TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS v OAKLAND RAIDERS FEATURE
10 November 1996 – the day it all turned round for the franchise
This feature first appeared in the final 2008 edition of Buccaneers Review magazine.
There are games that teams play that mean a great deal in the won-lost column. And then there are games that signify something much deeper, a turning round in the fortunes of a franchise. This game from Tony Dungy’s first season as head coach in 1996 was one of those defining moments in the history of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Tony Dungy inherited a team with 13 straight losing seasons of futility to overcome. A changing of the mindset was as important as any kind of improvements in personnel on and off the field. But with the support of the Glazer family ownership in their second season at the helm, there was confidence around Tampa that things would begin to change, “A new day in Tampa Bay”.
But when the 1996 Bucs began the season 0-5 and were shut out at home by the Lions in front of a half-full Sombrero, there were doubters in the stands and in the media.
The bye week gave the Bucs the chance to recoup and won their next game against the Minnesota Vikings before suffering three narrow losses in a row to leave them at 1-8 and once again bottom of the NFC Central Division.
The Raiders were next in town but more focus was made by Dungy during the week on some off-field mistakes that had been made. DE Regan Upshaw and RB Errict Rhett both missed scheduled public appearances and were taken to task by the head coach in front of the whole team. “Until we corrected the mindset off the field” Dungy recalled in his recent book, “There was no way it was going to happen on it.”
The Bucs had a new weapon they were beginning to unleash on the NFL, a rookie bruiser of a back named Mike Alstott. Quickly becoming a fan favourite, the A-Train was being used as much as a receiver as a battering ram runner, with Rhett doing the bulk of the carries between the tackles.
Despite totally dominating the first half in holding the ball for over 22 minutes, the Bucs found themselves tied at 10 and following a long Jeff Hostetler to Tim Brown connection, a Derrick Hobbs TD reception put the Raiders ahead.
QB Trent Dilfer kept the next drive alive with a key scramble and found Alstott for the tying score with just over seven minutes left but a huge pass interference penalty on S Melvin Johnson left the Raiders in point-blank range for K Cole Ford inside the final two minutes.
Jim Otto leaned to Al Davis. "This'll do it," said the former Hall of Fame center, who had become a Raiders executive. "We're outta here."
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 silver-and-black eyes. "He's already missed two chip shots this year."
Fortunately Ford inexplicably missed the game-winning 23-yard field-goal attempt wide left with five seconds left in regulation. "I'll tell you what, if you let us hang around too long, we're going to beat you," Bucs DT Warren Sapp said. "The game was on the line and they gift-wrapped us the game. That's pretty much what they did. Whenever you get one like that, when you've got a second chance at life, you've got to take advantage of it."
Once into overtime, it was A-Train time and competing a game in which the Bucs held the ball for over twice as long as their opponents, the orange and white drove downfield to set up their own kicker Michael Husted for their own winning field goal.
Alstott had just run over Oakland safety Eddie Anderson on a 20-yard reception and on the sideline, the Bucs were celebrating the gain and laughing at Anderson's pain. "Hey, man," rookie defensive end Regan Upshaw shouted as a woozy Anderson was being led off the field, "did you get the number on that truck?"
The Bucs were still 2-8 and were on the road the following week in San Diego, a game that was previewed by Chris Berman and ESPN calling the team “The Yucks”. Feeding off the momentum from the win over the Raiders, the Bucs overturned an early 14-0 deficit to win 25-17 in Qualcomm Stadium, their first win on the West Coast in 16 years. A 3-2 mark in the final five games lifted the final season record to 6-10 and more momentum going forward than possibly anyone could have imagined. The Raiders went through 1997 and made a coaching change at the end of that season bringing in a young offensive co-ordinator from the Philadelphia Eagles who went by the name of Jon Gruden.
Click here for more details on this game
Paul Stewart, Buccaneers Review, December 2008