TAMPA STADIUM / HOULIHAN'S
a.k.a. "The Big Sombrero"
|Tampa Stadium was
the bay area's first large football facility. With an initial seating
capacity of 46,477, it was built for the University of Tampa Spartans
football team with an eye towards a potential NFL expansion team in the
THE FIRST PRO GAME IN TAMPA
The first professional football game in the Tampa bay area was between the Chicago Bears and the Tampa Cardinals. The game was played at Plant Field on January 1, 1926. The Bears were led by rookie Harold “Red” Grange and the Cardinals were a pickup team put together by Jim Thorpe. The game itself was billed as a clash of old vs. new, with Grange, the rising star, taking on Thorpe, the aging legend. Read about Red Grange and more about this game.
Plant Field was the
first large spectator sports facility in the area. It was built in 1889 by
Henry B. Plant across the Hillsborough River from Tampa as part of his
Tampa Bay Hotel resort. As the only facility of its kind in Central
Florida, Plant Field hosted a wide variety of events, including auto and
horse racing; pro, college, and high school football; and large political
events. It was also the long-time location of the Florida State Fair, and
the route of the Gasparilla parade would end on Plant Field's track while
the fair was in session.
PRE-TAMPA STADIUM HISTORY AND THE AFL
In 1961 Mayor Julian Lane commissioned a study on the feasibility of a football stadium in Tampa. The University of South Florida was considered as a site, but the relatively new school did not want the stadium. There was not enough support for the plan; USF was in its infancy then and Dr. John Allen (president of USF at the time) was not an athletics type guy. He knew that if the stadium was built there, he wouldn’t have a choice but to support athletics at the school. In addition to Dr. Allen’s hesitancy, there was little public support for a tax-funded stadium. So the building of a Tampa football venue was shelved.
Tampa mayor Julian B.
Lane and Dr. John Allen, USF's first President,
The lack of a big stadium didn't stop the American Football League from coming to Tampa in 1964. In the early days of the AFL, teams from the league barnstormed the country playing exhibition games to try and help with marketing versus the more established NFL. The Buffalo Bills defeated the New York JETS** 26-13 at the University of Tampa’s Phillips Field. The main football stadium in the Tampa bay area during the 1950s, it was a 12,000 seat stadium used by the University of Tampa Spartan football team. The small stadium was only half-filled, no doubt causing the AFL’s leaders to assume that Tampa was not too interested in their league.
**The original source for this info (Tampa Bay sports history blogspot) had "New York Titans." Special thanks to Kenn Tomasch in Phoenix, AZ for the correction. He contacted TampaPix on 1/18/2020 to say: "I wanted to pass along that the Aug. 8, 1964 AFL exhibition game at Phillips Field was between the Buffalo Bills and New York JETS, not Titans. The Titans had become the Jets before the 1963 season."
And reports differ as to the size of the crowd at the Jan. 1, 1926 game at Plant Field between the Chicago Bears and "Tampa Cardinals." The Milwaukee Journal article you reference says 10,000, but the Tampa Tribune story from the next day says 7,000. (That's attached.) Again, love the site. Just wanted to pass those two things along. Best regards, Kenn Tomasch Phoenix, Ariz.
Phillips Field circa late 1940s,
looking north. Heading northward from from the stadium is
Garcia Avenue, which went through the center of the area known as "Roberts
City." North Blvd. is at the upper left corner, and the Fortune St.
bridge, now the Laurel St. Bridge, can be seen at upper right. Cass
St. was just south of the buildings you see at the bottom edge of this
photo. The stadium area is now Tampa Preparatory School and just
north of it is Julian B. Lane Park.
Located on the banks of
the Hillsborough River, Phillips Field
served as the home for the University of Tampa's football team from 1936
The stadium was named after
local businessman Isham Whitfield Phillips, whose family donated the land
to the University of Tampa for construction of the field. It enabled
the Spartans to have their own stadium and not have to schedule their
games around various events at Plant Field. The stadium also
served as the site for the annual Thanksgiving Day high school football
game between Hillsborough and Plant, as well as the Cigar Bowl, a
postseason college football game held from 1947-54. Phillips Field also
hosted an American Football League exhibition game in August 1964 between
the Buffalo Bills and New York Titans.
Hillsborough High School vs. Plant High, Thanksgiving Day Game at
Phillips Field, circa 1950s.
Hillsborough High girls form an "H" on the field during a Thanksgiving Day game against Plant. Robertson & Fresh photo from USF Digital Collections.
|Hillsborough High marching band during Thanksgiving Day game vs. Plant at Phillips Field. Robertson & Fresh photo from USF Digital Collections.
Nov. 29, 1945 Plant - Hillsborough Thanksgiving Day ticket
Courtesy of Vanna Jones Zuckerman
Nov. 28, 1946 Plant-Hillsborough Thanksgiving Day
Courtesy of Vanna Jones Zuckerman
Click each page to view larger. When page opens in new window, click the larger image to view full size.
|Plant High football team
|Hillsborough High football team
|Plant High probable starting lineup
|Hillsborough High probable starting lineup
|Plant captain, coaches, alternate captain, cheerleaders, managers, drill team, Alma Mater
|Hillsborough coaches, co-captains, cheerleaders, managers, drill team and Alma Mater
|Hillsborough and Plant marching bands and majorettes
One particular incident
involving the University of Florida highlighted Phillips Field’s
shortcomings. UF students had a bad experience at Phillips when the Gators
played the University of Kentucky. Not all of the students could get
in to see the game and that led UF to decide not to play in Tampa. For a
town Tampa’s size, it needed a better stadium to attract schools and help out
the University of Tampa which had a good small college football team.
