UNUSUAL REDLANDS MATCHUP … IN BALTIMORE?

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

It was Sept. 9, 1979.

City of Baltimore, Md. Site was Memorial Stadium.

Second week of the NFL season.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers in town to play the Colts.

The Colts’ Ted Marchibroda were taking on John McKay’s Bucs.

Among all the other pre-game notes was this zany little matchup:

Two kids from Redlands High School were playing against each other.

Brian De Roo, a second-year wide receiver who had been traded from the New York Giants, was standing on one sideline.

Brian DeRoo (Photo by Canadian Football League)
Brian De Roo

On the other sideline was none other than Greg Horton, whose NFL career had gone from Chicago to Los Angeles and, eventually, to the Bucs.

Greg Horton II
Greg Horton

Final score that day: Tampa Bay 29, Baltimore 26. It took overtime to pull it off.

There might’ve been a curious thing that took place.

Baltimore, trailing 26-17, sent its second-year receiver, De Roo, down the right sideline. Colts’ QB Greg Landry delivered the pass.

Caught.

Down the sideline.

Chased by defenders.

Touchdown.

One night later, that Landry-to-DeRoo touchdown made the Monday Night Football halftime highlights. Legendary ABC-TV sportscaster Howard Cosell delivered the words from that highlight.

Howard_cosell_1975
Howard Cosell put Brian De Roo’s name on national TV on September 10, 1979. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)

Cosell: “De Roo … could … go … all … the … way!”

He did.

When the game concluded, the Bucs had themselves a 29-26 overtime win that might have lifted this team’s confidence. Now into their fourth season after entering via a 1976 expansion – along with the Seattle Seahawks – McKay’s steady was starting to make its mark.

Tampa Bay was a possible playoff team.

First, though, they had to start winning games. Baltimore, a perennial contender, was standing in their way at Week 2.

The two Redlanders had gotten into the NFL by far different paths.

Horton, a 1969 Redlands High grad, chose Colorado as his collegiate destination. It was in that raucous, hard-hitting Big Eight Conference – dominated for years by Nebraska and Oklahoma – that helped develop his game.

Enough so that in 1974, George “Papa Bear” Halas chose Horton in the third round of the NFL draft.

Unlike Horton, who had long been a Redlands High prize, De Roo didn’t make the Terrier varsity until halfway through his senior season. Since Redlands rarely put the ball in the air, it should’ve been a complete surprise that he’d wind up leading Redlands in receptions that season.

At college selection time, De Roo wasn’t even planning on football. He’d chosen Cal Poly San Luis Obispo before University of Redlands coach Frank Serrao convinced him to play for the Bulldogs.

That he would eventually elevate himself into the NFL draft, 1978, was extraordinary.

A year after that, Horton v De Roo was taking place in Baltimore.

In that game, DeRoo snagged three passes for 81 yards in that game – perhaps his best game ever.

Horton, meanwhile, was part of the Bucs’ strength – an offensive line that propelled the likes of Ricky Bell to a thousand-yard season. In that game, however, Baltimore held him to 34 yards, plus another 56 yards on three receptions.

Bell racked up 1,263 yards that season, helping Tampa Bay into the NFL playoffs for the first time ever.

Horton also blocked for Doug Williams, the ex-Grambling QB taken in the first round of the 1977 draft. Eventually, Williams would follow Bucs’ offensive coordinator Joe Gibbs to the Washington Redskins.

On that date, Sept. 9, 1979, Redlands stood tall in the NFL when De Roo and Horton connected.

It was, said DeRoo, “the only time Greg and I ever played against each other in an NFL game. The only thing was that he only lasted one play. He shoved one of the referees and got thrown out of the game.”

DeRoo, for his part, caught only one pass the rest of the season.

Footnote: Baltimore continued to a Redlands connection, especially when Brian Billick turned up to coach the Baltimore Ravens to the 2001 Super Bowl championship. On that team was yet another Redlands connection, speedy wide receiver Patrick Johnson.