How Tampa came to be the home of the Buccaneers

As told by Jason Vuic, author of The Yucks: Two Years in Tampa with the Losingest Team in NFL History

Jason Vuic may be the biggest Buccaneers fan ever.

Vuic, speaking at the University of Tampa earlier this month, told an interesting story centered around one man:

Bill Marcum.

Marcum, a middle class businessman, belonged to the Tampa Jaycees, a networking group for small businessmen. Marcum wanted to bring an NFL Franchise to Tampa, but first had to prove that such a move could make money.

In order to do so, he attempted to arrange a preseason game at Tampa Stadium, which at the time, was barely used by anyone outside of the Tampa Spartans; the Seminoles and the Gators would play a game there, and every now and again, there would be an American Bowl game, but for the most part, it was an obscure attraction in an even more obscure city.

This was the second challenge for Marcum. In the 1960s, Tampa was a small city of 275,000. There was nothing beautiful about it: the air quality was bad, it was dusty, and in 1967 there was a race riot because police had shot a young black man. The only decent part of the surrounding area seemed to be in Carrollwood, so by all accounts, it was hard to believe that late 1960s Tampa could actually draw crowds justifying an NFL franchise.

 Or at least that was the thought, until a preseason between the Redskins and Falcons. The game drew in 42,000 people, proving that if there was a game, Tampa could host it. In response to this, Bill Marcum teamed up with Tampa Tribune sports editor Tom McEwen and attorney Ed Rood to form the non-profit “We Want a Franchise" committee. They set up a meeting with Pete Rozelle, the man who would be responsible for overseeing the the NFL-AFL merger. 

Next Marcum tried to bring more business to Tampa. He saw opportunity with the Colts, based in Baltimore. The Colts were badly in need of a stadium to use for practice because they shared theirs with other sports teams, who during that time would be winding down the end of their season. To accommodate them, Marcum got them to use the Tampa Stadium for their preseason, as well as allowed them to practice for the Super Bowl. Tampa residents, eager to have a team of their own, campaigned hard to get the Colts to settle in Tampa, although that never panned out.

By this point, however, NFL fever was sweeping through Tampa, and many different organizations worked to convince the NFL it could handle another franchise. Perhaps because of the revenue sharing in the NFL, however, there didn’t seem to be in progress for a few years.

In 1972, after years of waiting for the NFL to offer expansion teams, representatives from Seattle, Memphis and Phoenix joined forces with Tampa’s Leonard Levy, the leader of The West Coast NFL Task Force, and Marcum, to find a way to get teams for at least one of the cities. To do this, they researched how to make NFL owners vote on the issue — and were told all that it would take was one owner proposing a vote.

 It was then Bill Marcum realized he would need a few allies. He traveled to Dallas to secure the first, the owner that he was sure would ask for the vote: Lamar Hunt, the founder of the AFL. Already envious of the NFL, he saw the opportunity to stick it to his rival, Pete Rozelle, and promised that he would bring the issue up to vote. Marcum returned to Florida and enlisted the help of Florida Senator Edward Gurney. Together, they hatched a plan. Gurney, who would gain from having an NFL franchise in his state, wrote a letter to the NFL, asking them why they were taking so long to expand new franchises to cities. He gave them a choice: either they would move ahead with these plans, or he would make their records public and allow the NFL players to see just how much money that were really making.

And soon after, Tampa was selected to become the 27th city with an NFL franchise: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Read Colin O'Hara's review of Vuic's book on the Tampa Bay Bucs, of which this story is part.

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