Tampa's Cigar Bowl was a post-season college football bowl game played at Phillps Field from 1947 to 1954 featuring small college teams. In some years, the game was part of a month-long "sports circus" in Tampa, with college basketball, golf, and tennis tournaments scheduled around the area along with horse racing and boxing.
The Cigar Bowl itself was sponsored by the local Egypt Temple Shrine as a fundraising event. After a few years, the limited capacity of Phillips Field (20,000 with temporary bleachers) and the rising cost of hosting the game caused the organization to rethink its sponsorship.
The Shriners discontinued support in 1955,
and the bowl folded. There were several attempts to revive the game as a
major bowl in subsequent years, but the lack of a larger venue made
drawing top college teams impossible.
By the 1960s, however, most major college programs began refusing to travel to Tampa because of the small capacity of Phillips Field. The construction of Tampa Stadium in 1968 marked the end of the road for the venerable old field. Today, the former site of Phillips Field is used as an athletic field on the campus of the Tampa Preparatory School.
Employees of Red Wing Carriers gather at their bus in front of the Tampa Terrace Hotel on Florida Avenue, downtown, before heading to Phillips Field for the Jan. 1, 1950 Cigar Bowl game.
The next AFL experience with the Tampa bay area was
even worse. The 1966 expansion Miami Dolphins opened training camp at Boca Ciega High
School on St. Pete Beach and were shocked at what they found. The high
school field was new sod laid over a base of ground up seashells. The effect of
being tackled on such a field was brutal.
To add insult to injury, the Dolphins were housed in a hotel next door to the old Aquatarium where the players were kept awake all hours of the night by barking seals. You'd think the Dolphins would have felt right at home, but they fled the bay area after less than a month and didn’t come back again until years later.
All these bad experiences could be traced to the fact that the Tampa lacked a first rate stadium.
St. Pete Beach
Aquatarium photo courtesy of Thomas Kaspar
THE FORMATION OF THE TAMPA SPORTS
Before he became Florida Speaker of the House, Terrell Sessums read the study from 1961 realized that some of the issues that made a stadium unfeasible were less burdensome with a piece of property already owned by the city. Sessums reviewed the studies and projections, including the number of games that would be needed to be played to pay for a stadium. He found that the city held title to a large piece of federal surplus property along Dale Mabry Highway. The city had bought the 720 acre parcel from the federal government in 1949 with the idea of eventually building a community sports complex. At the time, the city was only using a small portion of it for the Cincinnati Reds spring training operation, known as Redsland.
|Terrell Sessums in 1961, 1968, as Speaker of the House in 1973 and recently as member of Board of Governors of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and as a Trustee of the United Methodist Higher Education Foundation.
It also occurred to Sessums that the Florida Legislature could transfer title for the land from the city/county to another entity without cost, and that the city could create an authority called the Tampa Sports Authority, that could receive title for this land.
|There was a great deal of support for the plan. The University of Tampa was very interested because they felt with a bigger stadium they could attract bigger schools and increase attendance. The University of Florida also felt they could be persuaded to play one major game a year. This would create a revenue stream that would help pay for the stadium.
With the civic leaders of Tampa on his side, Sessums was able to successfully
move his bill through both houses in Tallahassee.
But the governor of
Florida, Haydon Burns, stated that he was going to veto the bill because he felt
it was unconstitutional. “The governor said he was going to veto the bill
because he should be the one to name members of the authority and that they
could not be named in the bill,” Sessums said. “I pointed out that I thought it
was constitutional and suggested that the governor have it reviewed by the
Attorney General in an advisory opinion.”
Though Sessums was a relative newcomer to Tallahassee, he knew how to play the political game of hardball. Not being a supporter of the governor, Sessums was not intimidated and stood toe to toe with the executive office. “I talked to one of the governor’s floor leaders in the House and told him I had a dilemma. I told him the governor was thinking of vetoing the bill and that in some ways I would love for him to veto it because in the forthcoming election we could really clean his clock in our part of the state because it was a popular piece of legislation.”
Sessums' friend went straight to the governor and
of the political risk of vetoing the legislation. The next day the governor called
Sessums and told him it was okay and they should all come down and have their pictures taken
at a bill signing ceremony.
On May 28, 1965 Florida governor Haydon Burns signed the bill into law. With the ability to sell bonds and a piece of property for a stadium, the Tampa Sports Authority set about the process of constructing Tampa Stadium.
The architectural firm of William Watson and Company designed Tampa Stadium. The company chose to base their design of the stadium on the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee. Ground was broken on Tampa Stadium in October of 1966 on the large grassy lot along Dale Mabry Highway next to Al Lopez Field, the then-home of the Tampa Tarpons Florida State League baseball team and the spring training site of the Cincinnati Reds. Ample parking was available in large lots surrounding the stadium, as well as at nearby Horizon Park (now Al Lopez Park) and Jesuit High School.
construction, Jan. 1967
Ten years earlier, this site was considered as the new location of the Florida State Fair.
Architect's rendering of plan for Tampa Stadium
The Liberty Bowl in Memphis, TN
The photo at right, taken
June 30, 1967, shows Tampa Stadium construction under way with St.
Joseph's Hospital on Buffalo Avenue, and Hillsborough High School beyond
it on the right in the background. The photo appeared in the July
4, 1967 Tampa Times with the caption "Spider webbing for eastern
stands." (Photo by Ricardo Ferro.)
