In Bucs Throwback Thursday, I take an occasional stroll down memory lane and offer up my own personal insight and anecdotes on days gone by in Tampa Bay football history.
Tom McEwen and Mark Cook in 1996
Each column before offering up a new Bucs Throwback Thursday, I pay my respects to the late, great former sports editor of The Tampa Tribune, Tom McEwen, who often started his column “Breakfast Bonus” describing a large southern-style breakfast in detail before turning the column back to sports.
Over your three fried eggs over medium, where the yolk doesn’t run, it just crawls towards your stone ground yellow grits from Rick’s Custom Meats in Pinecrest, and four links of Uncle John’s Country Sausage made right here in Tampa, chased down with a tall glass of fresh squeezed Lake Buffum grapefruit juice, here’s this edition of Throwback Thursday.
Last week in my The Hook column, in the final section called Cannon Blast, I offered up my least favorite Bucs I have covered in my on-and-off 25 seasons of covering Tampa Bay football. Of course there have been hundreds more great players I covered than the ones who were real jerks. But I figured what the heck? Everything isn’t always unicorns and rainbows. The point of this rambling is to say out of everything I wrote in the column, that part was the most commented on, so I assume it was them most enjoyed.
It’s been a while since I did a Throwback column and with me going on a much-needed vacation beginning on Friday I don’t really have many brain cells left to do some elaborate analysis piece or strong opinionated column. I know you’re giggling, but I do in fact still have some brain cells left. It’s just the ones still churning in my noggin are already at the beach waiting on me to join them.
So in this week’s column I decided to pull the curtain back a little and share the inside life of a reporter and share some of my memories – good and bad and the downright ugly. Remember, my brain is already in vacation mode.
Table of Contents
Bucs Return To The Playoffs – Finally
Let’s start off with a good flashback from December 28, 1997 against the Detroit Lions.
It came when the Buccaneers, in Tony Dungy’s second season, returned to the postseason for the first time since 1982 and first home playoff game since 1979. For a kid who grew up with orange and white footie pajamas ordered from the Sears catalog, it was surreal to see Tampa Bay back in the playoffs to face the Detroit Lions.
I was working part time for Pewter Report, or Buccaneer Magazine as it was called back then. And yes, it was a magazine – well, a newspaper really. My job was to help a young Scott Reynolds gather quotes in the Bucs locker room. Now when I say working, it was pretty much for free. Although I did get a Trent Dilfer replica jersey for my troubles that year, which for some reason I still have.
But I knew I wanted to be in sports and Reynolds gave me that opportunity to craft my writing skills, but mainly it got me into the games for free, and of course the locker room.
Tony Dungy – Photo by: Mark Cook/PR
Back then in the old Tampa Stadium, which was massive and rarely filled to capacity, the press box was outdated. It was small and cramped, so someone like myself (not very important) was credentialed, but I had to actually sit in the stands instead of having a seat in the press box as I do now. My dad and my brother bought tickets to the game and their seats were in the nose bleeds, but just outside the press box which was convenient. Although I didn’t have a seat inside, I could come in and out to use the restroom –where Raiders owner Al Davis once peed on my shoe, but that’s a story for another time – but it also got me free food. Ding! Ding! Ding!
While it wasn’t an elaborate spread like we have now, with carving stations, several side items, desserts and bananas foster at halftime, it was great food. The Bucs had a gentleman named Jose who made the most incredible Cuban sandwiches and homemade salsa I’ve even tasted.
Let’s just say my dad and brother didn’t have to spend a single dollar for concessions that game. I’m sure the press box attendant wondered how in the world one person could drink 11 Cokes, eat six Cubans, and a gallon of salsa and chips.
Sorry, Glazer family. Hopefully the statute of limitations has run out and I can’t be charged with grand theft. Also any chance we can find Jose and hire him to make the Cubans at Raymond James Stadium?
Anyway, on to the game. It was a breezy late afternoon game and anyone who has been at the top of the old Tampa Stadium in late December knows once the sun faded below the horizon how cold it can get, especially with a stiff north wind. The Bucs built a 20–0 lead midway through the third quarter behind running back Mike Alstott’s 31-yard touchdown run, a Horace Copeland TD catch and and two Michael Husted field goals. The Bucs defense held Barry Sanders to 18 carries for just 65 yards and Frank Reich replaced Scott Mitchell at quarterback after he suffered a concussion in the third quarter.
Detroit did score 10 late points to close the gap. But the comeback wasn’t to be. After a long pass on third down during the final minutes of the game, Reich accidentally spiked the ball on fourth down, ending the game. See, Tom – forgetting what down it is happens to a lot of quarterbacks.
The game ended with fireworks and the Bucs were postseason winners for the first time since they beat the Eagles 24-17 in 1979. The drought was over, and while they would lose at Green Bay the following week, the foundation was set for what would be a Super Bowl wining team just five years later.
One last note, that game was the final home game at Tampa Stadium as the Buccaneers would move into Raymond James Stadium the next year. I often think about why I didn’t pay more attention when I was in the locker room that evening. I didn’t take a single picture from inside where some of my childhood greats once roamed – like Lee Roy Selmon, Ricky Bell, Jimmie Giles, John McKay and others I grew up idolizing. I should have asked to take something home, but for whatever reason – maybe the excitement of the win – I just wasn’t thinking clearly.
Let’s face it. I’ve seen a lot of bad in the last 11 years of doing this full-time, and you as Bucs fans have, too. Here’s a partial list of things.
