SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:
FAB 1. NICKERSON LAID THE FOUNDATION FOR THE BUCCANEERS’ SUCCESSIt all started with Hardy Nickerson.
Not Warren Sapp.
Not Derrick Brooks.
Not Ronde Barber.
Not even John Lynch, who joined the Buccaneers as a rookie the same year that Tampa Bay signed Nickerson away from Pittsburgh in free agency in 1993.
As much credit as Sapp, Brooks, Barber and Lynch – along with former head coach Tony Dungy – get for turning the Bucs around in 1997, the turnaround actually began in 1993 with Nickerson’s arrival. The beloved Buccaneer known affectionately as “Hardware” and “El Dragon” by fans and his former teammates was the catalyst for turning around Tampa Bay’s fortunes.
Not only did Nickerson help turn the Yuccaneers into the Buccaneers, he also helped develop and mold Sapp and Brooks – two Hall of Famers – and Barber and Lynch into the NFL legends they became.
The problem I have with the way that Buccaneers history has been written over the years is that names like Brooks, Sapp, Barber, Lynch, Dungy, former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and former head coach Jon Gruden are revered for turning the Bucs into a formidable playoff contender and eventual Super Bowl champion, while Nickerson doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves.
Brooks, who will be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August, will be inducted into the Bucs Ring of Honor later this year, as Sapp was in 2013. But it’s time Tampa Bay recognized Nickerson’s place in Bucs lore.
The Glazers absolutely need to reserve 2015 for Nickerson’s name to adorn Raymond James Stadium. Put Nickerson ahead of Dungy and Gruden because he came before them to lay the foundation for years of playoffs and an eventual Super Bowl title in 2002.
Nickerson has returned to Tampa Bay as the Bucs linebackers coach and now works for his former position coach, Lovie Smith, who held that title under Dungy from 1996-2000. Nickerson and Smith joined forces in the same capacity during the 2007 season in Chicago, but Nickerson had to resign after one year due to a medical issue within the family.
I had the chance to sit down and interview Nickerson, one of my favorite Buccaneers that I’ve covered in my 19 years in the media, this offseason at One Buccaneer Place. These days he’s a far cry from the nasty middle linebacker that would strike the Hulk pose and flex for the crowd after a big stop on third down or a turnover. Nickerson now exudes humbleness instead of bravado, humor instead of surliness and a sense of peacefulness instead of rage.
So when I ask him if he feels he gets the credit he deserves for the one who began to lay the foundation, he says he doesn’t feel underappreciated. He doesn’t feel slighted. He feels at peace with his Tampa Bay career, which lasted from 1993-99.
“I’m satisfied with what I was able to get accomplished as a player,” Nickerson said. “Helping the organization turn around – that’s where I get my satisfaction. I don’t look for the pat on the back. I know how hard it was and what we went through and the fight to get it turned around. I’m happy. Even though I wasn’t there for the Super Bowl I was the elder statesman when those guys were coming in. I would like to believe that I set a good enough example that led to a championship.
“I get a sense of pride that I had that responsibility [for those guys], and that’s a heavy responsibility being a leader to a lot of young guys who are looking to you for leadership and how to be a pro and how to get it done and working to get better every day. I take a lot of pride in having been that guy in that position and that time to set the foundation for them.”
As much as Sapp and Brooks played a role in Tampa Bay’s ascension to a regular playoff contender, it was Nickerson who set the tone for winning back in 1993 when he arrived from Pittsburgh as a much-ballyhooed free agent signing. The Bucs showed Nickerson the money in free agency and had to overpay to lure him away from the winning ways of the Steelers.
In 1992, Nickerson was the lowest-paid starting linebacker in the NFL with a salary of $200,000 and he resented that situation in Pittsburgh. So he joined Reggie White, Michael Buck, Vann McElroy and Dave Duerson as a primary plantiff in the Free Agency Plan B lawsuit against the NFL in 1993 and won a court battle that freed him from Pittsburgh.
After signing a three-year, $5.2-million deal with the Bucs in 1993, Nickerson said: “I was determined to help turn the [Buccaneers] franchise around.”