In the field between the hospital and stadium site can be seen some of the structures that were part of a ranch and dairy farm on the property later occupied by the Tampa Bay Center mall built in 1976 and now a parking area adjacent to One Buccaneer Place.
Aug. 6, 1967
Times photo by Ricardo Ferro
"The sounds and the feel of a sports stadium under construction are like no others. During the working hours, the air at Tampa Stadium is rocked by hammers, cranes, machines and voices. It bustles with the serious business of growth and building. But during the late evening hours, the stadium is still, waiting and expecting. The clean lines of girders bear mute witness to the strain and shouts that will soon fill the void. Evening birds make a temporary roost maid the silence and the ever-present sounds of passing traffic echo through the peopleless chamber. The stadium waits."
In January of 1985 Joseph Zalupski, director of the Tampa Sports Authority said, "Tampa Stadium is one of the major reasons this city has come of age. It made us viable. It made us a dateline in the newspapers. It made us big league."
Tampa Stadium construction, 1967
Construction was completed on time and on budget. The total bill was
4.6 million dollars, with construction costs 4.1 million and soft money such as
architects, studies and such at half a million.
Tampa Stadium was part of a vanguard of the way sports venues would be built in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Aluminum bleachers rather than wood were used to house a capacity crowd of 46,477 on the permanent, sideline bleachers, and were arranged on a single tier, so that every seat had a direct and unobstructed view of the action. The original stadium capacity could be increased to 51,000 with temporary end zone bleachers, which were often used in the later years before the expansion.
The grandstands along both sidelines extended several stories into the air,
supported by a series of pre-stressed concrete columns of various heights under
the superstructure. The benches were in
two colors, with the majority in a bronze colored tint, with the lower-central
benches in a natural aluminum tint forming the letter "T". The natural grass
playing surface was highly crowned to provide rapid drainage during Florida's
intense thunderstorms, with the sidelines 18 inches lower than the center of the
This design allowed for the same number of seats as a double-decker stadium without the need for support columns inside the seating area that could block the view of the field. Although the 1960’s version of the stadium had the familiar triple-decker press box and two extremely high and unbroken grandstands along both sidelines, it lacked the enclosed end zones--it was possible to see the field of play from outside the stadium, a quaint quirk that would not exist for long.
THE EARLY GAMES AT TAMPA STADIUM
On November 4, 1967, the stadium hosted its first sporting event when the "Tampa U" Spartans hosted the University of Tennessee Volunteers. The Spartans lost that game, a 38-0 shellacking by the more nationally regarded University of Tennessee Volunteers. The fans in the stands may not have liked the result of the game, but the stadium itself was a big hit.
The University of Tampa agreed to play as many as seven games a year at the stadium. The Spartans would later enjoy much success in their new home, moving up to Division I football in 1971.
In later years, attendance at the Tampa U games did not meet expectations and university president B.D. Owens said the school would face bankruptcy if it continued to subsidize the sport. At the end of the 1974 season, UT shut down its football program.
The University of Tampa Spartans football
team was the primary tenant of Tampa Stadium, but in order for the stadium to
pay for itself, other teams were needed to play at the facility. One such team was the
University of Florida Gators. The Gators were to play the Air Force Academy
Falcons in 1968 but then decided they didn't want to play the extra road game,
according to Sessums. Tampa bay area leaders met in a closed-door session
with UF officials and according to Mr. Sessums, made clear what UF was
endangering by their actions. “They were told that if they didn’t play this game
they'd better never ask for another dollar.”
Needless to say, the Gators agreed to play the game, and went on to play a game a year here for nearly 15 years. During the 1968 contest with the Air Force Academy, a thrilling 23-20 victory for the Gators, the Air Force mascot elected to make Tampa his permanent home. “When they launched the Falcon at halftime, he flew off never to be seen again,” Mr. Sessums recalled with a laugh.
PRO FOOTBALL EXHIBITION GAMES
Hoping to attract an NFL expansion team, community leaders arranged for several exhibition games in Tampa Stadium in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Beginning in 1968, the stadium played host to three pro football exhibition games. The Washington Redskins and Atlanta Falcons came to Tampa Stadium for the first time in August. Billed as the NFL Suncoast Classic with proceeds going to the Tampa Jaycees, the game drew a near-sellout crowd. More than 42,000 spectators watched the Redskins defeat the Falcons 16-14.
The initial game was such a success that Marcum promoted several more games at Tampa Stadium with furniture magnate Harry Mangurian as a financial backer. In all, eleven more games were held in the following seasons with similarly enthusiastic crowds, including the Baltimore Colts playing three of their “home” games here in 1972.
As 1969 began, Tampa Stadium had just completed its first full year of operation. The stadium played host that previous year to high school and college football games, and hosted an NFL exhibition game as well.
THE LIONS AMERICAN BOWL
a.k.a. American Bowl College All-Star Game
The first major event of 1969 to be held at the stadium would be the first annual American Bowl, played on Jan 4th. The game, sponsored by the West Coast Lions Club, would feature all-star college football players from programs around the country.
The game, originally known as the All-America Bowl, showcased a who's who list of college standouts who would go on to future glory in the NFL. The North squad featured Notre Dame linebacker Bob Kuechenberg, Kansas quarterback Bobby Douglass, and Penn State tight end Ted Kwalik, while the South team touted University of Florida running back and Tampa-product Larry Smith, University of Miami defensive end Ted Hendricks and running back Eugene "Mercury" Morris from West Texas State.
