Photo via Buc Power
Including New York, Florida is one of just three states with at least three NFL franchises. Until the mid-1960’s however, the state didn’t have any major professional sports franchises.
The first-ever meeting between NFL teams from the Sunshine State came on this day 45 years ago. Kicker Garo Yepremian played the role of hero as his game-winner lifted the Miami Dolphins to a 23-20 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Setting the Stage
After six straight winning seasons under Don Shula, the Miami Dolphins were a disappointing 2-4 as they arrived at Tampa Stadium on Oct. 24, 1976. Miami had lost three straight games, including to the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime the week prior.
An expansion franchise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were 0-6. Tampa Bay had been shut out three times, but had played tough against the likes of the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks. For four quarters, the Buccaneers gave Miami all it wanted.
Yepremian Wins It
What was once a 20-7 lead for the Dolphins had evaporated by the middle parts of the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay’s Steve Spurrier and Morris Owens hooked up for a pair of touchdowns — one in the third and one in the fourth — to knot the contest.
With just over seven minutes to play in the contest, the score was tied, 20-20. A strong return by Duriel Harris gave Miami the ball near midfield, but the Dolphins proceeded to go 3-and-out. What the return did do however, was flip the field.
After Tampa Bay reciprocated with a 3-and-out of its own, Miami started its final drive in Buccaneers’ territory. A personal foul on the second play put the Dolphins in field goal range and from there, all they needed to do was keep the ball on the ground.
The drive ultimately stalled at the Tampa Bay 12-yard-line, but with 55 seconds remaining, Yepremian was able to knock home a 29-yard field goal to give the Dolphins a 23-20 lead. Tampa Bay started the game’s final drive at its own 20. The first play resulted in a first down, but three plays later, Dick Anderson intercepted Spurrier to secure the victory.
Yepremian got the scoring started with a 28-yard field goal, but Owens’ 18-yard touchdown reception from Parnell Dickinson gave the Buccaneers a 7-3 lead after one quarter. Benny Malone and Don Nottingham each rushed for Miami touchdowns in the second quarter.
Yepremian’s second field goal of the day gave the Dolphins a 20-7 lead with five and a half minutes to go in the third.
Tampa Bay actually held the yardage edge over Miami, 334-290. Spurrier passed for 143 yards for the Buccaneers with Owens leading all receivers with six catches for 88 yards. Malone was the game’s top rusher with 118 yards on 22 carries in the victory.
The victory for Miami improved its record to 3-4. That’s what the Dolphins would go the rest of the way as they finished just 6-8 for their first losing season in seven years.
As most are aware, the Buccaneers didn’t win a game in 1976, finishing 0-14. In fact, Tampa Bay lost its first 26 games as a franchise. There were however, some close calls along the way, including the loss to Miami that took place on this day 45 years ago.
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Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.