But outside of money, Tampa Bay didn’t show Nickerson much – namely in talent and leadership on the roster, which was sorely lacking in both areas. Nickerson, who was instantly the best and most talented player in Tampa Bay not named Paul Gruber, was so appalled by the loser mentality at One Buccaneer Place that he picked a fight with defensive end Keith McCants, whose only claim to leadership was the fact that he was a first-round draft pick in 1990 – and a bad one at that. McCants had some talent, but wasted it due to a poor work ethic and a sense of entitlement that sometimes comes with being an instant millionaire from being drafted in the top 10.
“I had just signed as a free agent and we were doing workouts,” Nickerson said. “We were doing conditioning. We had so many 110-yard dashes to run. Well, I guess Keith didn’t want to run them. He did a few and then took off. He went inside to the locker room while everyone else was still running. I came in and just asked him, ‘Why didn’t you finish, man?’ As a player when I came down here I wanted to win. My final year [in Pittsburgh] we won our division. We won in the playoffs. So when I came down here I wanted to win. There were so many years of losing seasons and double-digit losses in a season. I wanted to change that. I wanted us to get out of the mindset of mediocrity and thinking about winning our division and start talking about championships. That was my mindset.
“If a guy didn’t want to finish [sprints] … well, there are a lot of things that you finish in football. You finish [by running] to the football. You finish what you start. Those are key things in terms of wanting to turn things around. I kind of confronted him on it … and one thing led to another. The rest is history I guess.”
The two got into a fistfight and Nickerson physically whipped McCants in the locker room.
“That was in front of the team,” Nickerson said. “The strength coach Brad Rolle was right there and he didn’t jump in [and break it up]. I was a new guy, and as a new guy you never want to step into a situation where everybody says, ‘Oh, who is this guy?’ But I just wanted to be myself and come in and work hard and have that kind of positive influence on my teammates.”
At that moment, there was a new sheriff in town and his name was Hardy Nickerson.
His teammates started calling him “Hardware” because of his work ethic. He might as well have been called the “Garbage Man” because while he was beating up McCants, Nickerson essentially started taking out the trash.
At that point those that weren’t committed to winning – McCants, Broderick Thomas, a first-round pick in 1989 and defensive end Eric Curry, a first-round pick in 1993, and other supposed big-name players in Tampa Bay – were isolated and eventually run off.
“That’s an accurate account,” Nickerson said. “That’s how it went down. Everybody just started gravitating towards me. But all I was doing is working hard and doing what I’d always done my entire career up to that point and had learned from some very good football players. I played with David Little in Pittsburgh and he was a huge influence on me. Of course when you are around a Mike Webster and Mike Meriweather – those guys took me under their wing when I was a rookie and a young player. I got to learn from those guys. That helped develop me as a leader.”
Nickerson had been in Tampa Bay for three years and the best record the Bucs produced came in 1995 with a 7-9 season that led to Sam Wyche’s demise. Nickerson was fed up with losing and nearly left, but Tony Dungy’s arrival in 1996 convinced him to remain with the Buccaneers. Dungy was on Pittsburgh’s coaching staff while Nickerson was with the Steelers and that background helped keep No. 56 in Tampa Bay.
“I was up and I was a free agent at that time,” Nickerson said. “Tony recruited me back and I re-signed. Then they started bringing in guys that were good football players. There wasn’t any guesswork because they were good football players before they got here.”
The 1996 draft brought defensive linemen Regan Upshaw and Marcus Jones, fullback Mike Alstott and cornerback Donnie Abraham. In 1997, running back Warrick Dunn, offensive tackle Jerry Wunsch, guard Frank Middleton and Barber arrived and the talent kept coming in.
“It actually started the year before that with Sapp and Brooks,” Nickerson said of the Bucs’ legendary 1995 draft class. “That might go down as one of the biggest drafts in league history. You get two first-round picks and they are both Hall of Fame players.”
With the help of general manager Rich McKay, director of player personnel Jerry Angelo and director of college scouting Tim Ruskell, Dungy acquired the talent necessary to turn the Buccaneers into perennial winners – and Nickerson led the way.
“They were able to put the puzzle pieces together,” Nickerson said. “We had talent, but guys were focusing in the wrong directions.”
The Bucs found their focus and their way to the playoffs in 1997 with Nickerson’s leadership. Now he’s back to help guide Tampa Bay once again as the team’s linebackers coach, and the Buccaneers are better for it. Now it’s time Nickerson gets the credit he’s due and is enshrined into the Bucs’ Ring of Honor in 2015 after Brooks gets inducted this season.
