Twenty years ago, Vernon Turner did something no Buccaneer had ever done. He returned a punt for a touchdown in a regular-season game.
Sunday, October 2nd,1994, the Bucs were playing the Detroit Lions at old Tampa Stadium. Turner had been cut by the Lions twice...and now was wearing the white and orange.
The Lions punted following their first series of downs in the first quarter, and Vernon Turner waited under the ball.
The memory is still fresh. Vernon Turner is now 47 years old, but he looks much the same.
He was in town over the weekend coaching in the North-South High School All-American Bowl at Raymond James. He says every year, he trains for a month to run a 40-yard dash in under 4.5 seconds. He says he ran a 4.47 for his last birthday.
Turner now lives in Houston, Texas, working in the oil industry. Every time he comes to Tampa, his mind drifts back to that blue sky and the ball slowly spirally down into his hands.
"That whole week I was so intense. I got into like four fights in practice that week," he recalled. "I knew something special was going to happen that day because I had no intentions on fair-catching that ball. Either I'm just going to blow it up and I'm going to fumble every ball and they're going to cut me the next day. Or I'm going to catch this ball, and something special is going to happen."
The punt was so high and deep that Turner nearly misjudged it. But he got under it, cut sharply to his right and got to the sideline. He made the 81-yard play in just under seven and a half seconds.
He was greeted in the end-zone by special teams coach George Stewart and the entire special teams squad. The home crowd, waiting 16 years for such a moment, stood and screamed.
The memory still gives Vernon Turner chills.
"If it wasn't for my teammates who kept saying to me,'you're going to do it,you're going to do it,' I never would have been able to do that. I have so much gratitude not only for my teammates and my coaches, but the fans. The way Tampa embraced me...still today, it nearly brings me to tears," he says.
Vernon Turner wraps up his practice with a motivational message to his high school players.
"Have some dog-gone fun out there...fly around!!!" Turner says with that iconic smile of his.
The words still ring true 20 years after he ran his way into the end zone, and the record books.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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