The coaching staffs of both teams were no slouches, either. Legendary Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Paul "Bear" Bryant led the South squad, where he was joined by Ray Graves of the University of Florida, Fran Curci of the University of Tampa and College Football Hall of Famer Frank Broyles from the University of Arkansas.
The North was led by Purdue coach Jack Mollenkopf. His staff included coaches Pepper Rodgers of Kansas and Navy's Lee Corso. More about this game. The Lions American Bowl games continued until 1977.
Only 16,280 attended the soggy first showing of the American Bowl, and the event lost $40,000 in revenue. Despite the bowl's disappointing debut, where the South lost to the North, 21-15, planners continued to schedule the event for the next year.
NFL FOOTBALL AT TAMPA STADIUM
Two more exhibition games were played in 1969 – and a regular-season AFL game between the Miami Dolphins and Boston Patriots in November 1969. All were well-attended affairs--averaging 35,214 fans per game--with only the AFL contest drawing fewer than 30,000. Between 1968 and 1971, teams such as the Minnesota Vikings, Boston Patriots, Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, and San Francisco 49ers played August exhibitions at Tampa Stadium. All the games played to either sell-outs or near capacity crowds with a 1971 contest featuring Joe Namath and the New York Jets setting an attendance record of 51,214.
Aug 2 1969, 40,000 Expected For Dolphins vs Vikings (names other games scheduled)
The goal for the showdown Aug. 15, 1970 between the
Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers was to exceed the attendance high of
40,915 set in 1968. In the days leading up to the game, it appeared by all
calculations that it would be a reality.
The games, organized by local promoter and Tampa Jaycees president Bill Marcum, were showcases intended to highlight the viability of the Tampa Bay area as a pro market. Healthy attendance figures were obviously a source of pride, and Marcum hoped San Francisco and Cleveland would help fill Tampa Stadium’s benches. The two franchises were originally members of the All-American Pro Football Conference from 1946-49 before being absorbed by the NFL in 1950.
Under third-year coach Dick Nolan, the 49ers were thought of as somewhat of an up-and-coming team. The Browns, meanwhile, were one of the most-successful franchises in football, winning NFL titles in 1950, 1954, 1955, and 1964. In fact, the team had only one losing season in its entire history, going 5-7 in 1956.
The contest had local interest as well. The 49ers had two starters with Tampa roots – center Forest Blue of Chamberlain High School and defensive tackle Earl Edwards of Blake High School – while the Browns featured another Chamberlain product and Florida State University standout, tight end Chip Glass.
The game’s biggest draw was University of Florida product and 1966 Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier. The 49ers drafted him in the first round of the 1967 entry draft, but Spurrier spent the majority of his time as the punter and second-string quarterback behind John Brodie. The game in Tampa would mark Spurrier’s first time playing in Florida as a pro. Spurrier would once again serve as Brodie’s backup, but split equal time throughout the contest.
Despite a heavy pregame rain and horrendous traffic jams on Dale Mabry Highway and Himes Avenue, a near-record crowd of 41,851 fans made it into the stadium.
An accident at 6 p.m. on the Interstate 4 (now I-275 South) exit ramp at Dale Mabry involved police officers on their way to help control traffic and contributed to the massive gridlock, so many motorists simply decided to park by the interstate and walk to the Stadium.
Anyone who came to see Spurrier play was not disappointed. After sitting out the first half, Spurrier played throughout the entire second half of the game, completing 12 of 19 passes for 175 yards--a performance which should have won the game for them. But his offense committed critical turnovers – a fumble by Bill Tucker, and interceptions from Spurrier and running back Larry Schrieber ended three potential scoring drives.
The Tucker fumble came at the worst time, as the 49ers were driving down the field with time running out and trailing 17-10. On fourth-and-seven at the Cleveland 17, Spurrier found Tucker for a nine-yard gain – good enough for the first down – but Cleveland forced a fumble and recovered the ball at the seven yard line, effectively ending the game.
San Francisco owner Lou Spadia came away extremely
impressed with Tampa, calling it “football country” and the “best non-league
football city in our experience.” Cleveland owner Art Modell praised Tampa for the
excellent turnout despite the inclement weather, noting that the city remained
well on the NFL’s expansion radar. “What a tribute to the community,” Modell said. “What a
stadium. You’re high on the highest plateau as an expansion city for a franchise
when it happens.”
Marcum, meanwhile, lamented the loss in revenue due to the inclement pregame weather and parking problems outside the stadium. “We’d have sold out, “Marcum said afterward, “if only it hadn’t rained.”
THE PUSH FOR A PRO FRANCHISE IN TAMPA
According to Leonard Levy, the success of the exhibition games changed the minds of many Tampa Bay civic leaders as far as being an NFL city was concerned. Originally Tampa Stadium was built for college football, but the sell-out of games between out of market teams made some feel Tampa should have a team of its own. “In 1966 we weren’t even thinking of being an NFL city. It wasn’t until about 1969 that we thought we might have a chance to get one. The success of the pre-season games was a big factor.”
Stadium director Joe Zalupski was in charge of managing Tampa Stadium during these events and recalls the summers of 1968 to 1972 as being a very busy time. “We hosted more pre-season NFL games than any other site in the United States except those that already had a franchise.”
Zalupski further explained that the pre-season games were proof of Tampa’s emergence as a national city. “The economic evolution of Tampa had begun. We were rising as a television market. Growth occurred by leaps and bounds.”
