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.

The Good

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.

The Bad

The Firings 

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

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

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.

Unreal.

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?

Throwback Video

Here is the Bucs’ playoff win over the Lions from 1997. Click the Watch on YouTube link below.

Share On Socials

About the Author: Mark Cook

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 mark@pewterreport.com
Subscribe
Notify of
23 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
drdneast
9 days ago

I have to take issue with you saying MRSA cost Carl Banks his career. Correct me if I am wrong but wasn’t Banks already suffering from a severe case of Turf Toe when he was struck with the infection. Not only that but Turf Toe is more associated with playing on artificial surfaces which is what Banks played on in New Orleans before he came here. Many wondered, I among them, that Banks was able to hide his condition or management turned a blind eye to it during his physical in order to get his big money contract. Dominick may… Read more »

FLBoy84
Reply to  drdneast
9 days ago

He never said MRSA cost Johnthan Banks (Carl was never a Buc) his career, he said it cost two guys (Tynes and Nicks) theirs. Simply added Banks as another player who contacted it.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  drdneast
9 days ago

The player you’re talking about whose career was ended by MRSA here was Carl Nicks. And make no mistake, it was not turf toe that did him in (for the record, I can find no record of him having turf toe problems in New Orleans at all). His injury in 2012 wasn’t turf toe, but a torn plantar plate in his foot. In 2013, he developed what appeared to be a blister on the side of his foot during training camp in August. That “blister” that wasn’t a blister at all festered horribly, and it was then discovered that he… Read more »

FLBoy84
Reply to  toofamiliar17
8 days ago

“much less good” is an apt description lol

toofamiliar17
Reply to  FLBoy84
8 days ago

I think it is, because it’s not like Clayborn has been a totally trash NFL player. Did he live up to what we hoped he’d be? Certainly not. He missed most of two different seasons in his time here with injury, but in the two healthy seasons he played, he put up a respectable sack total of 13. He’s also been consistently reliable and productive as a depth rusher since he left, currently sitting at 40 career sacks. And he’s mostly been a decent edge setter against the run, too, being plenty playable on all downs. Obviously Jordan HAS been… Read more »

danielob
9 days ago

I was at that Bucs-Lions game, I miss the old sombrero even tho I love the “new” ( 12 years old now?) stadium with my nose bleed seats. Wish I still had my season tickets, but live away from Fla now. i remember all the pent-up emotion in the crowd when we won after all the decades of losing.

drdneast
Reply to  danielob
9 days ago

12 years? I believe that was the last game played at the Sombrero. The next year the Bucs opened the new RJ in the third game of the season with a come behind win over the dreaded Bears making the stadium 22 years old. Speaking of the Bears, the Bucs have twice as many SB trophies in their lobby than the Bears do.

danielob
9 days ago

Also remembering sitting through the back-to-back Lemman (lemon) Bennett 2-14 seasons, with fans throwing lemons on the field. Horace Copelands back flip in the end zone during a blow-out loss, something like 42-14 and the rookie celebrating even though we were getting killed. Vinnies 6 int game against the vikings, with Ray Perkins not pulling him out, saying ” let him play through it” as we got our butts whipped. The fans suffered through decades of losses, the 80’s and 90’s were a brutal time to be a Bucs fan, but all worth it now that we are winning. Go… Read more »

drdneast
Reply to  danielob
9 days ago

Bennett was absolutely shocked about being let go after consecutive 2-14 seasons which qualified him to win the Frank Drebin Award for the year. He is still alive today.

Randy H.
9 days ago

Your mention of going 15 years between playoffs from ’82 to ’97 got me thinking. This year it had been a 13 year gap. Interesting that a team that has only been around for 45 years has had stretches of 13 and 15 years straight without making the playoffs (more than half the time that they have been in the league), yet has won two Super Bowls during this time. 11 trips to the playoffs and two Super Bowls, that is a pretty good percentage!! Though in the other playoff years, the playoff record is 3-9. What a rough 45… Read more »

drdneast
Reply to  Randy H.
9 days ago

Only nine teams in the NFL have won more than two Super Bowls.

