Rafael Septien’s 42 yard field goal with 10:22 left in overtime gave the Cowboys a thrilling 27-24 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on October 9, 1983.
For the Tampa Bay Bucs, road trips to Dallas have almost always ended in futility. Tampa has visited Dallas 11 times, including two playoff games, and has won only one of those games. Some of Dallas’ wins over the Bucs have been of the blowout variety, including a 38-0 whitewashing of Tampa in the first round of the 1981 playoffs and a 38-10 rout of the Bucs on Thanksgiving Day in 2006 when young quarterback Tony Romo shredded Tampa’s defense for five touchdown passes.
Not all Cowboys’ wins over Tampa have been easy, and that certainly was not the case on October 9, 1983 when the 5-0 Cowboys took on the 0-5 Bucs on a day when Cowboys’ legendary retired quarterback Roger Staubach joined the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor at Texas Stadium.
Tampa showed that it was going to be a tough out on this day on the Cowboys’ first possession when Mark Cotney intercepted Danny White on Dallas’ sixth play to help set up a Bill Capece 48 yard field goal that gave Tampa a 3-0 lead.
Dallas bounced back on its next possession when White connected with a Ron Springs on an 80 yard scoring pass on a third and ten play that put the Cowboys on top 7-3. Later in the first quarter, Tampa had an 80 yard play of its own that helped the visitors take the lead. Deep in his own territory and facing a second and 16 situation, Bucs’ quarterback Jack Thompson connected with talented tight end Jimmie Giles on an 80 yard pass play the ended with Giles being tackled by Dallas’ Michael Downs at the Dallas nine yard line. On the next play, Thompson threw a touchdown pass to James Owens to put Tampa back in front by a 10-7 score.
The second quarter was relatively uneventful until close to the five minute mark when Dennis Thurman recovered a James Wilder fumble at the Tampa 23 yard line to set up Timmy Newsome’s one yard run with 1:56 to go that put Dallas on top by 14-10. A quick three and out series by the Bucs gave Dallas a chance to pad its lead, but White was intercepted by Tampa safety Cedric Brown to give the visitors a chance to cut into Dallas’ lead. Brown’s fine play went for naught however when Capece missed a 47 yard field goal attempt at the end of the half.
The third quarter began with the teams exchanging punts, but Tampa got things going on its second possession. On a third and six play from its own 44, Thompson found speedy receiver James Owens behind the Cowboys’ defense for a 56 yard scoring play that shocked the Cowboys and their fans and put the underdog Bucs up 17-14.
Dallas evened the score at 17-17 on its next possession when it drove 55 yards, aided by a 42 yard pass interference call on the Bucs, to set up a 41 yard field goal by Rafael Septien.
Wilder redeemed himself for his first half fumble in the fourth quarter when his 23 yard scoring run with 8:53 left in the game put Tampa in front by a 24-17 score. Tampa’s lead looked secure later in the quarter when a White pass into the Tampa end zone was intercepted by Brown with 1:53 left in the game.
After Tampa failed to pick up a first down in its subsequent possession, the Cowboys took over at their own 26 with 1:19 left to go. On a day when the team honored Captain Comeback, White and the 1983 Cowboys would have to channel some of Staubach’s magic to remain undefeated.
White and Springs hooked up for three completions, including a key seven yard gain on third and six to put Dallas at the Tampa 48 with under a minute to play. On the next play, White threw to Newsome on the left sideline and Newsome navigated through the Bucs defense on a thrilling, tip-toe journey down the sideline that ended with a Cowboys 52 yard score that sent the game into overtime.
The Cowboys received the ball in the overtime session, taking over at their own 10 yard line after an illegal block penalty on the kickoff return. On second and five from the Dallas 15, White hooked up with wide receiver Butch Johnson on a 46 yard pass play that brought the ball to the Tampa 39. Dallas could gain only six yards on its next three plays, so Coach Tom Landry sent in Septien to try to win the game with a 50 yard field goal. Septien’s attempt was short, but Tampa’s Thomas Morris ran into the Cowboys’ kicker trying to block the kick and gave the Cowboys new life with a first down at the Bucs’ 28. Four plays later, Septien kicked a 42 yard field goal to win the game and keep the Cowboys undefeated.
Dallas’ thrilling win was aided by 14 Tampa penalties, including five for pass interference. White was intercepted three times by the feisty Bucs’ defense, but threw for 377 yards as Dallas finished with 444 yards of total offense. The Cowboys would go on to finish 12-4 and earn an NFC wildcard playoff spot, while Tampa would lose its first nine games and finish with a 2-14 mark.