What made Tampa so popular a pre-season site were not only the sell-out crowds but also the quality of the stadium. Tampa Stadium received rave reviews about the playing surface. Players loved the Bermuda grass surface during a time when most facilities were installing rock-hard Astro-Turf and owners loved the drainage system that kept the field dry and protected their expensive investments. See Success At The Grass Roots Level about Pursley, the turf at Tampa Stadium.
Joe Zalupski said the man most responsible for the playing surface’s popularity was Tampa Stadium superintendent Dave Ritchie. “Dave was my superintendent and first hire in 1966,” Zalupski recalled. “He was probably as important to me and the stadium as anybody as both a friend and technician. He had a pride about himself and the field was important to him.”
NEW YORK JETS VS. DETROIT LIONS
AUG. 7, 1971
Photo at left
**Some accounts say Namath was injured while trying to tackle a Detroit Lions player who had intercepted his pass.
ROMANCING THE COLTS
The pre-season sell-outs and stadium quality so impressed one NFL owner that Tampa almost found itself with a team in the early 1970’s. Carroll Rosenbloom became very interested in Tampa and once tried to move the Colts to Tampa. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle told him that was not going to happen, but Rosenbloom still scheduled all of Baltimore’s 1972 exhibition games at Tampa Stadium. Before the season, Rosenbloom pulled the trade that gave him the Los Angeles Rams and Robert Irsay the Colts.
That year, Irsay, a native of Chicago, bought the Los Angeles Rams for $19 million and promptly traded the rights to the team to Carroll Rosenbloom for his franchise, the Baltimore Colts. So Irsay owned the Colts when the team came to Tampa.
Irsay went on to move the Colts to Indianapolis in March 1984 in a wildly unpopular move, with ownership of the franchise switching to son Jim in 1997 after Robert's death.
Upper left, Carroll
|Jan 1, 1972 Tampa Athletic Director Not Enthused about Colts
|In the summer of 1972, the Baltimore Colts played three pre-season games in Tampa--against the Redskins on Aug. 4, the Steelers on Aug 26, and the Lions on Sept. 1. Rumors quickly spread that the Colts were contemplating moving to Tampa and there were even some bumper stickers around that read "Don't Tampa with our Colts."
|Rosenbloom may not have moved his team to Tampa, but according to Leonard Levy, the Colts owner was crucial in getting a team for Tampa by demanding that expansion be put on the NFL’s agenda in the early 1970’s. “Our biggest barrier was in getting the NFL to put expansion on the agenda,” said Levy. “When congress permitted the AFL-NFL merger, one of the things Rozelle had testified was that the league would have a standing expansion committee and it would mean more cities would get teams. Well, they did not have a committee, or at least it was not active. We would go to Rozelle and he would tell us, ‘I don’t prepare the agenda, the owners do.’ We would go to the owners and they would tell us, ‘We don’t prepare the agenda, Rozelle does.’ Fortunately, we had two friends in Carroll Rosenbloom and Lamar Hunt. They insisted that it be put on the agenda and that is how it came that the league voted for expansion.”
Aug 28 1972 Colts Beat Steelers But Lose Bubba Smith
Sep 2 1972 Colts Summer Ends Sourly in loss to Lions, 24 - 17
Phillips field's Turkey Day high school football tradition continued at Tampa Stadium with Plant High School vs. Hillsborough High School.
A nice view of Tampa
Stadium in the early 1970s looking southwest across Himes Ave. at the east
STADIUM 1973 PRE-SEASON GAMES
Tampa Stadium hosted two pre-season games in 1973 with the New York Jets against the San Francisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Aug. 11, 1973 - York Jets coach Weeb Ewbank announced that holdouts Emerson Boozer and Winston Hill will not be on the team for tonight's exhibition game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Jets Victors, 34-14, On 49er Turnovers
With their 34-14 preseason victory over the San Francisco 49ers here last night, the New York Jets, who once equalized the entire American Football League with the older National League on the strength of one victory, equalized their chances against the New York Giants, their opponents next Sunday.
Jets Defeat Eagles 16 -13, Jets, Eagles Wet, Fans Wet, Bored
TAMPA'S HOPE TURNS TO EXPANSION
With expansion now a certainty, the job of winning a franchise for Tampa Bay fell on the shoulders of Leonard Levy. A printer by trade, Levy was also a major supporter of football in the state of Florida. “Sports has always been my avocation, printing is how I made my living,” Levy admitted recently. “I’m a Florida Gator. I’m probably a bigger college football fan than a pro football fan. I’ve missed only eight Gator games in Gainesville in forty-five years.”
While he may have been a Gator at heart, Levy was also a member of the Tampa Sports Authority and as of the early 1970’s he was named Chairman of Tampa’s NFL Task Force Committee. Before Levy could persuade the NFL to expand to Tampa, he needed to make sure that he had all the local support he could muster. To do this Levy knew that he needed to make it clear that it was not just the city of Tampa that was petitioning for a franchise, but the entire Tampa bay area. “Tampa by itself could not have supported a franchise, let’s be honest,” Levy said. “It might today but not back then. The market area of Tampa and St. Petersburg was certainly big enough though. Tampa Bay is a body of water that separates the two counties, but we felt using the name Tampa Bay would solidify the area.”
It worked, and when Levy met with community leaders
from every city in the Tampa bay area he found it very beneficial in the
political game of landing a franchise. “The whole area was supportive. In fact
at a meeting we appointed a task force of about 100 people from all over and
told them. ‘What we need from you is any contacts you have from around the
country. If any of you has any friends who is a friend of an owner let us know
about it, you could open a door for us.’ Somebody came up to me after the
meeting and said that he knew Ralph Wilson’s (owner of the Buffalo Bills)
roommate from college.”
