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, plus NCAA Final Four connections, 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
Greg Horton had been drafted by the Chicago Bears. It was 1974. Third round, 56th pick overall. Papa Bear himself, George Halas, supervised the selection of Horton, a third-round selection out of Colorado.
By 1976, Greg was a member of the Los Angeles Rams. Papa Bear had traded him there on April 2, 1974 for the Rams’ third round (Mike Fuller) and 10th round (Mike Julius) picks in 1975.
At L.A., Greg was teammates with Joe Namath, Ron Jaworski, Pat Haden, Lawrence McCutcheon, Heisman winner John Cappelletti, blocking against guys like Jack Reynolds, Isaiah Robertson and Jack Youngblood in practice.
Playing mostly special teams, Greg eventually took over for injured right guard Dennis Harrah midway through the 1977 season.
He played 63 NFL games, starting 34. Most of those came after he got traded to the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers midway through the 1978 season.
Greg was part of football lore.
Tampa Bay coach John McKay, who coached USC to four national championships over 16 seasons, watched the Bucs start off losing their first 26 games beginning in their first season, 1976. Little by little, though, McKay started building a strong defense.
QB Doug Williams, who would eventually lead Washington to a Super Bowl about a decade later, took snaps for the Bucs. Side note: Tampa’s offensive coordinator in those early years was none other than Joe Gibbs, the Redskins’ head coach when Williams QB’d them to the Super Bowl.
BUILDING BUCS’ OFFENSIVE LINE
Gibbs and McKay built Tampa’s offense from scratch. Its real strength might’ve been its offensive line.
Left tackle Dave Reavis had played for Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh – drafted in 1973 by the Steelers.
Center Steve Wilson, right guard Greg Roberts and right tackle Charlie Hannah were original Bucs. Good enough to stick around for the upgrades.
McKay and Gibbs built that left side – Williams’ blind side – with Reavis and Greg, who blocked blitzing linebackers and safeties up the middle, nose guards and defensive tackles on every snap.
Williams, incidentally, had gone down just 12 times that season. Twelve sacks over 16 games! Incredible. Onetime Trojan Ricky Bell was racking up over 1,000 yards behind that stud line, too.
It had to be one of football’s greatest ironies that Tampa Bay would host the Rams for the right to play in the 1980 Super Bowl. It would be played in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, of all places.
McKay, who probably figured to be the Rams’ coach at one point due to his proximity with USC, watched the likes of George Allen and Chuck Knox coach the Rams during his Trojan years. Ray Malavasi had taken over from Knox.
Bell, of course, was the ex-Trojan playing against the pro team from his former college home town. Also for his former college coach.
Then there was Greg, a 6-foot, 4-inch, 260-pounder who grew up in Redlands – Rams’ country – before eventually getting shipped to L.A. by Chicago in 1976. He never played for the Bears. Eventually, he was traded by the Rams two games into the 1978 season, Greg found a home in Tampa.
This was a “worst to first” ride, one of pro football’s biggest turnarounds.
When Greg arrived in Tampa, the line consisted of Garry Puetz, a 12th round pick by the Jets in 1973, with 1975 Miami first rounder Darryl Carlton occupying right tackle. By 1979, Puetz and Carlton were no longer around.
Greg started out by playing left guard, eventually shifted to right guard to accommodate injuries to Hannah, plus any rebuilding taking shape under Gibbs and McKay.
Any team’s best defense is a good offense. During that era of ball control, clock-killing, run-oriented offenses is what kept the other team’s attacks on the sideline. It’s exactly what McKay had in mind with the Reavis-Horton-Wilson-Hannah-Roberts corps blocking for Williams and Bell (1,263 yards).
The Bucs were no different than Earl Campbell’s Houston Oilers. Or Walter Payton’s early days in Chicago. Line play had been huge around the likes of O.J. Simpson in Buffalo, Franco Harris in Pittsburgh, not to mention Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris in Miami.
In Tampa Bay, Bell had been taken in the 1976 NFL draft ahead of Tony Dorsett, the Pittsburgh All-American selected by the Dallas Cowboys.
Defensively, onetime Oklahoma Sooner defensive end Lee Roy Selmon was named Associated Press MVP that season. Linebacker Richard Wood, another ex-Trojan that was originally drafted by the Jets, also played a key role on the Bucs’ defense.
BUCS’ PLAYOFF RUN
After a 10-6 regular season, it was Tampa Bay 24, Philadelphia 16 in the divisional playoff round – Bell bashing for 142 yards on 38 carries behind that Bucs’ line.
Suddenly, Tampa Bay, Bell, McKay, Greg, Wood & Co. had found themselves staring face to face with the Los Angeles Rams. The NFC championship was on the line.
From a 7-37 beginning to an 11-6 record heading into the NFC Championship, McKay had lifted the Bucs to pro football’s pinnacle.
Malavasi’s Rams finished 9-7, but stunned Dallas, 21-19, in the divisional round.
Their featured running back was UCLA product Wendell Tyler.
Vince Ferragamo had taken over as Rams’ QB from onetime USC shooter Pat Haden, who combined 24 interceptions with 16 TD passes.
Williams’ 24 picks and 18 TDs weren’t much better.
Each side would try and counter the other with ground games and staunch defense.
Surely, the Bucs’ defense would devour the Rams.
L.A. had a defense of its own – the Youngbloods, Reynolds, Fred Dryer, you name it.
The date was Jan. 6, 1980.
Both teams scored touchdowns.
Both were called back because of penalties.
It was a defensive slugfest.
Or an offensive bust.
The Rams’ defense stole the show, limiting the Bucs to a mere 177 total yards.
By contrast, L.A.’s Cullen Bryant ran for 106 yards. Tyler racked up 86 more. Ferragamo threw for 163 yards – no interceptions.
Williams gave way to backup Mike Rae, the pair combining for a total of 54 yards passing.
Rams’ placekicker Frank Corral hit field goals of 19, 21 and 23 yards.
Final score, Rams 9, Bucs 0.
After a dozen years of seeing the Packers, Colts, Vikings and Cowboys reach the Super Bowl, the Rams became the first NFC Western Division team to advance to the NFL’s title game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Part 3 next week.