TAMPA — It’s nearly impossible for Seminole native David Chorney to forget Dec. 29, 1979.
Chorney, who was 15 years old at the time, was one of 71,402 fans who piled into the “Big Sombrero” to watch the Bucs play the Eagles in Tampa Bay’s first playoff game in the franchise’s then-four-year history.
Sitting in the southwest corner of Tampa Stadium, he and his family took in the action with fervor that afternoon. An amazing day got even better when a punted ball landed in Chorney’s hands.
“The police officers said, ‘You have to give that back,’” recalled Chorney, 56, who now lives in Knoxville, Tenn. “I was like, ‘No, I don’t. It went in the stands, you get to keep the ball.’ So I kept it.”
Today, the ball sits with other Bucs memorabilia inside Chorney’s brother, Paul’s, house. It’s a reminder of the goosebumps he felt from the energy in the creaky stands and the joy that followed the Bucs’ 24-17 win.
Chorney expects to feel that same kid-like excitement Sunday, when the Bucs play the Eagles in a wild-card game at Raymond James Stadium — even if he doesn’t walk away with another game-used ball.
“There’s a lot of good memories thinking back,” said Chorney, who plans to drive down for the game. “It was very, very different then, because this year with (Tom) Brady and this team, the expectations are we’re going to win. You don’t think twice about it. Back then, there was no expectations of us winning. ... Nobody expected the Bucs to beat the Eagles.”
Chorney isn’t the only Bucs fan with fond memories of that day. Here are four others who were at the ‘79 game and hope history repeats itself this weekend.
A quick flight for an unforgettable day
Pat Perez remembers a buzz in the air when he and his friend, Larry Hermida, landed at Tampa Airport after flying from Atlanta the morning of the game.
The pair wasted no time getting to the stadium. As they walked around the parking lots, they were amazed at the energy from fellow Bucs fans.
“We didn’t think we had a chance,” said Perez, 65, who now lives in Lutz. “(But) it was electric outside the stadium, just walking around listening to the people and the buzz and the excitement that was going on. When we got in the stadium, it was light’s out. It was crazy in there.
“We were going against Ron Jaworski, Harold Carmichael, Wilbert Montgomery, and these were all legends in the NFL. We thought, ‘OK, this is going to be a great deal, Bucs making the playoffs, but we really don’t have a chance.”
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When Perez, a season-ticket holder who will be sitting in Section 237 with his wife, Nora, this weekend, heard the Bucs again were playing the Eagles to start the postseason, he texted Hermida, “Deja vu all over again.”
“It’s very serendipitous how everything’s lining up, again,” he said.
A reward in more ways than one
Luke Williams was 15 when he sat in the south end zone of Tampa Stadium to watch his third-ever NFL game. He had attended two preseason games, but nothing compared to the excitement of a playoff game.
There was one condition he had to meet first, however: He had to learn how to swim.
“It was a reward for me taking initiative and completing a task,” said Williams, a 57-year-old St. Petersburg native.
Williams, who played quarterback for his youth team, the Gibbs Jr. Gladiators, was inspired by Doug Williams, the Bucs’ quarterback, at the time. Watching Williams and running back Ricky Bell play created long-lasting memories.
“As a kid, I thought we could win every game,” said Williams, a season-ticket holder of 24 years.
Williams will carry that same hope with him Sunday, as he watches from Section 304 with his sons, Nicholas and Matthew.
“That game was so impactful for me,” Williams said. “It’s almost unbelievable (now). ... I think what’s special about this team is that they’ve had a bunch of injuries and they’ve been able to overcome those, and I’m hopeful that they continue to do that through the playoffs and into the Super Bowl again.”
A gift that keeps on giving
John Baker remembers his parents urging him to open his stocking before moving on to bigger packages on Christmas morning in 1979. Baker resisted at first but gave in to his parent’s request.
Inside, he found an $8 ticket to the Bucs’ playoff game against the Eagles.
“I pretty much wet myself,” Baker, 58 of Arlington, Va., said with a chuckle.
Baker, who was 16 at the time, had no doubt the Bucs were going to pull out a win, especially after seeing Lee Roy Selmon sack Jaworski.
“I still don’t know how Jaws’ tibia didn’t snap in two,” Baker recalled. “And it felt like the stadium would fall down after (Bucs tight end) Jimmie Giles scored what proved to be the winning score.”
Baker described the build-up to the game in ‘79 as “Super Bowl-like” with a “collegiate”-like enthusiasm that spread throughout the stadium.
“I’ve been to a lot of games in a lot of places,” he said. “But there’s always been something special about that game.”
First one is always the most memorable
Clearwater native Steve Clark couldn’t wait to watch Williams, his favorite player, on the field. It was Clark’s first NFL game, and the 8-year-old could recite the starting offense and defense as easily as the Pledge of Allegiance.
“I remember it was from worst to first,” he said. “They finished first in the division, had the home playoff game, and it was funny because I remember seeing how well they played and thinking, ‘God, this could be our year.’”
Although the Bucs’ journey would end the following week with a 9-0 loss to the Rams in the NFC title game, Clark tried to soak up as much of the atmosphere as he could.
“They always played, ‘Hey, hey, Tampa Bay, the Bucs know how to shine,’” he said. “You’d get one half of the stadium that would sing, ‘Tampa,’ and the other half would sing, ‘Bay.’ And it was really cool ... because that Tampa Bay chant was loud, really loud.”
Clark, now 50, won’t be at the game this weekend, but he’ll be watching from afar with the same passion for his team that he had in ‘79.
“If they can get on a run here like they did last year,” Clark said, “I firmly believe they’ll be back in the Super Bowl again.”
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