Networking such as this, plus the exposure Tampa had received as the host of multiple pre-season games made the job Levy had of selling the community a little bit easier. After years of meeting one-on-one with all 26 owners, Pete Rozelle and civic leaders, Leonard Levy boarded a plane and flew to New York in April of 1974. The NFL was prepared to announce the awarding of the league’s 27th franchise. Tampa Bay was in close competition with Seattle, Phoenix and Honolulu.
AWARDED A FRANCHISE
At precisely 5 p.m.
on April 24, 1974,
Pete Rozelle walked into Suite 404 of the Drake Hotel, sat down in a straight
chair, shook hands with a New Jersey writer, and three minutes later told the 31
people there: "The National Football League today voted to expand to Tampa,
Florida, and to at least one other city to be chosen later this year. The teams
are to be ready for the 1976 season. The franchises will cost $16 million
each." And with that, Tampa was to be the
NFL’s 27th franchise. The newspapers of the day reported that Leonard Levy
exclaimed, “Godamighty, Godamighty!” upon hearing the announcement. Mr. Levy
recollects a calmer acceptance of the news, although he is still proud of that
moment. “We felt like we were in good shape so it wasn’t a total shock when it
After Rozelle announced Tampa as the winner, he said, ‘We have Leonard Levy here, let me get Leonard up front.’ "That is one of those memories you won’t ever forget" said Levy. "I’m a small-town guy and I walked up to the front of that room with all the cameras snapping, that was quite an experience for me. I’ve got a picture of me in my office with Pete Rozelle shaking my hand.”
Among those vying for the rights to purchase the Tampa Bay franchise was
Harry Mangurian and Bill Marcum who had supplied the money and effort behind the
series of successful exhibition games. The winner of the bid turned out to be
Tom McCloskey, a wealthy construction and real estate developer from
McCloskey only owned the franchise for a short time. So short in fact, that he didn’t last long enough to see the team christened the Buccaneers. When McCloskey left the team was still referred to as the Tampa Bay franchise. The reasons for McCloskey’s decision to abandon ownership came down to one thing: money. With the nation in the grips of a recession in 1974, McCloskey was fearful that owning a start-up franchise would eat away at too much of his capital. It was also rumored that McCloskey was afraid that his soon to be ex-wife would end up with half the franchise after a date in court.
Jacksonville tax attorney Hugh Culverhouse popped up with his checkbook and paid the 16 million dollars to become majority owner. Culverhouse would own the team until his death in the mid 1990’s. Culverhouse’s trust owned and operated the franchise for a short period of time until Malcolm Glazer purchased the team in 1995 for 192 million dollars.
Mangurian Likeliest Buccaneers Owner
|"Buccaneers" was chosen from dozens of suggestions in a public name-the-team
contest. The story goes that the new pro team's owners
already had Buccaneers in mind. They were just waiting for someone to enter it
in the contest so they could pick it.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take the field in their inaugural National
Football League season attired in colorful uniforms and sporting an emblem which
are unique and exemplify the bold , brave spirit of the entire Tampa Bay area.
Orange, red and white have been selected as the club’s official colors.
Orange was a natural choice because of the area’s citrus industry and the warmth
of Florida’s sunshine. Red, too, is warm and lively. In heraldry, it is symbolic
of courage and fortitude in battle.
The Buccaneers will wear predominately white uniforms with orange and red striping and numerals.
The logo, designed by award-winning Tampa Tribune artist-cartoonist Lamar Sparkman depicts a handsome Buccaneer, wearing a rakish plumed hat, boldly winking and clenching a dagger between his teeth.
Artist Sparkman admitted that he sought a corsair of the cut of Errol Flynn, Jean LaFitte, or Musketeer D’Artagnon
STADIUM EXPANSION - END ZONES
Before the newly-named Buccaneers arrived, Tampa Stadium underwent an extensive expansion project throughout 1975. Over 27,000 seats were added by completely enclosing the previously open end zones, making the facility one of the largest venues in the NFL. The construction was barely finished by the time of the Bucs' first pre-season home game.
Luxury skyboxes were
also added to the East Side and in 1976, the open space between the bottom
level of the press box and the uppermost rows of bleachers was enclosed,
thereby increasing the size of the press box facilities. The stadium was later dubbed "The Big
Sombrero" by ESPN's Chris Berman for the Mexican undulating hat or wave-like
shape created along the top of the stadium by this expansion project. The
expansion increased capacity from 46,000 to 72,000 and made Tampa Stadium one of
the largest in the National Football League. It also became one of the NFL’s
coveted venues. Other major sports were also anxious to use the facility.
Farrukh Quraishi of the Tampa Bay Rowdies NASL Soccer team poses with a fan during a Rowdies Fannie's Day at Tampa Stadium in 1976. At the top can be seen construction in progress to enclose the space below the pressbox and the upper rows of bleachers.
THE NASL TAMPA BAY ROWDIES
The Tampa Bay Rowdies were Tampa Stadium's first professional tenant. They opened their inaugural outdoor soccer season on Saturday night, April 26, 1975 at Tampa Stadium against the Rochester Lancers.