The 10-game losing streak in 2011 to end Raheem Morris’ tenure. Chip Kelly backing out at the last minute for the head coaching job. Greg Schiano and his, “Toes on the line” mantra. The cornerback Eric Wright free agent signing. The rise and fall and complete meltdown of Josh Freeman. The eight-game losing streak to start Schiano’s second season. The Darrelle Revis trade that lasted just one season. Kicker Lawrence Tynes suing the Bucs. Free agents Josh McCown, Michael Johnson, and Anthony Collins. Lovie Smith’s two years that included the epic meltdown in Washington in the Kirk Cousin’s “You like that?” game.
Who can forget the Bucs pulling starters at halftime against the Saints to end the 2014 season? The Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota debate that listed for months before the draft. The 2016 draft with Vernon Hargreaves and trading up for kicker Roberto Aguayo. Hard Knocks. DeSean Jackson. Chris Baker jumping offsides against the Packers, who beat Tampa Bay late with Brett Hundley at quarterback. Ouch! Mike Smith’s soft defensive scheme. Brent Grimes and wife Miko’s Twitter rants. Double ouch! The London debacle in 2019. Winston becoming the league’s first 30/30 QB in NFL history.
Former Bucs head coach Greg Schiano and ex-QB Josh Freeman – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
What did I miss Bucs fans? Plenty. These were just the lowlights with plenty of other depressing and embarrassing things in between.
But one more thing through it all I never liked and bothered me were the firings of coaching staffs. Despite liking some coaches less than others, it was never a pleasant experience to see head coaches and their staffs fired. I remember my first full-time year in 2011 when a member of the public relations staff came down the stairs the Monday following the team’s 10th straight loss to close that season and handed us a sheet of paper with a press release saying Morris had been fired. Then having to go in the locker room as the players cleaned out their lockers and interview them about Morris being let go.
If you haven’t been in that situation, it is hard to explain. While it isn’t life or death, the mood is very somber. It reminds me of when you mill around in a funeral home waiting for the service to begin. Quiet tones, some disbelief, and a lot of awkwardness.
Two years later we did it all over with Schiano, again on a Monday. A public relations staff member came into the media room and gave us the sheet telling us Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik had been let go. Twenty minutes later Dominik himself came into the media room and one by one came to each media member and said his goodbyes. That one was tough. Despite plenty of criticism to throw Dominik’s way, it was still tough to see him in that frame of mind and with tears in his eyes. I’ll never forget him, just as he walked back out the door stopping and turning to is and saying, “15 years I’ve been with this organization – 15 years.”
The harsh reality of living and dying by wins and losses in the NFL.
Two years later it was Lovie Smith, then three seasons later it was Dirk Koetter. Four coaches hired with much excitement and four fired in depressing form.
The Downright Ugly
MRSA, MRSA, MRSA! (In my Jan Brady voice)
Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for the Buccaneers in 2013. It started with a controversial captain’s vote and Freeman missing the team photo. Then a loss to open the season against the Jets, a game in which Freeman overslept and was nearly left at the team hotel.
It got worse.
Eight losses to start the season and a rookie in Mike Glennon forced to become the starter after Freeman was released. It all culminated with a 4-12 season and the firing of Schiano and Dominik after a 42-17 thrashing by the Saints in New Orleans. But of all these things the worst part hasn’t even been touched on.
MRSA. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. A highly spreadable infection that drew national attention to the Buccaneers. And not the good kind. When you are in the middle of a disaster of a season you think you’ve seen it all. And I did. Until MRSA showed up.
Former Bucs WR Vincent Jackson, CB Eric Wright and G Carl Nicks – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Guard Carl Nicks and Tynes were diagnosed as having MRSA in August. It didn’t start off as a huge deal as those things occasionally happen in the sports world and even in regular life, particularly in hospital and medical environments. But this breakout cost two people their careers and even part of their toes. Both Tynes and Nicks had a number of surgeries to stop the spread but both never played football again. And Tynes and the Bucs ended up being involved in a nasty lawsuit.
A third player contracted the antibiotic-resistant infection, Johnathan Banks, and the Bucs had to spend six figures having the entire building sanitized.
“We had a company come in and nuke the building a week ago after the cultures taken from Nicks and Tynes confirmed it was MRSA,” general manager Mark Dominik told Chris Mortensen in 2013. “It was a precautionary move, but we didn’t want to fool with it. Our owners said spare no expense; we had the facility treated, and the league office approved of our actions.”
As a reporter sometimes you think you’ve seen it all. Then something else happens to blow your mind. That would be the 2013 MRSA season and it really hit me as I sat in the Bucs main auditorium listening to a Duke University professor explain MRSA and how it is spread and how it is contained. The Bucs literally had to bring in a world-wide leading expert in infectious diseases to meet with the media and consult with the team on how to rid the building of MRSA.
It was a rough stretch for you fans, but also for the media members that covered the team along the way. Fortunately the Glazers and general manager Jason Licht found the right coach in Bruce Arians and just and importantly, the right quarterback in Tom Brady. I’ll be honest, there were days when I wondered if I would ever cover a winning football team again – much less a Super Bowl team. That is what made sitting in a cool Raymond James Stadium last February and seeing the Buccaneers win Super Bowl LV this year that much more special.
Here’s to another 11 seasons of covering the Buccaneers and a few more Super Bowls between now and then. But please leave any MRSA at the door. Thank you.
Wait, why is my toe starting to itch?
Here is the Bucs’ playoff win over the Lions from 1997. Click the Watch on YouTube link below.
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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