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A few minutes later, the strangest thing happened: Houston crossed mid-field. Actually, the Oilers' best play was a double penalty against the Bucs, a combination pass interference on Cornerback John Holt and unsportsmanlike conduct on Defensive Coordinator Wayne Fontes for arguing the call. The infractions moved the ball from the Houston 36 to the Tampa 46 and led to a 51-yard field goal by the ferociously named Florian Kempf.
Buccaneer Coach John McKay had been steaming all week, mainly at The Tampa Tribune , which had been ballyhooing the Oilers-Bucs game as Repus Bowl I. The papers had even come up with an elaborate logo in the style of Super Bowl logos. When the writers for The Tribune got to the press box Sunday, they found their seats labeled TAMPA ENUBIRT.
But The Tribune was hardly alone. The sports comic strip Tank McNamara did a series on the two teams in early November. In one episode, a son asked his father, "What if I'm a bad boy?" And the father replied, "Daddy will trade you to either the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the Houston Oilers." As the child hid under his bed, the mother said, "Great, now the kid will have nightmares for a week."
In Tampa, the Bucs had come to be known as the Yukaneers. Something called a Boo Bird, a glove that's a beak when clenched and is emblazoned with the word "Boo" when opened, became a popular item. A local coin dealer, Art Arbutine, took out an ad in the St. Petersburg Times offering McKay $1,200 worth of silver dollars if he opened up the offense with any of several suggested plays, including a double-reverse fake flea-flicker. Meanwhile another ad, in the Clearwater Sun, offered McKay a free membership to the Pine Crest Golf Club. There was a hitch: The membership was for Sunday afternoons only.
Perhaps all the Bucs should join up, because when it comes to finding ways to lose, they don't know the meaning of the word quit. They let Houston's Steve Brown return the second-half kickoff 81 yards, all the way to the Tampa Bay nine. The Oilers still had a hard time scoring, though, with Earl Campbell finally going in from the one on fourth down.
On the Bucs' next possession, on fourth-and-six from the Houston 47, Tampa Bay's Frank Garcia punted the ball into the end zone. But, wait, there's a flag. What's this? Twelve men on the field for the Oilers? Tim Joiner, a member of the punt-return team, was sick, so two different Houston coaches each sent a man in to replace him. Tampa went for it on fourth-and-one, and James Owens made it. On the next play, House beat Brown again and made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone. When Capece made the extra point to give Tampa a 19-10 lead, the Buc fans let out their loudest cheer of the day.
Houston was on a roll now. On the Oilers' next series, Luck was first sacked, and then he threw a beautiful screen pass to Booker Reese, who happens to be a defensive end for the Bucs. Reese returned the ball 11 yards to the Houston 13, and three plays later Owens slipped past a pile of Oilers into the end zone. Capece hit another one, and Houston was safely in the woods, 10-26, though the Oilers almost totally messed things up with a late rally that cut Tampa Bay's final margin to nine.
McKay was gracious in victory, saying, "The better team won, so you can knock off that manure you've been putting in the paper about whatever kind of bowl it was supposed to be."
In Houston, the fans had been more philosophical. One had suggested to interim Head Coach Chuck Studley, who had replaced the fired Ed Biles on Oct. 11, that the players 1) eat a chocolate bar half an hour before the game, 2) be sure and place their shoes under the bed the night before the game and 3) take plenty of vitamin E.