FAB 2. NICKERSON STOPPED THE BUCCANEERS FROM GETTING BULLIED Fans of the old Tampa Bay Buccaneers – those lovable losers and cellar dwellers in the old NFC Central division – were just as used to getting bullied as the football players who wore the creamsicle orange, Bucco Bruce uniforms in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The Bucs were the doormats for teams like Chicago and Green Bay, and even Minnesota and Detroit. If there were homecoming games scheduled in the NFL, Tampa Bay would top every other team’s wish list as the opponent.
The old Bucs were the nerds at school that got picked on by the jocks and the cool kids. The arrival of middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson in 1993 began the psychological turn in Tampa Bay because he was the player that wasn’t going to stand by and be bullied. He was going to fight back, and it was that mentality that was sorely lacking on the Buccaneers back then.
In a big win over Chicago in 1993, Nickerson challenged Bears kicker Kevin Butler to a fight after Butler mouthed off to the Bucs’ sidelines after his field goal gave Chicago a 10-3 lead at halftime.
“Whenever you want, baby!” Nickerson said to him at midfield at halftime. “After the game – me and you can go! I’ll whip your ass!”
Nickerson was hardened by the mean streets of Compton, California, and by attending Watts High School. He was up for the challenge of turning the Yuccaneers into the Buccaneers – even if it was going to take some time.
When Nickerson re-signed with the Bucs in 1996 after making Pro Bowls during the 1993, ’95 and ’96 campaigns, he became the league’s second-highest paid linebacker. Nickerson’s four-year, $12.8-million contract that was signed on February 26, 1993 was second only to Bryan Cox’s four-year, $13.2-million deal.
“I’m right where I want to be,” said Nickerson at the time, after being courted by Detroit, Green Bay and Jacksonville in free agency. “The Bucs really stepped up and did something a lot of people didn’t think they would do. I think it sends a message to other players – not just on this team, but other free agents, too – that this is how you’ll be treated if you come here and produce.”
Nickerson, who was 30 in 1996 and entering his 10th year in the league, had played for two seasons under Tony Dungy, who was Pittsburgh’s defensive coordinator during Nickerson’s first two years in the NFL. Despite not making the playoffs in the previous 12 seasons, Dungy didn’t view the Bucs as a long-term project and felt the team could win quickly as long as Nickerson was re-signed.
“When I took the job, I said I don’t consider this a rebuilding situation,” Dungy said of retaining Nickerson in 1996. “The big thing this says is we’re trying to keep the team together and grow.”
Nickerson, who had set the franchise record with 214 tackles during the 1993 season, was coming off a year in which he had 143 tackles, a career-high four forced fumbles and 1.5 sacks in 1995.
“It’s a young team with some very good players,” Nickerson said back in 1996. “The problem has been getting the talent to mesh together. I think Tony has the ability to get that done.”
But in football – the ultimate team sport – there was only so much one man could do on a field with 21 other men. That’s why it was so crucial for the Buccaneers to surround Nickerson with a handful of bad-ass players on defense that could follow his lead and collectively turn the tide.
Mild-mannered John Lynch, who was drafted in 1993, was like Clark Kent off the field, but Superman on it as he patrolled the secondary as the team’s enforcer. Lynch, who was the first to follow Nickerson, a fellow Californian, punished receivers who caught passes across the middle with his patented forearm smashes.
Defensive tackle Warren Sapp’s brashness and bravado was coveted because, like Nickerson, he didn’t back down from anybody. Sapp, a first-round pick in 1995, put the fear into quarterbacks and the offensive linemen assigned to protect them. A country boy born and raised outside of Apopka, Fla., Sapp was a winner in high school and in college at the University of Miami and didn’t tolerate losing.
Weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks was the quiet assassin. He didn’t talk much. All he did was tackle, take away the opponents’ best running back in coverage and pick off passes when challenged by quarterbacks. When necessary, Brooks, who was also drafted in the first round in 1995, could lower the boom on opposing ballcarriers and make his presence felt.
Nickerson swears that he saw greatness in Sapp, Brooks, Lynch and cornerback Ronde Barber, who would arrive in 1997 and retire in 2012 after becoming Tampa Bay’s all-time leading interceptor with 47 picks, right from the start. Their rise to prominence, helped give Nickerson and the Bucs much-needed ammunition against some of the NFL’s more potent offenses, such as Brett Favre’s Packers, Cris Carter and Randy Moss’ Vikings and Barry Sanders’ Lions.
