More than two decades after the University of Tampa played its last game, the city returned to the Saturday football stratosphere when USF played its inaugural contest on Sept. 6, 1997. That 80-3 rout of Kentucky Wesleyan, before a Houlihan's Stadium crowd of 49,212, occurred nearly two years to the day after the Florida Board of Regents officially endorsed a football program for USF. In observance of the 20-year anniversary of that ground-breaking contest, the Tampa Bay Times is looking back at the first Bulls' football team.
Cory Porter, one-time flamboyant USF (and Tarpon Springs High) receiver, was basking in domesticity Down Under. A dad of two boys and stepdad of a girl, he had found love (with former Kansas women's basketball star Suzi Raymant), employment (as a mental-health counselor), even a neat side gig (DJ) in Melbourne, Australia.
A hospital co-worker suggested he try out for an American football team in the area. Porter, then less than a decade removed from his Bulls career, initially balked.
"I hadn't played football since 2000, my last season at USF," Porter said. "And I fell out of love with it. I was sort of burned out, (Jim) Leavitt and the whole system, it just burned me out. I just didn't ever want to ever see a football again as far as I was concerned."
He inquired anyway, getting a brush-off from the coach, who had seen his share of touted Americans flop in local tryouts. Ticked off by the coach's skepticism, Porter showed up — and shined.
"I'm catching the ball behind my back, with one arm, under the legs. … I'm showing off," he said. "And all these guys are on the sideline going, 'Whoaaaa.' "
Porter's performance led to a six-year stint with the Monash Warriors that ended with him being named to their team of the decade (2000-09).
"All these dudes on the team — all Australians — they loved American football," he said. "It was amazing. I was like, 'They know more about football than I do,' and I fell back in love with it."
Today, Porter, 39, has channeled that passion to Australian-rules football, a full-contact version of the sport where the ball can be advanced by running with it, kicking it or hand-balling it (but not throwing it).
"This is about fun now," said Porter, still 6-foot-3 and roughly 225 pounds. "It's not about keeping your position, it's not about impressing a coach, it's not about how many catches you get or statistics. It's about having fun."