Ford breaks down when it matters
Jim Otto leaned to Al Davis. "This'll do it," said the Hall of Fame center, now a Raiders executive. "We're outta here." Eight grains of Sunday sand remained in Houlihan's hourglass. Score 17-all. Oakland placekicker Cole Ford addressed a 28-yarder. A layup. Tap-in. A near-gimme field goal for the win. Grimy, sweaty Bucs prepared to head for another losing shower. In the press box, Raiders owner Davis wasn't buying into Otto's confidence. "Jump to no conclusions," Al said to the semi-crippled old Double-0, rolling those beady silver-and-black eyes. "He's already missed two %&% chip shots this year."

Davis was right. Cole was cold. Blew the kick. Wide left. Tampa Bay had hitched a ride on a broken-down Ford, taking a trip into overtime. Where the Bucs eventually would move the football and Michael Husted would get his gimme field-goal chance. Twenty-three yards. Layup, right? Tap-in, right? Well, yeah. Bucs guy made it. Tampa Bay won 20-17. Davis swore. Otto gulped.

Playoff fantasies for underachieving Oakland (4-6) had died in a most unlikely place. On the Tampa field where, 13 1/2 seasons ago, the Raiders last won a Super Bowl. They'd been crumbled by the Bucs, who never had beaten Al and his gang.

Sneering, grumbling Raiders flew 2,500 miles home to Oakland after their Florida flop. Somebody better take a Monday head count. Just maybe, somewhere over Oklahoma or Nevada, the whole angry Davis mob pried open a door on their chartered DC-10 and gave Ford the heave from 35,000 feet. Or maybe they dropped him over Louisiana, but Cole missed wide left, landing in Texas.

At last, we know the victorious key for the Bucs. All they have to do is get into OT, where Tampa Bay is as dependable as Dallas, Green Bay, San Francisco or anybody. In the 1990s, despite losing two games overall in every three, the Bucs are 5-0 in overtime. Their problem has been getting there.

"We've got a few good breaks coming," Tampa Bay center Tony Mayberry said. "If they ever even out, we've got a lot of wins coming." Sitting beside him in a happy Bucs dressing room was Ian Beckles. "It was only right that their guy missed the field goal," 300-pound guard said. "We outplayed the Raiders. We deserved to win. We earned it. For a change, the right thing happened for us."

Beckles is right. His team didn't deserve a 1-8 record. It should be better than 2-8. "We'll win far more often from this day forward," Ian promised. "We're coming along well. Our defense is tough. Trent Dilfer is playing great at quarterback. Errict Rhett and Mike Alstott are running hard. In the offensive line, we're pulling together pretty well despite a lot of injuries."

Right again, Ian. Jorge Diaz, a rookie from Texas A&M-Kingsville, has matured steadily at left guard since jumping in for injured Jim Pyne. Doug Riesenberg, a 10-year pro, got hurt against the Raiders. Jason Odom, a 296-pound rookie from the Florida Gators, took over and played more than acceptably. "Jorge is doing real good," Mayberry said. Beckles leaped to correct his next-door neighbor in the Bucs' line. "Tony, you don't want to be quoted in the newspaper as saying Jorge did good," Ian chided. "Get your grammar in order. Say that Jorge did well." Mayberry rolled his eyes.

A moment later, Beckles was being interviewed by a radio reporter. He said, "We were dominating them " ... Now it was Mayberry's turn to correct. "I would say, Ian, that dominate is a bit strong to say."

Fellows having some rare fun. Odom recalled watching Ford's kick that seemed about to blemish Tampa Bay's afternoon. He's no Al Davis, this kid from Bartow, but Jason also wasn't conceding the 28-yarder. "I kept remembering last week when Seattle blocked a clinching kick against Houston and ran it back for a touchdown to steal the game," Odom said. "I hoped for something good like that against the Raiders. We got it too."

Tampa Bay was playing four rookies among its offensive 11: Diaz, Odom, fullback Alstott and wide receiver Karl Williams. "Belief in ourselves is really coming now," said Alstott, a 248-pound strongboy from Purdue. "Our veterans have been extremely helpful and also most patient. What a great weekend it's been for me, with Purdue upsetting Michigan, and now my Bucs take one from the Oakland Raiders."

Cole Ford, they thank you.

Hubert Mizell, The St.Petersburg Times 1996