The opening kick off culminated nearly a year of building the franchise from scratch. It began with the North American Soccer League awarding a franchise to millionaire George Strawbridge, who also owned a large portion of the NHL Buffalo Sabres. General Manager Beau Rogers was lured away from a similar position in Philadelphia. Eddie Firmani, a South African who starred in the English and Italian Leagues, was hired as head coach. At the time, he was 41 and still a capable player--his name was even on the playing roster. Clyde Best, the Rowdies English League First-Division superstar missed the game due to starting in the English league's FA Cup finals with his team, West Ham United. The Rowdies lineup was described as "speed, finesse and scoring power up front and hard-nosed rough'em up defense at the other. Left-footer Doug Wark, newly-arrived Derek Smethurst, and Bernard "Dancing Shoes" Hartze made up the front line attack. The midfielders and defenders were led by stubby John "The Bull" Boyle, rookies Randy Garber, Farrukh Quraishi, and John Blueum had English stalwarts John Sissons, Malcolm Linton and teenager Michael "The Computer" Connell for company defending, and goalkeeper Scotsman Mike Hewitt.
Rowdies captain John Boyle brings home the NASL Soccer Bowl trophy, Tampa International Airport, Aug. 25, 1975. See more photos here at Tampapix
The Rowdies won their only outdoor championship in San Jose, CA against the Portland Timber during the team's first season in 1975. They played their home games in Tampa Stadium until the North American Soccer League disbanded in 1984.
ROWDIES VS. NY COSMOS AT
The star-studded NY Cosmos were arch-rivals of the Rowdies. In June 1976 the Rowdies demolished the NY Cosmos 5 -1, in front of 42,611 Tampa Stadium Fannies and a National television audience.
45,288 Fannies packed Tampa Stadium on May 29, 1977 to watch the Rowdies trounce the Cosmos, who were led by superstar Pele, 4 -2 and spoil German league superstar Franz Beckenbauer's debut. It was a sweet day in Tampa Bay Rowdies history. Two goals from Steve Wegerle, one from Rodney Marsh, and one from Ian Anderson.
On June 14, 1980, the Rowdies defeated the Cosmos at Tampa Stadium, 4-3 in a "shootout" tiebreaker, the NASL's answer to FIFA's penalty kicks tiebreaker. 54,247 fans filled Tampa Stadium to make it the largest crowd to attend a soccer match here. See newspaper articles, starting from top of page.
|FLORIDA STATE FAIR AT TAMPA STADIUM
In February of 1976, the
Florida State Fair had moved from its location at Cass St. and North Blvd.
but the new facility at US 301 and I-4 wasn't ready, so the fair was held
at Tampa Stadium. The midway was set up in the parking lots, and
exhibits were displayed under the stands. There was no sprint car
racing that year.
Above photo taken from across Himes at Ivy St. Photo at below taken from the ferris wheel shows Al Lopez Field in the background.
BUCS AT TAMPA STADIUM
Tampa Stadium marquee at Dale Mabry Hwy. behind the west stands, 1976
The Buccaneers' first regular season home game was held on September 19,
1976, when the home team lost to the San Diego Chargers 23-0. That would become
a trend, as the team began their existence with an NFL record 26 game losing
streak. They would not win a game on their home field until defeating the St.
Louis Cardinals on the last game of the following season, December 18, 1977.
Jubilant fans swarmed the Tampa Stadium turf and tore down the goal posts.
MORE STADIUM RENOVATION
Tampa Stadium's last major renovation took place in the early 1980s in preparation for hosting its first Super Bowl. The stadium's press boxes were updated and the skybox structure on the East Stands was greatly enlarged by adding more suites to each end. This configuration gave the facility its maximum seating capacity of 74,301.
Sept. 4, 1976 pre-season game program between the Bucs and the Bengals shows view of Tampa Stadium on Aug. 21, 1976 for Bucs vs. Dolphins pre-season game.
|Photo above shows the enlarged skyboxes on the east stands. Compare to skybox width from photo at left, when they were same width as the pressbox. Photo by Steve Tamargo
Tampa Stadium Concessions and Novelty prices, 1976
1976 Bucs Ticket Prices
This peachy version of Darth Vader was dubbed "the Buc Invader" and
made his debut in Tampa Stadium .
This late 1970s aerial view of Tampa Stadium shows proximity to Tampa International Airport. At the lower left corner can be seen part of the parking lot for the Tampa Bay Center mall. Horizon Park (now Al Lopez Park) is seen at the lower right. The developed area between Dale Mabry Hwy and the airport is the subdivision known as Drew Park and was formerly Drew Army Air Field in the 1940s. Old Tampa Bay is at the top of the photo, with the Howard Frankland bridge at upper left and Courtney Campbell Causeway at upper right.
QB Steve Spurrier on the sidelines, 1976
Photo by Christopher Mygrant
|After coming off a 5-10-1 season in 1980, the Bucs improved to 9-7 in 1981, winning the NFC Central division over Detroit by one game. Tickets for the playoffs were offered first to season ticket holders, for the divisional and conference playoff games. In the divisional playoffs, the Bucs were crushed by the Dallas Cowboys in Dallas, 30-0. Dallas limited the Bucs to 24 rushing yards and forced 4 interceptions and 4 sacks. Image below shows the ticket which was to be for the 2nd round of the playoffs, the NFC Championship game.
SUPER BOWL XVIII (18)
On June 3, 1981, the NFL awarded Tampa Stadium its first Super Bowl: Super Bowl XVIII (18) which was held on January 22, 1984. During the Super Bowl balloting, Tampa beat Dallas, Detroit, Miami, New Orleans and Pasadena.
The pre-game show featured the marching bands of Florida State Univ. and Univ. of Florida and a fly over by MacDill AFB. Barry Manilow sang the National Anthem and the coin toss was done by Bronko Nagurski. The halftime show featured the University of Florida and Florida State University Bands and a Disney Salute to Superstars of Silver Screen. A capacity crowd saw the Los Angeles Raiders beat the Washington Redskins, 38 - 9.