“You could see it in them,” Nickerson said. “My first year here was John Lynch’s first year. He was a rookie. We went down and played Miami in the preseason and he was laying on some hits. After the game I told him, ‘You’re going to be a great player, man. Just keep working. This thing is going to be real good for you.’
“Then they told him to be a Bucko ‘backer and put on some weight. Of course he had to go through a couple years of that, but I always felt John was going to be a great player. But Warren and Derrick came in and they were primed and ready for stardom. They certainly didn’t disappoint.”
Nickerson even saw future greatness in Barber, who was a bit of a late bloomer after seeing action in only two games during his rookie season in 1997.
“There was something that you would see in practice or something you would see when we scrimmaged where you would say, ‘Man, this guy has some tools,’” Nickerson said. “The defense as it began to evolve [with blitzing] really began to fit him. You could see him really start to blossom.”
When he first arrived in Tampa Bay, Barber admitted that he was in awe around Nickerson due to his on-field exploits and the fact that he walked around the locker room and the halls of One Buccaneer Place with a huge chip on shoulder.
“My experiences with Hardy are probably way different than Brooks’ experiences with Hardy and even John’s or Warren’s,” Barber said. “I wasn’t Ronde Barber the star player on the Bucs when I knew Hardy. I was a third-round pick that was trying to make the team and making a few plays here and there. The resume wasn’t sparkling for me back then. I was early in my first chapter. I watched Hardy from a distance. It wasn’t like Hardy ever came to me and put his arm around me and told me about football, life or anything else. I was more in awe or fear of ‘Hardware’ when he was there. It’s hard to explain unless you have been on a team in a team sport where you have that larger than life player-personality on your team, and that was him for me. I didn’t want to talk to him because I didn’t know what the heck to say to him. And if I did talk to him I didn’t want to say anything stupid.
“To me, he was the ultimate football player. If I hard to carve out the perfect football player it would be him. He had the physique, the angry personality where he was spitting on people, but he was also the nicest guy away from football. He could turn it on. He was my example of what a great football player should be. I’ve always held that example with the way I approach the game and my energy on the field. It has to be approaching what his was. It can’t go the other way. If it does then I’m not even approaching being the ultimate football player that he was.”
Nickerson was a nasty player and he did spit on people. He spat on fullback William Floyd twice and was fined for doing so both times. The first time came was when Floyd was with San Francisco in the Bucs’ epic upset of the 49ers in the 1997 season opener. That victory sent shockwaves around the NFL and signaled the moment when the Bucs went from being bullied to actually becoming the bullies in the NFCs.
Floyd signed with Carolina the next year and Nickerson spit on him again during a heated moment in the Bucs’ 16-13 win over the Panthers. That drew a $17,000 fine from the league and Dungy made Nickerson write Floyd a formal letter of apology.
“I’ve always taken pride in trying not to make the same mistake twice,” Nickerson told the Associated Press at the time. “I made a mistake twice, and it hurts very badly. I feel extremely bad because I let a lot of people down. I feel like I let my family down, my teammates, coaches and the fans. That’s what really hurts me the most.
“I feel horribly bad. As a captain and a leader of this football team, it’s my job to keep my composure at all times. I don’t want to be remembered as a guy that spat on everybody. … I feel bad about it because I want to be remembered in a different light than that.”
That wasn’t the only incident that Nickerson had some remorse over. Nickerson was ejected for pushing Denver offensive lineman Dave Widell after the whistle during an extra point in his first preseason game with the Buccaneers in 1993.
“I was rushing the kick, doing my job and felt punches on me,” Nickerson told The Tampa Tribune. “When I turned to complain to the ref, I was punched in the head. Then I had a bad reaction. That wasn’t good on my part. To be quite honest, I’m pretty embarrassed.”
In 1995, Nickerson ripped the helmet off Chicago running back Rashaan Salaam by the facemask and knocked him out of a game.
“I was just trying to tackle him,” Nickerson told the Tampa Tribune at the time. “I’ll admit as he was going down I grabbed his face mask. Was I trying to kill the guy? No. Was I trying to end his career? No. Was it anything intentional? No. It’s just a part of football.”
