The Guy Who Said "No" to the Buccaneers Franchise

Tom EdringtonSenior Writer IMay 18, 2009

18 Dec 1988:  Detroit Lions head coach Wayne Fontes (left) confers with Hugh Culverhouse during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tampa Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  The Buccaneers won the game, 21-10. Mandatory Credit: Allen Dean Steele  /Allsport

Things were pretty quiet that afternoon in 1976 in The Tampa Tribune's sports department.  There was, however, excitement and anticipation as the National Football League was preparing to announce the owner of the newly awarded Tampa Bay franchise.

We had no idea what was about to happen.

Tribune Sports Editor Tom McEwen had been pushing hard for a local group headed by a wealthy Tampa fellow named Harry Mangurian.  McEwen was confident that his guy would be The Guy.

So confident was McEwen that everything Mangurian-related was ready to go.

Will never forget the look on his face when it was announced that Philadelphia construction magnate Tom McCloskey was The Guy.

Yes, Tom McCloskey.

Who?  There's no guy named Tom McCloskey on record as an NFL owner.

Precisely.

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What occurred that afternoon was beyond belief in the history of the NFL.

When Pete Rozelle called McCloskey and told him he was "The Guy" for Tampa Bay, McCloskey did the equivalent of:  "Uh, er, you mean me? Uh, well—I'll pass..."

You heard it right, he "passed" on owning a National Football League franchise.  What's even more unbelievable is that the cost was a mere $16 million and the league would let the new owner pay that over four years!

What happened next was even more unsettling to McEwen.  A Jacksonville tax attorney named Hugh Culverhouse was named "The Next Guy."

Culverhouse didn't hesitate.  He was all-in.

"Who is Culverhouse?  Where is he, how can we get him," the flustered sports editor stammered to us.

It wasn't that difficult.  I picked up the phone and dialed directory assistance for Jacksonville:

"What city?"

"Jacksonville," I said.

"What listing?"

"How about the Culverhouse law firm?" I requested.

"I have a Culverhouse, Botts, Mills, and Cone," she said.

"That will do nicely," I told her.

Took down the number and dialed it.

"Culverhouse, Botts, Mills, and Cone," said the voice that answered.

"Mr. Culverhouse's office please," I asked in a polite voice. 

"Mr. Culverhouse's office, this is Mrs. Alexander."

"Yes, Mrs. Alexander, this is Tom Edrington calling from The Tampa Tribune.  Mr. Culverhouse has been awarded the Tampa Bay franchise by the NFL and we'd like to talk to him about that..."

A short minute passed and then the voice came on with a slow, southern drawl that would become widely recognized in Tampa for a long, long time:

"Hello..."

"Yes, Mr. Culverhouse, my name is Tom Edrington and I write for The Tampa Tribune; my editor, Tom McEwen, would like to talk to you about you being named the new owner of the Tampa Bay NFL franchise.

"Surely, that would be fine," Mr. C told me.

I looked at McEwen and proudly announced:

"Hey McEwen, I have Hugh Culverhouse for you on line one.  Pick up the phone!"

I found our man and McEwen got his interview.

Thus began a journey that would help chronicle the formative years of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a long list of colorful characters who would pass through the hallways of One Buccaneer Place.

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