Bucs show the nation
Wherever and whenever, it's on to the National Football League's National Conference championship game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Yes, you can believe it! The Central Division champs sent the 4 1/2-point favorite Philadelphia Eagles home losers and moved within one game of the golden prize - Super Bowl XIV - with a hairy 24-17 victory in the divisional playoffs Saturday at Tampa Stadium.
The championship game will be played in Tampa or in Dallas on Sunday, Jan. 6, depending on the outcome of the Dallas Cowboys-Los Angeles Rams game in Dallas today. Dallas has the site priority and will have the home-field advantage by beating the Rams. But if the Rams win, it will be played in Tampa Stadium. Approximately 28,000 tickets would go on sale Jan. 2. Houston's win over San Diego in the AFC divisional playoff later Saturday could mean the NFC title game will be played late in the day in either Tampa or Dallas if Pittsburgh beats Miami today.
The Bucs had one of their rare days when everything meshed - offense, defense and kicking - despite the feeling by most in the stadium-record crowd of 71,402 that the officiating breaks were one-sided for the Eagles. Eagles coach Dick Vermeil said his team was beaten more soundly than the score indicated. The Bucs set the game's tempo by using nine minutes, 25 seconds to drive 80 yards for a touchdown on the first series. They jumped to a surprising 17-0 lead after 9:36 of the second quarter. But the Eagles cut it to 17-7 at the half, then made the final two minutes, 11 seconds of the game extremely tense when quarterback Ron Jaworski threw 10 passes in a vain effort to force overtime. In those frenzied moments, three of Jaworski's passes were nearly intercepted - one on a tipped ball and two others into and out of left corner Jeris White's hands. But a 25-yard pass to Billy Campfield to the 50 turned out to be the last completion. Jaworski's next four were incomplete.
The rivalries were one-sided for the Bucs - running back Ricky Bell over Wilbert Montgomery, Doug Williams over Jaworski, special teams over the Philly special teams ranked by one statistics service as No. 1 in the league. Bucs tight end Jimmie Giles even held his own against Philly's best receiver, Harold Carmichael. Bell carried 38 times, an NFL playoff record, for 142 yards and scored two touchdowns on 4 and 1-yard runs. Bell said he got the feeling when the Eagles came onto the field that they were looking ahead to Dallas. As for running 38 times, he said "I'm used to it. I did it at SC (Southern Cal) and I have been doing it here lately." Montgomery, the No. 3 rusher in the NFC just ahead of Bell, was hardly a factor. The gang-tackling, surging, tough Buccaneer defense - No. 1 across the board in the NFC against the rush and pass and in total defense - held him to 35 yards on 13 carries and stuff the Eagles" offense so thoroughly the losers had only 18 rushes for 48 yards and only 227 net yards.
Williams completed seven of 15 passes for 132 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown pass to Giles in the fourth quarter. A 22-yard touchdown pass to Giles in the second quarter was nullified by a referee's ruling that Giles juggled the ball. TV replays didn't support the call. "I had a better feeling all week," Williams said. "Ever since our Kansas City game, the team was in great spirits. All our practices were good. We were relaxed. We played like there is no tomorrow and we played for today. Everybody played his heart out and that's the way you have to play. The offensive line did its job and when you hand off to Ricky bell you know you are going to get 195 percent out of him. "Did you see the airplane flying around with the sign "The Bucs are for real'? I don't think too many people saw that."
Jaworski passed for 199 yards and two touchdowns - 11 yards to Charles Smith in the second quarter and 37 yards to Carmichael in the fourth period that brought the Eagles to within seven points. The Buccaneer lead and defensive shutdown of the running game forced Jaworski to throw 38 passes, some 15 times more than Vermeil had wanted. He completed 15. Carmichael had three catches for 92 yards and the touchdown. Giles grabbed three for 43 yards and touchdown. The Buccaneer special teams, severely criticised for errors late in the season, scored a major triumph. Neil O'Donoghue kicked a 40-yard field goal in the second quarter and three PATs. Tony Franklin booted a 42-yard Eagles" field goal in the third quarter after missing one of 52 in the second.
But the Eagle special teams" committed two serious mistakes. The first blunder came when a delay penalty on a fake field goal prior to Franklin's miss, nullified a first-down run by holder John Sciarra to the Tampa Bay 35. The second came when Franklin disobeyed Vermeil and attempted a short kickoff late in the fourth quarter. Vermeil said he forgot to tell his team to take a time out when the clock was down to two seconds on the fake field goal. The penalty put Franklin out of range. When Jaworski's TD left the Bucs hanging by seven points, Franklin attempted an onsides kick. But the Eagles were penalised for illegal procedure. Vermeil then told him to kick deep. He did not. He kicked short. Tony Davis received for the Bucs at the Tampa Bay 48. Franklin said he thought he work a pooch kick.
Each team scored an easy touchdown, but they earned everything else. The Bucs had to work especially hard because they were tagged for five holding penalties and were penalised nine times for 105 yards. For the first time in a while, the offense, mostly on Williams" passes, overcame the penalties. Bell scored from the 4 to cap the 80-yard drive in the first quarter. The Bucs were penalised for holding twice and for clipping on a second-quarter drive and had to settle for O'Donoghue's 40-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead after driving as close as the 11. When end Wally Chambers forced Montgomery to fumble and nose tackle Randy Crowder recovered for the Bucs at the Eagles" 4-yard line, Bell scored from the 1 and it was 17-0. But rookie linebacker Jerry Robinson intercepted a tipped Williams" pass and ran 37 yards to the Tampa Bay 11. Jaworski threw the 11-yard touchdown pass from there just 1:28 before halftime.
The Eagles pulled to 17-10 early in the third quarter on Franklin's 44-yard field goal and the score remained that way until Tampa Bay drove 57 yards on nine plays without a penalty and Williams threw the 9-yard scoring pass to Giles. The defense forced Giles out of a curl into a quick out on the play. The final Eagles score came on the 37-yard Jaworski-to-Carmichael pass play, climaxing a 10-play, 80-yard drive. "I think we outplayed them," Coach John McKay said. "I think Philadelphia played well. We got penalised so often on offense and that slowed us down, but I thought we could move the ball on Philadelphia and we did. I didn't think they could run on us and that the only chance they had was to throw the football and they did that fairly well."
Vermeil said "the credit goes to John McKay and his staff and his players. There was no question about who was the best football team today. The game wasn't as close as the final score." Best team? The lowly, underdog Bucs out of the Central Division? "Bring on "Jimmy The Greek," " kidded Chambers of the best-known oddsmaker in the country. "We'll take him on now."
Jim Selman The Tampa Tribune 7 January 1980