SUPER BOWL XXV (25)
On May 20, 1987, the NFL announced that Tampa Stadium would host Super Bowl XXV, the silver anniversary of the event. During the balloting, Tampa beat Anaheim, Los Angeles, Miami and San Diego. For the 1990 season, large flagpoles were mounted on the upper rim of the stadium as part of a renovation that included the addition of a JumboTron screen in the south end zone and smaller scoreboards above the field-level tunnels in two corners of the stadium. Total renovation costs to this point were $13 million.
Super Bowl XXV was played under much patriotic fervor, due to the Persion Gulf War "Desert Storm". It was held on January 27, 1991. The proceedings included a fly over by the 56th Tactical Training Wing, U.S. Central Command & U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill AFB, a rousing rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Whitney Houston. Pete Rozelle performed the coin toss, and a half-time show produced by Disney, called "A Small World Salute to 25 Years of Super Bowls" featured New Kids on the Block. A capacity crowd saw the New York Giants defeat the Buffalo Bills, 20 - 19.
The game is best remembered for Bills placekicker Scott Norwood's last-second 47 yard field goal attempt which went right of the uprights, leading to a Giants victory and starting a four-game losing streak in the Super Bowl for the Bills, and has since become known as the "Wide Right Game". This Super Bowl remains the only one decided by one point to date in 2011 and the first one played without a turnover.
On May 4, 1991, Tampa Stadium was
prepped to welcome home Operation Desert Storm General
"Stormin' Norman" Schwarzkopf with a grand ceremony at Tampa Stadium.
THE GLAZERS AND
The stadium's name was changed after the Malcolm Glazer family purchased the Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise in 1995. The Glazers also purchased the stadium's naming rights from the Tampa Sports Authority and officially changed the facility's name to "Houlihan's Stadium" to advertise one of the Glazer family's business ventures, the Houlihan's restaurant chain.
The Buccaneers' final game at Tampa/Houlihan Stadium was an NFL wild card playoffs game against the Detroit Lions on December 28, 1997, which the Buccaneers won 20-10. Horace Copeland and Michael Alstott each score a touchdown in the win. It was the Bucs' first playoff victory in 18 years. They went on to play the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay at the Divisional level and lost 21 - 7. The Buccaneers moved next door to newly-built Raymond James Stadium for the 1998 season.
|A 1997 view of Houlihan's Stadium while Raymond James Stadium is under construction
Above and below, Pink Floyd at Tampa Stadium, 1973
MONSTER TRUCK RALLIES AND CONCERTS
Tampa Stadium hosted a large annual USHRA monster truck rally in late January or early February (after football season, when turf damage wouldn't matter) for many years, and hosted equestrian show jumping competitions later in the spring. Both of these events are still held in Raymond James Stadium.
Many concerts were held in Tampa Stadium over the years, featuring major acts such as The Who, Jethro Tull, Paul McCartney, U2, The Rolling Stones, Jimmy Buffett, The Eagles, Whitney Houston, George Michael and Pink Floyd, among many others.
Two particularly memorable concerts were held there by the English rock band Led Zeppelin. On May 5, 1973 the band attracted 56,800 people, which at the time represented the largest audience for a single artist performance in history, breaking the record set by The Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965.
On June 3, 1977 the band returned to the venue but the concert was cut short due to a large thunderstorm. An audience riot followed resulting in several arrests and injuries, with police ultimately using tear gas to break up the crowd.
Led Zeppelin concert riot scenes, Tampa Stadium, 1977
BANDIT BALL, THE USF BULLS, MLS MUTINY SOCCER, CAN-AM
BOWL, PRO BOWL AND OUTBACK BOWL
TAMPA BAY BANDITS
TAMPA BAY MUTINY
Between 1977 and 1979, the Can-Am Bowl (a college all-star game) was played in the stadium. From 1986 to 1998, college football's Hall of Fame Bowl (later known as the Outback Bowl) was held there on New Year's Day. From the January 1999 contest on, the Outback Bowl has been played at Raymond James Stadium.
THE END OF TAMPA / HOULIHAN'S STADIUM
Upon buying the Buccaneers in 1995, new owner Malcolm Glazer declared that he might move the franchise to another city unless a new stadium was built at taxpayer's expense. To accommodate these demands, the community raised the local sales tax and built Raymond James Stadium just south of Tampa Stadium in 1997-98.
Demolition proceeded soon after the Tampa Bay Mutiny's final home game in September 1998. Wrecking balls and long reach excavators were used for much of the process. Crews first smashed lower sections of the north end zone seats and worked their way up. Then the crane moved counter-clockwise around the stadium, leaving the final blows for luxury boxes on the east side. The last portion of the stadium (the east side luxury boxes built for the stadium's first Super Bowl), was imploded on April 11, 1999. The land was then cleared and converted into a parking lot. Chunks of the stadium including sections of the bleachers were sold off as souvenirs.
Among the major sporting events that took place at Tampa Stadium were:
- Super Bowls XVIII and XXV
addition to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the following tenants called Tampa
- University of Tampa Spartans football
Info and some photos from
Bucpower.com Several pages by Dennis Crawford
A Memory Bank Full of Success
Other stadium-related features here at TampaPix
Tampa Stadium History | Ray Jay Stadium Flyovers
2009 NFL Experience for Super Bowl 43 in Tampa