On Prove-It Day, that's just what the Buccaneers did
Take that! The Tampa Bay Buccaneers told the Philadelphia Eagles Saturday afternoon. Take that! They also told the National Football League. Take that! They messaged their detractors the land over. Take that! They told those whose officiating judgements Saturday hamstrung them so, even disallowed a Jimmie Giles touchdown. And, take that! And relish it, they told their favoured faithful who went in record numbers to Tampa Stadium Saturday.

They told all and sundry, for and against, not in words but in the football deeds that produced a precious 24-17 win over the favoured Eagles to put this four-year-old team but one more victory from the Super Bowl. Perhaps that bears repeating. The Bucs are but one win away from the Super Bowl. And friends, by their performance Saturday, they flat deserve to be in this admired position.

Saturday was prove-it day and the Bucs did just that. Indeed, they came very close to routing the Eagles early but as seems to be their modus operandi, nothing comes easy. It went from a 17-0 lead to a 17-10 situation, then to the comfort of 24-10 before it slipped to a nervous 24-17 where the attention-getting Buc defense did what it had to in order to preserve the jewel of a football victory, to run off the field, into the tunnel and beneath the sign which proclaims: "Tampa, Where The Good Life Gets Better Every Day." "So do the Bucs," said return man Danny Reece, who had a fine day.

But then, who didn't, on this best of moments in Buc history. "This is not an expansion team," said a gracious losing coach, Dick Vermeil. "It is a pro football team, a conference championship football team that won 10 games. They definitely were the better football team today."

Indeed, they were and they let the Eagles know early they had some talented aggressors on their hands. Offensively, the Bucs shot 80 and one-half yards for a first-possession touchdown and a 7-0 lead, quarterback Doug Williams at ease and on target, and Ricky Bell churning his best. That got the Eagle defense's attention. Defensively, the Bucs slammed into Eagle ball carriers and would-be pass receivers with such force that they spent much of the time later hearing footsteps and not-catching catchable Ron Jaworski passes. "I know they heard us coming," said Mark Cotney, Buc safety. "It was our plan to make them feel it," said defensive back Cedric Brown. "Coach John McKay told us to make them pay if they had the ball," said secondary coach Wayne Fontes.

Offensively, Williams had a day that will send the quarterback soaring and Bell had a day Philadelphia running back Wilbert Montgomery had to envy. The ever-improving Bell carried the football 38 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns. For a flourish, he scored standing both times, as did Giles with the third TD on a bullseye pass from Williams. The truth of the matter is, the Bucs dominated this game, dominated it much more than the score suggests. They dominated every department. Every one. The Buc defense was so effective against the run the Eagles prefer, Philadelphia was forced to pass a panicky 38 times. The celebrated Philadelphia running game was checked with but 48 yards! It was commonplace for the Eagle ball carrier to rise wobbly and uncertain of his whereabouts. "We are a physical team," said linebacker Richard Wood. "We let them know that early and we did not stop. There was a special feeling in our locker room before the game. It was as intense as I can remember."

It showed. And it was absorbed willingly by the great crowd, which gave as much as it could from start to finish. Even as the Bucs appeared on the field, they were leaping about, raising fists upward in a salute of readiness. Indeed, their aggression cost them an early, controversial penalty, said to be roughing an Eagle unnecessarily out of bounds. It was but the start of 105 yards in penalties that would hamper the Bucs, but to their credit, this was another obstacle they overcame. The offense - which had scored but 10 points in its previous three games - got its 24 with impressive ease. Bell said that so because, "everybody did his job." He said he was tired, that as a rookie he never figured he would carry the ball this much, but "I love it. We're reaching for the sky, now." The defense, "well," said Coach Abe Gibron, "we did nothing different. We just took it to them like we can. Damn it, they did, they did have one 15-yard run!"

Then, there were the so frequently maligned special teams. "Our special teams were special today," said their coach, Phil Krueger. Indeed they were, in every department, the most visible of which being Neil O'Donoghue's all-around good place-kicking (40-yard field goal, three extra points, long kick-offs) and the clutch second-half punting of Tom Blanchard, who found it again. "It would have been," said one Philadelphia writer, "a crime for the Eagles to have won today," because a Philadelphia victory was within reach in the late going.

"We deserved to win today," said Coach John McKay after his deeds and those of his organisation were on the board for all in live attendance to see, 24-17, fact is, for an estimated 40 million on CBS-TV to see. "We're a good solid football team, and I think we can play most anybody." On this Saturday, these Bucs could have played anybody. Take that!

Tom McEwen The Tampa Tribune December 1979