Love the Tampa Bay Buccaneer "Throwback" games.
Simply love 'em.
Love 'em because I was part of them, part of the beginning, from day one back in 1976.
Things were so different then. No Internet, no cell phones, no laptops, you probably think we were writing in the stone ages.
But no, its was "newspaperin" at its finest, and nothing was finer than getting an NFL franchise here in Tampa back in '76.
Fall Sundays found me in the press box at the Old Sombrero. As a 26-year-old, four-year veteran, I still found myself at the end of the row, smack dab next to the coaches box for the Bucs, right on the other side of the paper-thin wall was Abe Gibron, who once head coached the Chicago Bears and was John McKay's defensive coordinator.
It was awesome because I could clearly hear old Abe cussing up a storm, and I'd hate to have been on the other side of the headphones, down on the sideline.
It was different back then, so bear with me and I'll share some short memories from my misguided youth.
Nothing said old school like defensive end Pat Toomay sitting at his locker after a game smoking a cigarette.
Lee Roy Selmon was always the "go-to" guy as the first-year losses piled up. After one game and another loss, someone handed me a cold, unopened can of Coke as we headed in. I saw Lee Roy looking like he was in a street fight against six guys, and as I stood in front of him, I handed him the Coke and said: "Lee Roy, you look like you need this a lot more than I do."
Lee Roy gave a polite "thanks, Tom" and a smile, then drank the chilly beverage.
In those days, you could actually get to know players if they liked you. Since I was a young guy, somehow, they found me relaxed, nonthreatening, almost like one of them. They'd often ask me the best place "to hang out" on off nights. Used to meet up with Steve Spurrier and a tight end named Bob Moore, who the Bucs got in the expansion draft from Oakland.
Spurrier hated then-head coach John McKay, and vice versa. Spurrier, when we downed some cold ones, used to call McKay "the white rat."
The 1979 team was a great cast, some really nice guys and great players as well.
Selmon was in his prime, and he terrorized quarterbacks.
Doug Williams was an incredible football player and man. I've never met a guy with more heart, with more game and never met a player who was more loved by his teammates. Every time I spoke with Doug, I couldn't get over how big he was. For me, he was the best-ever to play quarterback for this team, the toughest, and no one's come close.
Jimmie Giles and I ran into each other often during his playing career. Jimmie was suspicious and a bit distant with the media. I believe Jimmie had a chip on his shoulder when he was traded to the Bucs but came to love Tampa. He warmed up to me after I gave him enough golf tips.
There was one Buc who boycotted the press. His name was Jeris White; the Bucs got him from the Miami Dolphins. I approached him after every game and was always polite to him and asked him to comment. He always politely refused. After a while, reporters quit going up to him.
When the Bucs won their first playoff game in 1979, the locker room was pure bedlam, joyful bedlam. I went up to White for umpteenth time, he looked at me, smiled and said "you know something, you never quit on me, I like your enthusiasm, let's talk."
When the rest of the reporters saw him talking to me, they all ran over, at least 20. White then politely announced "I'm not talking to any of you, I'm talking only to this man, so the rest of you can leave."
They did, and I got my exclusive, the only story written that season about Jeris White.
I remember the team's first win ever. It was on the road against, of all teams, the New Orleans Saints, who come to town this weekend.
No one wanted to be the first team to lose to the Bucs, and it just happened to be the Saints. It cost Hank Stram his job as head coach.
But it got Tampa out of that woeful losing streak. I saw it lose 26 straight games, so this latest stuff is nothing compared to that.
But these are different times.
I still see Parnell Dickinson often, who was a backup quarterback back in the day. Great guy.
What I miss most is seeing my good friend Lee Roy Selmon.
So when we "throw back" on Sunday, I'll kick back and think of my days writing about those early Bucs. It was a different time, and I treasure the fact that I got to know a lot of they guys pretty well. That just doesn't happen anymore.
And that's a shame.
Things are different now.
And that's both good and bad.
Thanks for putting up with an old guy's memories.