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Bulls Rewind: USF vs. Kentucky Wesleyan, September 6, 1997

Let’s watch the first football game in USF history, 20 years later.

We’ll get back to the 2007 season here soon enough. However, we couldn’t pass up the chance to revisit the first USF football game ever, played 20 years ago today. It’s the South Florida Bulls against the Kentucky Wesleyan Panthers, live on YouTube. As you know, the Bulls squeaked by 80-3.

Time flies

Even though it’s “only” been 20 years, the game already feels like it’s much older than that. Here is USF, playing in a stadium that no longer exists, wearing logos they no longer use.

(TransWorld Diversified Services does still exist. I didn’t know what business they were in back then, and I still don’t.)

The other “throwback,” if you want to call it that, was Mike “Chico” Canales’ offense. Not a single snap was taken out of the shotgun. There were no empty backfields and never more than three wide receivers on the field. They huddled after every play and didn’t use any quick counts to speed up the tempo. Compared to the wide-open shotgun spread offenses nearly everyone is using in 2017, the USF offense of 1997 looks like three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust stuff.

The funny thing is that Chico’s offense was pretty advanced at the time! Especially in Division I-AA, where a lot of schools were still running the wishbone, various option offenses, or an I-formation. Canales started his coaching career as a BYU graduate assistant under LaVell Edwards and brought that pro-style passing game to USF with him as the Bulls’ first offensive coordinator. Even though it wasn’t quite as wide open as Steve Spurrier’s Fun ‘n’ Gun, it was freewheeling compared to how college offenses were going in the 1990s.

And it was very effective against Kentucky Wesleyan. USF ran 68 plays for 572 yards, which would remain a school record until 2007.

It was the style at the time

This picture of the coin toss is here to remind you that do-rags were a big thing in 1997. This is Panthers backup quarterback C.J. Merriam.

Even more regrettably, “raising the roof” was very popular that year. Note this enthusiastic USF fan using the original two-handed raise, not the later one-handed version to demonstrate just how effortlessly powerful you were.


The most popular movie of 1997 was Titanic, the most popular TV show was ER, and the song of the summer was Puff Daddy’s depressing tribute to Notorious B.I.G. And people were raising the roof. 1997 was a bummer pop culture year, is what I’m saying.

Jermaine Clemons, unexpected star

Running back Jermaine Clemons was the surprise MVP of the evening. Starter Rafael Williams got the glory of scoring USF’s first-ever touchdown, but he was forced to the sideline shortly after that with a sprained ankle. Clemons came in and scored four touchdowns. He caught the first touchdown pass in USF history, from Chad Barnhardt, and ran for three more scores. His last run of the night was an 80-yard dash behind textbook blocks from fullback Otis Dixon, pulling guard Cedric Bell, and wide receiver Charlie Jackson.

Clemons ran for 132 yards on just seven carries. It would be over a decade before another Bull scored four touchdowns in a regulation game (Ben Williams in 2007). No one has ever scored more. It’s one of a handful of school records set in that opening game that are still records today.

The final score was almost 80-0

The only part of the game where USF wasn’t fantastic was kick coverage. Kentucky Wesleyan broke two long kickoff returns. One of them went 81 yards. This was more yardage than the Panthers gained on offense in the entire game, and it was the only reason the Panthers even had a chance to score any points. The defense stopped them three and out, and then Adam Kilgore kicked a field goal.

Check out how close the final score was to being 80-0, though. Anthony Henry got UP.

A record that will never, ever, ever be broken

Kentucky Wesleyan only managed 74 yards of total offense in the game. That record has actually come very close to being broken — it only stands by one yard. But I got one that will absolutely, no how, no way, NEVER fall, and that is this: The Panthers had -2 yards in the second half.

The TV broadcast

ESPN Regional or SportsChannel Florida or whoever produced the game sprung for a neat crane-operated camera along the sideline. We know this because THEY USED IT INTO THE DANG GROUND. Going to commercial. Coming out of commercial. Before plays. After plays. Between plays. I think they might have even used it during a play. It was excessive. They never moved the crane, either. They must have shown the same ten rows of fans about 30 times.

Other than that, there were two unquestioned highlights for me. One was a sideline interview with athletic director Paul Griffin, who had probably been up since before the crack of dawn and surely spent the whole day getting pulled in 50 different directions by 50 different people. By this point he looked like he wanted to be in a skybox taking a nap. (You can also see the four extra sections they had to open up during the game for overflow student seating.)

The other was when Al Keck brought up USF’s second opponent, The Citadel, and talked about what a great place their stadium was to watch a football game. This does not jibe at all with Jim Louk’s memory of doing the radio broadcast in a booth with no air conditioning and flecks of fresh blue paint everywhere, including on his clothes.

RIP cheerleaders and Sun Dolls

USF scored 80 points. That means the cheerleaders had to do pushups (Rocky wasn’t doing them yet) and the Sun Dolls had to do a kickline every time the Bulls scored.


How many? Let’s count it up. They have to start from scratch after every score, so that’s 7 + 14 + 21 + 28 + 35 + 42 + 49 + 56 + 63 + 70 + 73 + 80 = 538. Five hundred thirty-eight. FIVE HUNDRED THIRTY-EIGHT.

Couple things:

  • If a cheerleader or Sun Doll cheered at every single USF football game in 2013, they would have only done 373 pushups or kicks.
  • Salute to Jim Leavitt for kicking a field goal when he was already up 70-3.

And finally, a GIF I couldn’t work into this post any other way


There’s a lot happening here besides the dance. How about the kid to her left doing the Jersey Shore hand thing at least 10 years ahead of its time? Or the guy at the top of the screen wearing what looks like Sansabelt and a polo shirt with about seven buttons? Or the guy taking a picture with a film camera? The dream of the 90s was alive in Tampa.