SenileSenior
Reply to  Randy H.
9 days ago

I expect this winning run to last more than one HC and one QB this time. In other words, I more than hope to see some success after Tom Brady and Bruce Arians each depart from us. I see no reason the Glazers should allow us to fall into another 13-15 year drought! … not a prediction, though.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  SenileSenior
9 days ago

I mean, I HOPE the same, but with the way we’re managing the salary cap, once Brady is gone, that’s extremely unlikely to play out. We need to appreciate this while we have it, because once this short run is over, Tampa once again becomes an unattractive free agent destination (unless we’re able to lure Aaron Rodgers or some other high-end veteran QB here), and we’ll have to pay the piper with a whole lot of cap hits for players who aren’t even here anymore thanks to the voidable years we’ve been putting on all these contracts recently, and will… Read more »

toofamiliar17
Reply to  Randy H.
9 days ago

No, it’s definitely been better to be a Packers fan, lol. Sure, we have the same number of SB’s, but they’ve contended far more seasons than not, while we’ve been bottom dwellers most seasons. It’s not worse to be BETTER, lol. Even if you don’t win the whole thing in a given season, it’s a lot better to go 12-4 and have a shot than to go 4-12 and have the rest of the season mean nothing starting some time in October.

seat26
9 days ago

A great walk down memory lane. I had high hopes for Josh Freeman after he won his first rookie game against the Packers at Lambeau and had a 4000-yard season. I am still suspicious that Talib was involved in his fall from grace. Freeman always seemed like a good wholesome kid and he just got wrapped up with some of the less savory players on the team. I miss the Sombrero sometimes, but mostly because I got to see the 79 Bucs play the Rams in the NFC Championship. Got to see Ricky Bell play that year in a historic… Read more »

scubog
Reply to  seat26
8 days ago

Seat: Like you, Horse and others, I have a lot of Bucs’ memories. Just wish I could remember them. LOL! Speaking of the old Tampa Stadium (Never Holihan’s to me). Being a University of Tampa grad, back when UT football was a source of pride; the first date with my wife of 52 years was the first game ever played in that venue in 1967. When the stadium was torn down I was able to get my actual bench that is now on my lanai and a piece of the concrete. Even got on TV being interviewed by Charlie Belcher,… Read more »

FLBoy84
9 days ago

Remember that Jets game vividly, don’t believe Freeman actually woke up until about the 3rd series. That first series in particular was absolutely brutal to watch.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  FLBoy84
9 days ago

Lavonte David cost us the win in the first game of his career, hitting Geno Smith out of bounds with seconds left on the clock to put them within field goal range for a game-winning kick. An ugly game we had a chance to win but pissed away, as so many have been over the years.

FLBoy84
Reply to  toofamiliar17
8 days ago

Agreed, no excuse to lose that game. To be fair to David, Smith was still in bounds at the point of contact, but he was too close to the sidelines for the hit to be necessary. Other than that one play, that was one of David’s best games as he finished it with 9 tackles, 2 sacks and an int.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  FLBoy84
8 days ago

Yea, it was a very questionable call, especially at that moment of the game, which I should’ve said. I didn’t have an issue with the play at all. I just went back and rewatched it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRzllbw0kDg). It was a bang bang play. Yes, Geno was on his way out of bounds, but David is running full speed, and Smith is trying to pick up every last available yard to put his team closer to FG position. I don’t understand what the league really wants a defender to do in that situation. His foot had not touched out of bounds when… Read more »

BucLife
Reply to  toofamiliar17
8 days ago

Yeah I remember that play like it was yesterday, it was one of the prime examples of Bucs beating Bucs. But Lavonte David also really took that play to heart and I don’t think he has ever committed a penalty like that again in his entire career, at least I can’t remember a single unnecessary roughness call after that one.

fredster
8 days ago

I was at the Bucs 97 playoff game. Ah good times lol. I had signed Freeman Jersey I won at a charity auction. Sold on eBay after we canned him. Guy said he never got so had to refund him lol. Didnt keep the mail receipt.
I had forgot about Jonathan Banks. He sucked. Tall slow CB. Eric Wright was a complete jackass. Him and criminal Talib hit it off good and shared Adderal together I think? Couple of complete morons.

Last edited 8 days ago by fredster
zachary blaine
8 days ago

Great read!