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1997: 'They Have to Be Better Than This'

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June 08, 2016

On Sept. 3, the Bulls will start their 20th season of football.  This summer we’ll take a look back at 20 moments, one for each season, including the “practice but no games” year of 1996.  These may not be the biggest moments in USF history; they may not even be moments where things went right for the Bulls.  But they help define the program, remind us where the time has gone, and show how our Bulls have progressed as season 20 gets closer and closer.

20 Seasons, 20 Memories: Second Edition (1997)


Voice of the Bulls

TAMPA, JUNE 8, 2016 – USF fans were somewhat divided in their thoughts after the inaugural game win over Kentucky Wesleyan.  Some reasoned that it was a night of emotion, where everything came together for the Bulls resulting in a remarkable margin of victory over a vulnerable opponent.

Others were sure that after one game in program history, the Bulls were America’s Greatest Ever Football Team. 

Regardless of where you stood, most Bulls fans were rightfully enthused.  It remains one of the program’s most remarkable accomplishments.

But 80-3 is a pretty tough act to follow. 

Not too many people blinked when the Bulls travelled to South Carolina in Week 2 and narrowly lost to Citadel, a very established 1-AA team.  The team acquitted themselves well, losing 10-7. They’d get healthy in Week 3, after all.  The Bulls would be back at home, against a Drake Bulldogs team that wasn’t very well known at all.  No disrespect to the Bulldogs, but as we all knew, no one in the entire two-week history of USF Football had ever come to Tampa and beaten the Bulls.

That week I thoroughly enjoyed a local media person reminding fans that the Bulls were “averaging 80 points per game at home.”

Well, yes.  Now if we can just keep that going, right?

Game day was Sept. 20, 1997 for USF and Drake.  Near the end of the third quarter, we thought the Bulls had it wrapped up.  Marcus Rivers had caught a touchdown pass from Chad Barnhardt and USF was up, 22-10.  But back came the Bulldogs.  Two short touchdown runs put them ahead, and the Bulls fell to 1-2 with a 23-22 defeat.

I came home that night in time to catch the 11 o’clock news, and watched a local sports anchor finish his live report from the field by saying “The Bulls have to get better!  They have to be better than this!”

Twenty years later and I can remember his inflection perfectly. 

We were three games old. 

The honeymoon is over, dear.  Now go do the dishes.

But he was right, and I knew it even then.  The coaches and the players would have said exactly the same thing.  The expectations for this program were huge, even those early days.  Bulls alumni and fans had waited so long for football and had been through so much that they demanded a great product no matter how young the program was.  The players and coaches understood that before a lot of us did.

The season finished with a 5-6 record and most agreed that it was a good inaugural year.  But I still thought about that TV sports guy as the year went on.  For all the great things that were happening, he was right.

We had to get better.


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