In Bucs Throwback Thursday, I take a stroll down memory lane and offer up my own personal insight and anecdotes on days gone by in Tampa Bay football history. Let me know what you think of the Bucs Throwback Thursday column in the article comments – and be sure to return next week for the latest edition.
Each week 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 breakfast of a toasted English muffin topped with sliced tomatoes from Tew’s Produce Stand in Lithia, salted and peppered of course, served with a splash of mayonnaise, and a slice of Canadian bacon under it all, a glass of fresh squeezed Indian River grapefruit juice and a cup of black coffee with one spoonful of orange blossom honey to sweeten it, here is this week’s Throwback Thursday section.|
Covering the Tampa Bay games in Raymond James Stadium on Sundays, I sit across the stadium from where we see all of the Bucs Ring of Honor inductee’s names.
John McKay, Lee Roy Selmon, Doug Williams, Jimmie Giles, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Mike Alstott, Ronde Barber, Paul Gruber, John Lynch, Malcolm Glazer, Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden.
They stand out as a testament to the history of the Buccaneers and the players who impacted the franchise through the good times and the even the lean years. The formula by the Glazers on which players get inducted is largely kept a secret and there have been a couple of surprises, but all have been well deserved most fans would agree.
I’m not taking issue with who is in the Bucs Ring of Honor, but rather a glaring omission – none more so than that of former running back James Wilder.
Former Bucs RB James Wilder – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
Wilder, who played for the Bucs from 1981-89, rushed for a franchise-record 5,957 yards and 37 touchdowns on 1,575 carries, and caught 430 passes for 3,492 yards and nine touchdowns. That’s 869 more rushing yards than Mike Alstott (5,088), who is Tampa Bay’s second-leading rusher ran for his in his 11-year Bucs career.
Wilder’s career rushing touchdown record of 37 stood for 12 years until Alstott broke it in 2001.
For decades, Wilder was 109 catches ahead of Mark Carrier, who had 321 in his career and ranked second on Tampa Bay’s all-time receptions list. Wilder’s 30-year career receptions record of 430 was recently broken this past season by wide receiver Mike Evans. But what a testament to the big running back to carry that receiving record for three decades without it being broken.
Wilder had a franchise-record 14 100-yard rushing games, which is still a franchise record, and three 100-yard games as a receiving threat out of the backfield.
The Bucs have had five running backs rush for 1,000 yards – Reggie Cobb, Errict Rhett, Warrick Dunn, Carnell “Cadillac” Williams and Doug Martin – in team history, but Wilder was the first to have two 1,000-yard seasons, and was the first to do so in back-to-back years in 1984 and ’85.
Wilder also has plenty of other Tampa Bay records that still stand until this day, including:
Most career rushing attempts by a running back: 1,575 – 1981-89 Most rushing yards by a running back in a single season: 1,544 – 1984 Most carries by a running back in a single season: 407 – 1984 Most rushing touchdowns in a season: 13 – 1984 Most TDs by a non-quarterback in a season: 13 – 1984 Most touchdowns in a two-year period: 23 – 1984-85 Most receptions by a running back in a single season: 85 – 1984 Most receiving yards by a running back in a single season: 675 – 1984 Most total offensive yards by a Buccaneer in a single season: 2,229 – 1984 Most career total offensive yards by a Buccaneer: 9,449 yards – 1981-89
How is the greatest running back in team history not in the Bucs’ Ring of Honor? That’s a great question, but one that needs to be answered this year.
While he rarely garnered much national attention, Wilder did earn the respect of some of the NFL’s best.
After a 17-14 loss against the New York Giants in 1984 in which Wilder amassed 177 total yards and a touchdown, Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor called him the greatest running back he’d ever faced. Giants head coach Bill Parcells said: “I was impressed. I’d never see him before in person, and I’m not sure I care to see him again.”
Former Bucs RB James Wilder – Photo by: Getty Images
That 1984 season was Wilder’s best. In it he came within a handful of yards of setting a a record for most total yards from scrimmage in NFL history and prompted McKay to order his defense to let the New York Jets score late in the fourth quarter of the season finale in an attempt to get Wilder the record. While he fell short, the former Mizzou standout rushed for 1,544 yards and 13 touchdowns while also added 685 receiving yards that season.
I was at that game hoping to see NFL history on that December game at the Big Sombrero. Sadly, Wilder came up 16 yards short and unfortunately that game turned out to be the last game coached by McKay who stepped down following that year. It was also Selmon’s final game as a Buccaneer. Selmon retired after suffering a herniated disc in the NFL Pro Bowl just a few weeks later.
I was 14 at the time, and a big part of my young football innocence died that afternoon.
Many of Wilder’s yards came on some really bad football teams and some questionable offensive lines – including 1983 when the Bucs were just 2-14. In 1984 they were just 6-10, followed by back-to-back 2-14 seasons in ’85 and ’86. The 1987 season featured an NFL strike, and the team only finished 4-11 season. A pair of 5-11 seasons in ’88 and ’89 would follow.
Still, Wilder didn’t complain, he just went out and did his job and on most Sundays he was the best player on the football field – sometimes from both teams.
There is no one with their name on the wall at Raymond James Stadium I would take off. But there is one that is clearly missing – and has been for a number of years.
Glazers, it is time to give Wilder the respect – and the honor – he earned and deserved.
– Scott Reynolds contributed to this report
Here is an episode of the John McKay Show that used to air on WTOG-Channel 44 with host Randy Scott. In this show, highlights from the Bucs’ 1983 win over the Vikings in which Wilder rushed for 219 yards in the game, which was a Buccaneers record at the times, followed by the wit of Coach McKay.
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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