Saying goodbye to USF, Oracle readers
It’s somewhat of an Oracle tradition to write a farewell column before graduating, at least for those of us who have worked for the sports section.
After 2 1/2 years and countless hours of reporting, writing and learning the fundamentals of journalism, my time has come to leave the newspaper I’ve grown to love.
Covering USF athletics at a time when the world of college sports is finally learning who the Bulls are has given me the chance to witness history on many levels. I could easily write a book about what it was like covering the Bulls, but due to space constraints, I’ll leave you with the most memorable moments of my Oracle career.
A win for the agesI’ve gone on many Oracle road trips, but none can compare to our trip to Auburn for USF’s matchup against the Tigers in week two of the 2007 football season. Four of us made the drive to Alabama for a game that few people gave USF a chance of winning.
Not only did the Bulls pull off an upset in front of a crowd of 83,000 – many of whom didn’t know who USF was before the game – they did it in the most dramatic fashion imaginable.
Matt Grothe connected with Jesse Hester Jr. in the back of the end zone in overtime for the winning touchdown, and in a matter of minutes the only fans left were tucked away in a small corner of the stadium, wearing green and gold and celebrating the biggest win in school history.
Beating Auburn, the No. 17 team at the time, was a giant step in the progress of the fastest growing football program in the country. It seemed at the time like it would be the highlight of the season, but it was really just a sign of what was to come over the next few months.
History made in TampaI’ve been to Raymond James Stadium for almost every Bucs home game since it opened in 1998, including the playoffs and for Monday Night Football.
No doubt, it gets loud in there. But when USF hosted No. 5 West Virginia three weeks after beating Auburn, that stadium was louder and shook harder than ever before.
For one night, the Bulls weren’t playing in the Bucs’ stadium. For one night, Tampa was a college town.
Finally, traffic on Dale Mabry Highway was backed up for a USF game, and for the first time, Ray Jay was sold out for the Bulls.
USF lived up to the hype that surrounded it all week, and the 21-13 upset against the Mountaineers quickly replaced the Auburn game as the biggest win in school history.
Not only did the win against West Virginia establish USF as the team to beat in the Big East, it was a sign that Tampa is actually capable of rallying around the Bulls.
It gave us a glimpse of the atmosphere that’s possible for future USF games.
Simply put, it was the most historic college football game ever played in Tampa.
Big league challengeIt’s one thing to be an underdog. It’s another to be a young college team going up against a roster full of perennial all-stars and future hall-of-famers.
When USF faced the New York Yankees earlier this season in an exhibition game, a trip to Legend’s Field gave the Bulls a taste of the big leagues.
The Bulls stood wide-eyed on the steps of their dugout with New York legends Yogi Berra and Goose Gossage across the field. The Yankees kept their starters in for five innings – enough time to earn an 11-4 win against the Bulls.
USF could’ve been shutout and it would’ve still been more exciting than any game at Red McEwen Field. But instead, Eric Baumann hit a sixth-inning grand slam and gave the Bulls a reason to clear their dugout.
An unexpected paintingIf I’ve learned one thing while working at the Oracle, it’s that there’s never a dull moment when covering Jim Leavitt. Attend one Leavitt press conference and I guarantee he’ll make you laugh.
A former Bay area anchor told Leavitt to let his guard down after the Bulls monumental win against West Virginia. Leavitt said no, but just a few minutes later he did let his guard down while giving us an exclusive video interview for usforacle.com.
While talking about USF students being painted in the north end zone, Leavitt joked that he should get painted green and gold and crowd surf. The crowd-surfing never happened, but at a men’s basketball game in December, Leavitt actually got painted and hung out in the student section for most of the second half.
It was a far cry from the Leavitt I once saw give a two-minute press conference to a room full of reporters who left with hardly a single quote.
If Leavitt’s lightheartedness last season is any indication of how he’ll deal with the media in the future, I’ll have no problem coming back to Tampa to cover USF for whatever media outlets I end up working at.