Recent inductions into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Buccaneers Ring of Honor, in addition to the emergence of some star players on Tampa Bay’s current team has prompted PewterReport.com to review the careers and rank the 25 best players in Buccaneers history. In this five-part series, PewterReport.com’s Scott Reynolds and Mark Cook analyze each Buccaneer legend and offer their own commentary on some of the most beloved players in Tampa Bay history.
Some of the rankings – and omissions – are sure to cause some controversy among Bucs fans. PewterReport.com wants to hear from you, and Bucs fans are encouraged to leave their opinions in the article comments section, on the PewterReport.com message boards
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In Friday’s installment, PewterReport.com concludes this five-part series by introducing the all-time greatest Buccaneers ranked 1-5. PewterReport.com’s All-Time Greatest Buccaneers: 1-5
5. Buccaneers MLB Hardy Nickerson – 1993-1999
By Scott Reynolds
No one “willed” the Buccaneers into winners like Nickerson did in the mid-1990s. His arrival from Pittsburgh, a playoff team, in 1993 sparked a culture change that helped turn the franchise around and into a perennial postseason contender. Nickerson’s leadership and competitiveness set the ultimate example for players like defensive tackle Warren Sapp, linebacker Derrick Brooks, strong safety John Lynch and cornerback Ronde Barber, who developed into Bucs legends under Nickerson’s guidance.
The Compton, Calif. native was an elite player in Tampa Bay and became a five-time Pro Bowler. Nickerson set the franchise record with 214 tackles in 1993 – a record that still stands today. Nickerson, who was one of the most intellectual and hardest-working players in Tampa Bay, also became the first Bucs defender to top 1,000 tackles in his career, and his 1,028 stops rank third in team history behind only Barber (1,428) and Brooks (2,198). Nicknamed “Hardware” by the players, Nickerson also contributed 13 forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries, nine sacks and seven interceptions in red and pewter.
Nickerson was a beloved figure in Tampa Bay due to the toughness and swagger he brought to the Buccaneers. Fans are enthused about his return to Tampa Bay as the team’s linebackers coach on Lovie Smith’s staff. His overall impact on the franchise as a member of the famed 1997 and 1999 defenses cements Nickerson’s status as one of the top 5 Greatest All-Time Buccaneers.SR’s Take:
“Nickerson was the ultimate seek-and-destroy linebacker in Tampa Bay and is truly a legend for helping to lay the foundation that ultimately resulted in the Buccaneers becoming Super Bowl champions in 2002 despite his departure after the 1999 season. Nickerson and his ‘Incredible Hulk’ poses excited and fueled the crowd and his aggressive style of play helped him became an instant fan favorite.”
For a Hardy Nickerson highlight video, click here
.4. Buccaneers CB Ronde Barber – 1997-2012
By Scott Reynolds
In ranking the All-Time Greatest Buccaneers, Barber has moved his way past Nickerson and into the fourth spot behind the franchise’s three members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame – defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks. With a legendary, 16-year career – the longest of any Tampa Bay player – Barber seems destined to join those three with his own enshrinement in Canton, Ohio in a few years.
Barber, a five-time Pro Bowler, is the franchise’s all-time interceptor with 47 picks. He also amassed 200 pass deflections and 12 defensive touchdowns – both team records – in addition to 28 sacks and a safety in red and pewter. Barber became the first player in NFL history to record 40 interceptions and 20 sacks, and his 14 non-offensive touchdowns (including two blocked punts returned for touchdowns) are the fourth-most in NFL history behind Devin Hester and Deion Sanders (19 each) and defensive back Rod Woodson (17). He’s also one of only two players (linebacker Shelton Quarles) to record a defensive touchdown and a safety as a Buccaneer.
Barber, who is blessed with incredible instincts and intelligence, is remembered for his epic 92-yard interception return for a touchdown in the 2002 NFC Championship Game that helped propel the Bucs to Super Bowl XXXVII. That play is widely regarded as the most important play in team history. In addition to his interceptions, sacks, touchdowns and his Super Bowl ring, Barber has more starts (232) and games played (241) than any other Buccaneer and didn’t miss a start in his final 13 years. The toughest Buccaneer pound-for-pound, Barber is the second-leading tackler in team history with 1,428 and defined the nickel cornerback position in the NFL.SR’s Take:
“Barber is the epitome of the word ‘class’ – on and off the field, and he and Nickerson were my favorite player to cover during my nearly two decades of reporting on the Buccaneers. Having the leading role in the best and most significant play in Tampa Bay history endeared Barber to the hearts of all Bucs fans.”
For a Ronde Barber video, click here
.3. Buccaneers DE Lee Roy Selmon – 1976-1984
By Mark Cook
Lee Roy Selmon was the very first superstar in the history of the franchise. Selmon was a dynamic football player but maybe an even better human being. As the very first draft pick in franchise history out of Oklahoma in 1976 the expectations and pressure to turn an expansion franchise into a winner were huge but Selmon did his part. As a rookie Selmon struggled with some injuries, missing six games, but was still named the team’s MVP.
