TAMPA — Perhaps a local politician should start advocating for Sept. 28 to be designated a holiday in these parts.
Flip through your calendars, clippings and collection of ticket stubs, and you may become astounded by how many exhilarating moments this particular date has produced locally. The most recent, obviously, transpired Monday night in Edmonton, when the Lightning clinched their second Stanley Cup.
Seriously, if society can stage appreciation days for brothers and beers, secretaries and sandwiches, surely it can devise one synonymous with a community’s indelible sports occurrences.
Consider the historic feats and flashpoints that have transpired locally on Sept. 28:
Tony Dungy’s breakthrough season as Bucs coach forged ahead in breathtaking fashion on this afternoon. Trent Dilfer found Karl Williams for a fourth-down, 31-yard scoring pass with 4:48 remaining, and Arizona kicker Kevin Butler missed a 47-yard field goal as time expired, in a 19-18 Tampa Bay triumph against the Cardinals. The win improved the Bucs to 5-0, matching the 1979 team for the best start in franchise history. They’d eventually reach the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.
A crowd of 67,012, the largest ever to witness a USF home game at the time, shoehorned into Raymond James Stadium to watch the Bulls face No. 5 West Virginia before an ESPN2 audience on a Friday night. Images from that contest still adorn the walls of the Selmon Center and pages of the Bulls media guide — for good reason. Jim Leavitt’s defense staged a de facto clinic, forcing six turnovers in a 21-13 triumph. Linebacker Ben Moffit evolved into a green-and-gold folk hero of sorts, intercepting two passes and returning one for a touchdown.
Rafael Soriano’s strikeout of Adam Jones, clinching a 5-0 Rays win against the Orioles, set off a sequence of prolonged revelry that started on the field and emanated to the Rays' clubhouse inside Tropicana Field. The victory clinched the franchise’s second postseason berth, and second in three seasons. But a far, far more climactic clincher was a year away. Which brings us to...
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If the Stanley Cup clincher is No. 1 among magical Sept. 28 moments, this is 1A. The Rays and Red Sox were tied for the lone American League wild card spot entering this final night of the regular season, which segued from grim to glorious for the Rays faster than you can say Roy Hobbs. The Rays trailed the Yankees 7-0 at home entering the eighth inning, but cut their deficit to 7-6 in the bottom of the eighth (highlighted by an Evan Longoria three-run blast). They tied the score in the ninth on Dan Johnson’s two-out, two-strike homer, which would have registered as the prevailing climax virtually any other night. Shortly thereafter, the Red Sox fell to the Orioles. Shortly after that, with the score still tied in the in the bottom of the 12th, Longoria hit a missile that cleared the short fence in left field near the foul pole. Nine years later, the irony remains palpable: a blast bereft of trajectory still ranks as one of the franchise’s towering moments.
2020 Stanley Cup victory print: Lightning championship poster coming to Sunday’s Tampa Bay Times newspaper