The Bucs in Gotham City
On a recent trip to New York City I took in a game at Yankee Stadium. I am no fan of the Yankees, but I always wanted to see a game in the “House that Ruth Built” and since it is scheduled to be demolished after the 2008 season, I squeezed a quick trip in.
As I sat in the upper deck watching batting practice I thought about all of the history that Yankee Stadium has hosted. Baseball immortals such as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Reggie Jackson quickly came to mind as the Yankees are the main tenant. Lesser known is the NFL history at the old stadium in the Bronx.
The New York Football Giants played at Yankee Stadium from 1956 until 1973 and hosted multiple championship games including the famous 1958 title game that Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts won 23-17 in the first sudden-death game in league history. From my outfield seats I did my best to think back to the old newsreel footage of that game and I think I figured out where Alan Ameche burst through for the game winning touchdown almost 50 years ago.
Then my mind turned to Bucs history in New York and I realized the Bucs had never played in Yankee Stadium. I know, why am I thinking such things on a beautiful summer day in New York? Well, Monument Park was closed and I had nothing else to do but eat a hot dog until the game started. In fact, the Buccaneers have only played in New York City twice in their history, but not against the Giants.
Buc-Giant games in the New York area have been played at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. You can see the famous New York skyline from Giants Stadium as the island of Manhattan is just a quick trip through the Lincoln Tunnel which goes under the Hudson River. Of course a quick trip in the New York area is relative. When I drove from Giants Stadium to Manhattan I never exceeded fifteen miles per hour as the freeway went from about ten lanes to one in little over a football field!!
The Giants moved into Giants Stadium in 1976 after spending the 1973-1975 seasons as vagabonds splitting time between Shea Stadium (previous home of the Jets) and the Yale Bowl in Connecticut. The Bucs first visit to Giants Stadium occurred in 1978 when they lost to the Giants 17-14. In a great statistical anomaly, the Giants beat the Bucs by the same 17-14 score at Giants Stadium in three consecutive games (1978, 1979 and 1984).
The Bucs only games actually played in “The Big Apple” were 1976 and 1982 match-ups with the New York Jets at Shea Stadium in Queens. In August of 1966 the Beatles played Shea in one of the most memorable concerts of all time. In November of 1976 the Bucs played Shea in one of the most forgettable football games of all time. Fumbling four times, the Bucs were rolled by Joe Namath and the Jets 34-0. This marked the only time in Namath’s Hall of Fame career that he played against the Bucs and while he didn’t set the world on fire, he didn’t have to against the expansion Bucs.
Six years later in 1982 the playoff-bound Buccaneers endured the then coldest game-time temperature in team history, 23 degrees. With the conditions so brutal the Bucs laid a 32-17 egg at Shea and almost derailed the team’s season. The loss dropped the team’s record to 2-4 in the strike-shortened season. Fortunately, the Cardiac Kids of 1982 rebounded to win their final three games and make the playoffs.
These games against the Jets are pretty indicative of the Bucs in New York. Frank Sinatra once famously sang, “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere.” The Bucs have never really “made” it there. One of the worst losses in franchise history happened at Giants Stadium in 1985 when the Jets (who moved there in 1984) beat down Tampa Bay 62-28. To me the most painful loss at Giants Stadium was in 1985 when Eric Schubert kicked five field goals to down the Bucs 22-20. The Bucs have to be the only team to ever get beaten by a kicker signed straight out of his gig as a substitute teacher!!!!!
Until 1997 the Bucs never won a game in Gotham. A 20-8 victory over the Giants at the Meadowlands helped propel Tony Dungy’s Bucs to the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. Other than that, Buccaneer trips to New York have more resembled the exploits of Clark Griswold and the rest of the “Vacation” clan than Marco Polo. On the plus side, the Bucs are undefeated in Baton Rouge!
Denis Crawford, August 2007