But the player Selmon was to become really began in 1978 as he was named first- or second-team All-Pro five times over the next seven years. He also was also All-NFC choice five times, and selected to six straight Pro Bowls up until his final season in 1984.
Four times the NFL Players Association named Lee Roy the NFC Defensive Lineman of the Year and he was a unanimous choice as NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1979. Selmon was a major force in the Bucs' first winning season, which was ended with a 9-0 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the 1979 NFC Championship Game. Selmon had 11 sacks and a career-best 117 tackles that year. A back injury suffered in the 1984 Pro Bowl, which forced him to miss the entire 1985 season, ended an outstanding career that led to him being selected as the Buccaneers first member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995.Cook’s Take:
“Lee Roy was one of the most humble players to ever play for the franchise and obviously one of the most talented. It was a shame that the back injury he suffered put an end to a career that could have possibly eclipsed the 100-sack mark. Even with a shorted career Selmon is still the franchise sack leader. I spent 15 minutes interviewing Lee Roy out back of the old One Buc Place back in the mid-90’s and he talked to me, a nobody radio station reporter, like I was the most important person in the world. It is something I will always cherish.”
For a Lee Roy Selmon highlight video, click here
.2. Buccaneers DT Warren Sapp – 1995-2003
By Scott Reynolds
Sapp brought ferociousness, swagger and toughness to the Buccaneers defense upon his arrival as a first-round pick in 1995, as well as uncanny athleticism and quickness to the famed under tackle position in the Tampa 2 defense. Sapp’s name must be mentioned with the likes of John Randle in terms of defining the three-technique defensive tackle and his greatness was recognized as a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2013.
Sapp, who was enshrined in the Buccaneers Ring of Honor this year, helped linebackers Hardy Nickerson and Derrick Brooks change the culture at One Buccaneer Place and turn the Yuccaneers into Buccaneers in the late 1990s and was the driving force behind the team’s famed Super Bowl season in 2002. Nicknamed “The QB Killa,” Sapp posted three double-digit sack seasons, including a franchise-record 16.5 quarterback captures in 2000, and he was also named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 as the Bucs marched into the NFC Championship Game.
The Apopka native, who is a member of both the NFL’s All-Decade Teams in the 1990s and 2000s, had seven straight Pro Bowl appearances from 1997-2003, including from straight All Pro berths from 1999-2002. Sapp’s 77 sacks rank second in Buccaneers history behind Lee Roy Selmon’s 78.5, and he also contributed 19 forced fumbles, 12 fumble recoveries, four interception, including one he returned for a touchdown. Sapp’s five playoff appearances, including a Super Bowl title in 2002, push him past Selmon on the list of All-Time Greatest Buccaneers now that No. 99 has become a Hall of Famer.SR’s Take:
“Sapp gets plenty of accolades for his on-field success on Sundays, but where he provided tremendous value to the Buccaneers under both Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden was his high motor during practice. Sapp loved to practice like no other, and his ultra-competitiveness during the week made his teammates on offense and defense better players come game day.”
For a Warren Sapp highlight video, click here
.1. Buccaneers OLB Derrick Brooks – 1995-2008
By Scott Reynolds
If there was any question that Brooks is the best player in Buccaneers history that was answered with his enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year. With that distinction, no other Buccaneer has accomplished more than Brooks has in his famed 14-year career in Tampa Bay. Brooks set the records for most games started (221) and played (224) until cornerback Ronde Barber broke them in 2012. But it wasn’t longevity that made Brooks special – it was his ultra-high level of play on the gridiron.
Brooks was an 11-time Pro Bowler and a five-time first-team All Pro – both franchise records. The Florida State product also won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2002, which was the same year he became a Super Bowl champion, and won the Walter Payton Man of the Year honors in 2000. In Super Bowl XXXVII, Brooks’ 44-yard interception return for a touchdown helped clinch Tampa Bay’s 48-21 victory over Oakland.
Brooks, who is the franchise’s all-time leading tackler with 2,198 stops, logged 25 interceptions, posted 24 forced fumbles, had 13.5 sacks, and recovered four fumbles in his illustrious Tampa Bay career. His seven defensive touchdowns rank, including four during the 2002 campaign, rank second in franchise history behind Ronde Barber’s 12. Brooks, who was Tampa Bay’s leading tackler for five seasons, was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s and was the Pro Bowl MVP in 2005. He will also be the latest member of the Bucs’ Ring of Honor later this year. SR’s Take:
“A great person, a great player, a great athlete, a great community philanthropist, a great leader, a great man and a great Buccaneer. That’s the legend of Derrick Brooks. If you were to start an NFL franchise, Brooks would be the player you would want to lead your team. Tampa Bay was blessed to experience the sheer greatness that made Brooks the greatest Buccaneer of all time.”
For a Derrick Brooks highlight video, click here
.PewterReport.com’s 25 All-Time Greatest Buccaneers: 21-25
PewterReport.com’s 25 All-Time Greatest Buccaneers: 16-20
PewterReport.com’s 25 All-Time Greatest Buccaneers: 11-15
PewterReport.com’s 25 All-Time Greatest Buccaneers: 6-10
PewterReport.com’s 25 All-Time Greatest Buccaneers: 1-5
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