Then there was the time that Nickerson was tossed off the Bucs’ practice field during training camp by Dungy for getting into a fight with mouthy Redskins running back Brian Mitchell.
“I got thrown off the field here,” Nickerson said. “We were practicing with the Redskins. At the time, Brian Mitchell was kind of out of control. We were in 7-on-7 and they threw him the ball across the middle and I hit him. Then he got up and he was all in my face. I didn’t do anything. The next thing I know he shoves me and punches me. Then a melee starts. I really didn’t get the chance to even punch the guy.”
As the 48-year old Nickerson reflects on some of those incidents and has some regrets on how he handled himself in some of those situations, Bucs fans feel differently. Nickerson was revered for being the first Buccaneer to truly stand up for them. Fans loved his fiery temper, his angry demeanor, his surly behavior and his flexed muscles after big plays.
Nickerson was Sapp before Sapp came along. He brought swagger to a swagger-less Tampa Bay team. Nickerson’s attitude was appreciated by the Tampa Bay fan base.
“I came in there with the vision of having a winner in Tampa,” Nickerson said. “I came in scratching and fighting for that. I came in to restore some respect and help build something. That was the mission. I’m proud of what we did.”
FAB 3. BREAKING DOWN THE BUCS’ RUNNING BACKS SITUATIONTo say that the Buccaneers have a logjam of talented running backs might be an understatement. Granted, most of the team’s rushers outside of starter Doug Martin don’t have much proven NFL production just yet, but all five of the Bucs’ backs look like they possess the skill set that would make each one an ideal fit in Jeff Tedford’s new offense.
Prior to the 2014 NFL Draft the Bucs appeared to be stocked at the position with the return of Martin, Mike James and Jeff Demps coming off injured reserve along with Tampa Bay’s leading rusher, Bobby Rainey, who rushed for 532 yards and five touchdowns on 137 carries (3.9 avg.). Since the month of May, Tampa Bay has added two more running backs in Charles Sims, the team’s third-round draft pick this year, and undrafted free agent Brendan Bigelow, who played for Tedford at Cal.
Now the Bucs’ backfield boasts as many as six potentially quality rushers that fit the new offensive system. At the most, expect Tampa Bay to keep four halfbacks on the 53-man roster, which means there will be a highly contested training camp environment at the running back position and that two ballcarriers will likely depart.
Here’s an overview of the six running backs in contention for roster spots and the skills they bring to Tampa Bay:
RB Doug Martin – Projected StarterMartin had a breakout season in 2012 with 1,454 yards and a franchise-record 11 touchdowns on 319 carries. He also caught 49 passes for 472 yards and a touchdown. Martin had a bit of a sophomore slump last year and got off to a slow start with just 456 yards and one score on 127 carries and a fumble. His receiving production dipped considerably as he only had 12 catches for 66 yards and he had five drops.
Lovie Smith said that Martin is the starter, but then the team drafted a pass-catching running back in the third round in Sims. Martin needs to do a better job of catching the ball out of the backfield or he will wind up losing carries to the rookie and/or other running backs in Tampa Bay’s stable.
RB Charles Sims – Backup ContenderSims spent his first three seasons in Houston before transferring to West Virginia where he posted his first 1,000-yard season with 208 carries for 1,095 yards and 11 touchdowns. Sims totaled 3,465 yards rushing and 40 touchdowns on 592 carries (5.9 avg.) between both schools. He also had a combined 203 catches for 2,108 yards and 11 touchdowns through the air, including 70 receptions for 759 yards and one score as a freshman at Houston.Sims, who will turn 24 on September 19, is very mature and used to stepping in right away and making an impact, which is something he did for the Cougars as a freshman and for the Mountaineers last year as a senior. Sims is expected to play an instrumental role in the passing game as a receiver out of the backfield and helping in pass protection. Because he might have the best hands of any of the running backs and he was acquired by the new regime, expect Sims, who has an upright running style, to get plenty of playing time as a rookie.
RB Bobby Rainey – Backup ContenderRainey has good speed and quickness, evidenced by ripping off three runs of 30 yards or longer last year, including an 80-yard touchdown run against Buffalo. No other Bucs runner ripped off a run longer than 26 yards. Rainey was the only Bucs running back to log more than one 100-yard rushing game in 2013, and his 30-carry, 163-yard, two-touchdown effort against Atlanta was the best running performance by any Tampa Bay back last year.
