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When the Bucs finally won: Why my sister still loves Mark Cotney

Bucs coach John McKay holds up a piece of a Saints uniform after the first win in franchise history, 33-14 against the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 11, 1977. [Times files]
Bucs coach John McKay holds up a piece of a Saints uniform after the first win in franchise history, 33-14 against the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 11, 1977. [Times files]
Published Dec. 9, 2017

It was a school night. I was expected to be in Ms. Spangler's fifth-grade class at Cross Bayou Elementary School in Pinellas Park bright and early Monday morning. I'm sure I made it there, but I know I didn't get much sleep.

The Bucs won their first football game on Sunday, Dec. 11, 1977. Our family (which included my 31-year-old parents and 7-year-old sister, Lisa) were season ticket holders since the inaugural 1976 season. We tailgated before every home game at Tampa Stadium. We watched every road game on the family TV in the living room that used to be a garage.

And every game until this one in New Orleans was a loss.

I still have images of Lee Roy Selmon and Cecil Johnson leaping on Archie Manning's back as he tried to pass. Mike Washington and Richard "Batman'' Wood kept intercepting passes. Bucs quarterback Gary Huff actually completed a few throws. And kicker extraordinaire Dave Green successfully faked a punt. What the heck was going on?

It wasn't even close. The Bucs won 33-14. Neighbors came outside to celebrate. I don't think the high-five was invented yet, but there was plenty of hooting and hollering. This was all new to us.

Since the game was in New Orleans we couldn't hang out in our normal tailgating spot in Al Lopez Park behind the stadium to celebrate. But somewhere between 5 and 6 o'clock my parents got the idea to greet the team at the airport. "We may have had a few beers,'' my mom recalled 40 years later.

We piled into the family station wagon (which my dad painted with green house paint because he didn't want to pay to get it professionally done) and we headed over the Howard Frankland Bridge. It was dark by now, and I'm not sure what time we left, but the Bucs were expected to land around 8. To my sister and me it felt like midnight. She was already in her pajamas.

We ended up at One Buc Place, which was near the airport. There were an estimated 8,000 people there. We got as close to the building as possible. People were on top of each other trying to get a glimpse of what was going on. I remember seeing buses pull up and some of the biggest dudes I'd ever seen started coming off. Players were shaking hands with the fans lined up to meet them. Coach John McKay and owner Hugh Culverhouse were up front and supposedly gave a speech, but we couldn't see them.

I know I shook hands with Council Rudolph and Cecil Johnson before they got into a Lincoln Continental-type car and drove off. I might have gotten a quick touch from my hero, Lee Roy Selmon. My sister, who was on my dad's shoulders, got a kiss on the cheek from Mark Cotney. To this day he is still her favorite player.

I believe we stayed until the final player or coach left the premises. Then it was back over the bridge for a few hours sleep before my walk to Cross Bayou (uphill, both ways).

There is no doubt I wore my No. 63 Selmon jersey. And I might have told my classmates that I met Ricky Bell and that McKay gave me a victory cigar.

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