay won 13-7. The Bucs offense was terrible and defensively, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks were just starting to become the players that six seasons later would lead Tampa Bay to their first Super Bowl championship.
After gathering quotes from interviews after the game we were told not to be late to the bus or risk being left in Wisconsin. I made my way onto the bus with some of the players and also the radio crew of Gene Deckerhoff and then color analyst Dave Logan, who played one season in Green Bay after his time in Tampa Bay. As we sat on the bus warming up, Logan got the whole bus laughing telling a story about his one year with the Packers.
“Man, let me tell you something about Green Bay,” Logan began. “It’s all about the Packers up here. That and deer hunting season. That’s it. You would be watching the 6:00 news and there could be a school burning full of kids and the lead story that night would be something about the Packers or the opening of deer season. Everything else was secondary when I lived here.”
After hearing Logan’s tale of Packers’ life, the bus driver came on the speaker and announced we were going to be sitting tight outside the locker room on the bus as the plane we were scheduled to fly back to Tampa Bay on was getting some maintenance work done.
Sapp was sitting by the widow and was watching all the Packers fans tailgate post-game and many were giving the Bucs players on the bus some good-natured ribbing. Sapp finally got tired of waiting then stood up and announced he was hungry. We all sat amazed as we watched him step across a player seated next to him, head to the aisle and walk off the bus. We laughed when he made his way to a group of Packers fans and sat down with them and began eating hot dogs and brats.
Bucs Hall of Fame DT Warren Sapp – Photo by: Getty Images
That was the day I learned Sapp walked to the beat of his own drummer.
Eventually the plane repairs were done, we made our way to the airport and were off, headed back to Tampa. As we got to cruising altitude, running back Errict Rhett, who had just come back to the team after a seven-game contract dispute and holdout, turned to me and said, “Hey man let me hold your computer. The battery is dead on mine.”
I was taken aback somewhat by the request, as I had just started transcribing the quotes from the Bucs players. I knew Reynolds was waiting back in Tampa for my floppy disc from the word processor and all the quotes so he could layout that week’s edition of Buccaneer Magazine. Reynolds pulled a whole bunch of all-nighters back in the day for you the readers.
I actually told Rhett, no. He glared at me for a minute, then broke into a smile. And he didn’t even try to punch me.
We finally arrived back in Tampa around 11:00 p.m. and I still had to meet Reynolds to give him the quotes from the post-game locker room. I got home around 1:00 a.m. and had to be back at the office the next morning at 8:00 a.m. It was a long, tiring, fascinating and amazing trip all rolled into one and a crazy 36-hour whirlwind adventure.
Since then I have traveled all over the country to different stadiums, but none more historic or memorable as the one to Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1996.
I already have my eye on next season’s road lineup that will include road games to Philadelphia, Boston and Washington D.C. to name a few.
Here’s to COVID-19 being a thing of the past a year from now and life as reporter life returns to normal in 2021.
Damn you, COVID, I should be halfway to Denver right now.
Lambeau Field is probably the most historic NFL stadium still around, although folks in Chicago may have an argument. Here is a quick tour video. A lot has changed since my visit in 1996, but the history and aura still lives on inside the hallowed walls. Even though this isn’t Bucs-related, Tampa Bay fans that appreciate the history of the game of football should appreciate it.
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, the beach and family time.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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