The strong and compactly built Rainey has above average hands, but wasn’t used too often in the passing game in 2013, catching just 11 passes for 27 yards and one touchdown. He will need to shine in the area of pass catching and pass protection to put himself in contention for the role of Martin’s primary backup and the team’s third-down running back role. Rainey will also have to be a more consistent runner as he was either feast or famine last year in terms of production with almost half of his rushing output coming in two games against Atlanta and Buffalo.
Mike James – Backup ContenderOf the four main candidates contending for playing time at running back, James may be the odd man out. While his 4.52 speed is on par with that of Martin and Rainey, James doesn’t have the short-area quickness that either of those running backs possesses. Although he rushed for 295 yards on 60 carries (4.9 avg.), including a 28-carry, 158-yard rushing effort against Seattle, James’ longest run during his rookie season was just 24 yards.
Where James may have an edge over Rainey is catching the ball, serving as a pass protector and on special teams. James caught 10 passes for 43 yards last year, including a 20-yard reception. He also threw a touchdown pass in an overtime loss at Seattle. James needs to prove he’s back to 100 percent from the broken ankle he suffered last year and match the explosiveness of both Rainey and Sims with the ball in his hands.
Jeff Demps – Utility Back ContenderAt 5-foot-7, 191 pounds, Demps is one of the smallest running backs on the Bucs’ roster. After arriving in Tampa Bay after track season concluded, the former Olympic silver medalist was limited to just four kick returns for 93 yards, including a 29-yarder, three catches for 21 yards and one carry for 14 yards. He finished his Florida career eighth-leading rusher with 2,470 yards on 367 carries, a 6.7 average, and 23 touchdowns on the ground. Demps caught 57 passes in his Gators career for 481 yards, an 8.4 average.
Because of Demps’ size, he figures to be used as a running back, slot receiver and kick returner, and it will be his versatility that ultimately keeps him on the Bucs’ 53-man roster if he wins a spot in training camp. Blessed with 4.2 speed, Demps averaged 28.8 yards on 61 returns, including a career long 99-yard touchdown return his senior season at Florida. With Tedford preaching the concept of speed in space, having the fastest man in the NFL make the team seems like a lock if Demps improves as a receiver in camp.
Brendan Bigelow – Utility Back ContenderBigelow is very undersized at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, and is not in contention to be true backup running back behind Martin. Bigelow, who was signed as an undrafted free agent, is an elusive back with great speed and quickness and also has good hands, evidenced his 42 receptions for 305 yards and one touchdown at Cal, including 34 catches for 202 yards during his junior season alone.
In his three-year career at Cal, Bigelow amassed 877 yards and five touchdowns on 155 carries. But as a sophomore, Bigelow was a reserve running back under Tedford and averaged 9.8 yards per carry while rushing for 431 yards and three scores on 44 carries, including a four-carry, 160-yard, two-touchdown performance at Ohio State. Bigelow figures to battle Demps for the role of a versatile utility weapon on offense, in addition to the role of kick returner. He returned 62 kickoffs for 1,363 yards and one touchdown for the Golden Bears. If Bigelow doesn’t make the roster he could be a practice squad candidate if he makes a good enough impression during training camp.
While the Bucs have a plethora of running backs on the roster heading into training camp don’t expect any trades. Tampa Bay has adequate depth in case of a preseason injury or two, and the only running back with any real trade value is Martin or Sims, and the team isn’t looking to deal either one, especially Sims, who was just acquired in the draft.
FAB 4. REMEMBER, MALCOLM GLAZER SAVED THE TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERSLike many of my media colleagues I knew very little about Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer, who passed away this week at age 85. He was a reclusive man, who wasn’t the most popular owner because he – and his sons for that matter – chose not to personally connect with their team’s fan base or the media over the years.
Over the years, the Glazer family has taken too much heat for several things. The first was changing the name of Tampa Stadium to Houlihan’s Stadium in 1997. The second was campaigning for – and ultimately achieving – the goal of having Raymond James Stadium publicly financed in 1996. The third was the relocation of hundreds of season ticket holder accounts to make way for some of their sponsors once the Bucs transitioned from the old stadium to Ray-Jay in 1998.
