On September 11th, 1980, the Bucs played their first ever regular season Thursday night game against the Los Angeles Rams. It was the third meeting between the two teams in Tampa within a year, with the Rams winning a 9-0 defensive struggle the previous January to propel them to the 14th Super Bowl, where they (the Rams) lost 31-19 to Pittsburgh.
The Bucs-Rams game was a big deal here. It was the first time ABC had aired a Bucs game, and the Monday Night crew was also called upon to work four Thursday night games during the course of the season. That also meant it was Howard Cosell’s first Bucs game, though he had visited Tampa Stadium for the 1978 Pro Bowl on a cool January Monday night two years and change earlier.
It was also a big deal because the nine year-old version of yours truly got to stay up and watch the whole game, with was something rare for me until I was a high school. Usually I was ordered to bed after the end of the first quarter.
One of my lasting memories of the game (that the Bucs won 10-9 on a late Doug Williams TD) was fans getting very creative with the banners ABC usually showed on their broadcasts. One group of fans had a painting of Humble Howard and the ABC logo next to print that said the Bucs were number one. They must have had a portable TV nearby, because when they knew the banner had made the air, this happened.
As it turned out, Cosell was well ahead of the curb, pointing out before it was popular that the league thought of itself as too big to fail. Some three decades later, a lot of what he had to say has come to pass in the most spectacular and shocking of ways.