Capece boots Bucs into playoffs
Jim Selman, The Tampa Tribune, published 3 January 1983

In another nerve-wracking finish, this time stretching into overtime, and with a new angle on miracle wins, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers barged into the National Football League playoffs Sunday for the third time in four years. Mystified by the Chicago Bears' defense and down by two touchdowns at the half, then 17 points midway in the third quarter, the Bucs wrote the new chapter when fullback James Wilder ran 47 yards to the Chicago 13, leading to Bill Capece's 33-yard field goal at 3:14 of the extra period to give them a 26-23 victory. With 68,112 fans frustrated by two interceptions and a fumble in the first 20 minutes, but wondering if there could be another miracle win, the Bucs fought to a 23-23 tie on Capece's 40-yard field goal with 26 seconds remaining in regulation. That came after quarterback Doug Williams, on an aching knee and a sore hamstring, threw 35 and 31-yard touchdown passes to tight end Jimmie Giles within 12 minutes.

The Bucs will play at Dallas in the first round of the expanded 16-team Super Bowl Tournament. After an 0-2 start, the Bucs won their fifth game in the last seven for a 5-4 finish in the final, pulsating game of the strike-shortened regular season, adding to their 1979 and 1981 playoff honours. Six of the Bucs" seven games since the strike - and five of the wins - were decided in the final minute. "We got another heart check and we got another gut check today," John McKay said. "We had some funny plays out there. One was the longest fumble in our history. I believe I am the oldest coach in this league. I was 29 when the season started."

Bill Capece may make him feel younger. Just as a week earlier when he kicked a 27-yard field goal to defeat the Lions 23-21 - in a game where the Bucs had trailed 21-6 in the third quarter - the 5-foot-7 Capece was big enough to handle opposition taunts. "On the sideline," Capece said of the winning kick, "Coach McKay came up to me and said, "Relax, Billy. Just do your job." He gave me the impression he was confident I could do the job. "The taunting? That's all right. They're going home. They're out of it and we're in the playoffs."

Nose tackle David Logan said with a laugh, "Earlier, you guys (media) were coming in here to kill us. I was ready to die myself. But this win is as great as any of the others because of the fashion we did it. "We wrote a new chapter in finishes, didn't we? Pretty soon, you guys are going to run out of paper." Mike Ditka, first-year coach of the Bears who finished 3-6 and saw their playoff chances dashed by the Buccaneer rally, said, "I could alibi and tell you a bunch of things. But there are no alibis. I think it is evident that we played a good team and they won." End Dave Stalls, who had two of the four sacks registered on Chicago's rookie quarterback Jim McMahon, said of Capece's winning field goal: "The whole defense's heart expanded three-fold. We were tired, no doubt about it. We did a good job stopping them in their series in the overtime, then seeing James Wilder break that run to set up the field goal, that was a gorgeous run."

The Bears won the overtime toss and elected to receive. Two starting defensive backs were out with injuries - free safety Cedric Brown (bruised shoulder) and right corner Mike Washington (bruised lower back). Washington's backup, Johnny Ray Smith, was on the sideline with a bruised shoulder and knee. With John Holt and Mark Cotney filling in and strong safety Neal Colzie playing free safety, the defense stopped the Bears at their 25 and Bob Parsons punted to Theo Bell at the Buc 40. Then with the Chicago defense spread out expecting a pass, Wilder got the ball on a running play called 18 EAT pitch; "EAT" means end and tackle. The running game had been stuffed for 47 net yards. But suddenly, Wilder broke into the clear on the right side and ran the 47 yards to the 13, with blocks by center Steve Wilson, guard Sean Farrell, tackle Charley Hannah and Giles. "We tried to do the best thing to win, but it didn't work out," Ditka said. "We figured they would come out throwing because they had been doing that on every down."

How tough had it been? With his 47-yard run, Wilder finished with a net 46 on two carries and was the leading Buccaneer rusher. The Bucs could have won in regulation time. At the start of the fourth quarter, Williams hit wide receiver Gerald Carter on a 20-yard post pass, but he couldn't hold on to the ball. Then Capece, who had kicked 27 and 32-yard field goals for the only Buccaneer scoring, missed a 38-yarder. Finally, a 21-yard Williams pass to wide receiver Kevin House, just prior to the tying field goal, was caught just beyond the end line, like the last-minute 14-9 loss at Dallas. "I will dream about missing that ball," Carter said. "I had thought about what I would do in the end zone and I totally missed it." Capece said, "I would have felt bad if we had lost 23-20. It was on my mind. But I just blocked it out of my mind when I had to kick again."

Through no fault of the Buc defense and without much contrition by the Chicago offense, the Bears led 13-0 at the 12:16 mark of the second quarter on 43 and 19-yard field goals by Bob Thomas, after an interception by free safety Gary Fencik - his career seventh against the Bucs - and a 64-yard runback of a Williams fumble by tackle Steve McMichael, and a 39-yard touchdown interception return by linebacker Otis Wilson. Tackle Dave Reavis and Williams prevented McMichael from scoring on the long runback. McMichael obviously ran out of gas and the pursuing Reavis got just enough of a grasp of his feet to allow Williams to make the tackle at the 8-yard line. The defense held to force a field goal. Capece made it 13-6 with his 27 and 31-yard kicks.

But McMahon, with 13 and 31-yard passes, drove the Bears 74 yards and to a touchdown on a 19-yard pass to wide receiver Brian Baschnagel. With good field position in the third quarter, the Bears drove 22 yards and led 23-6 at 7:03 of the third quarter on a 40-yard Thomas field goal. Although Walter Payton rushed 26 times for 109 yards and McMahon completed 12 of 30 passes for 167 yards without an interception, the Bears would not seriously threaten again. Instead, with Williams finding the hot hand for 25 of 49 passing for 367 yards and the offense opening it up, it was all Bucs.

After just missing a wide-open Giles straight up the middle in the third quarter, Williams came back on the next play, on third-and-10, and found him for 35 yards and the first TD of the day. Then after injuring his hamstring when he tried to pull up on an out-of-bounds run, Williams found Giles behind Fencik and laid the ball in his hands on the 31-yard touchdown play. "They were in a nickel defense," Giles said. "Doug saw me late. Fortunately, they run pretty much the same coverage and we were able to score on the next play," Giles said of his first touchdown. On the other, the strong safety was covering one on one. I got open. I think Doug threw a super ball." It was all left up then to Capece. It was a $6,000 bonus day because that is what the Bucs will earn to play in the first round of the playoffs. And somebody reminded everyone of that by writing "$6,000" in large letters on the chalkboard in the dressing room. It was like money in the bank.