Yet perhaps the biggest issue Bucs fans have with the Glazers is the purchase of the Manchester United soccer team in 2005, which occurred one year prior to two strokes Glazer suffered in 2006. Bucs fans saw the Glazer family take its eye off the football team for a few years and saw spending on players decrease to among the lowest levels in the league from 2006-2011.
No NFL owner is perfect, and the same can be said of Malcolm Glazer for the aforementioned reasons. But while Glazer and his sons received their share of blame for those negative headlines, it seems that Malcolm and his family doesn’t get enough credit for even bigger successes. First and foremost is the fact that the Bucs remain in Tampa Bay.
Yes, the Glazers flirted with moving the Bucs to Baltimore or Orlando, but always wanted the franchise in remain in Tampa. They just wanted to stimulate apathetic local leaders and a lukewarm fan base that had grown numb to losing for over a decade and had to motivate them into action to support their $192 million purchase of the franchise in 1995.
The chance of the team leaving Tampa spurred the community into action to help support the Glazers’ purchase of the Buccaneers and that kept the team in Tampa Bay, which was their goal all along. Who knows what would have happened if another ownership group had bought the team. Tampa Bay might be without a football franchise if not for Malcolm Glazer.
Downtrodden teams like Jacksonville and Detroit and other teams that haven’t tasted a great deal of success over the last decade, such as Buffalo, Washington, Houston and Cleveland would love to have five postseason appearances in six years, such as the span that Tampa Bay enjoyed from 1997-2002. The legendary Tony Dungy, the Glazer’s first coaching hire, turned out to be a miracle worker that turned the Bucs around and made them championship contenders.
After losing to Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs became unacceptable, the Glazers unexpectedly fired Dungy and made a bold move to trade for Jon Gruden, who would revamp Tampa Bay’s offseason in one year and lead the Buccaneers to the team’s first and only Super Bowl appearance and victory. Did Glazer mortgage the future for the Super Bowl XXXVII triumph? Yes, but cities like Detroit, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Houston and Carolina that have yet to win a Lombardi Trophy would take the same gamble to ensure winning an NFL title. Any franchise would.
After a series of botched coaching hires following Gruden’s dismissal in 2008 with the likes of Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano, which occurred while Malcolm was incapacitated due to his strokes, the Glazer boys have made their father proud with the hiring of Lovie Smith, who was the linebackers coach on Dungy’s staff in Tampa Bay back in the 1990s. The arrival of Smith and new general manager Jason Licht has brought a sense of credibility and legitimacy back to the Buccaneers – the likes of which haven’t been felt since the glory days of Dungy and Gruden.
Beginning in 2012, the Glazer sons have taken a page out of their father’s playbook and opened up the checkbook a little more, signing the likes of Pro Bowlers Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks, Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson, and spending too much money on cornerback Eric Wright, a free agent mistake in 2012 that only lasted one year.
Yes, the Buccaneers and the Glazers lost their way for a little bit, and that was unfortunate. It seems like the team’s downturn coincided with Malcolm’s declining health over the years. But Bryan, Joel and Ed Glazer seem to be learning lessons from their late father and are steering the Buccaneers ship back on track towards winning ways.
We didn’t get to truly know Malcolm Glazer, who also should be known for his philanthropy. Glazer’s reclusive nature didn’t let us. I only had a handful of interactions with him over the years – all brief, but very pleasant.
I remember him always smiling. I remember him always wanting to shake hands with his players after wins and losses and thank them for their effort. He was a proud and happy owner of an NFL team.
Glazer was also imperfect. All NFL owners are.
But more importantly, Malcom Glazer should be known as the man who brought the franchise its only Super Bowl title, kept the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay in the 1990s and has ensured it remain that way by keeping the ownership of the team within the family. It’s up to the Glazer family now – primarily Bryan, Joel and Ed – to make their old man and the Buccaneers fan base proud. I believe they are on their way to doing so as the 2014 season could be quite memorable.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• Tampa Bay linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson was one of the most serious competitors the Buccaneers ever had when he was roaming the middle of the defense during his career in Tampa Bay. He even battled back from a bout with pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart, in 1998 that caused him to only suit up for 10 games that year. It was no wonder that without Nickerson for six games the Bucs went 8-8 and missed the playoffs without their leader.
“I was on a mission to be the best player I could possibly be,” Nickerson said. “When I got here I had played six years already in Pittsburgh. By a lot of people’s standards I was already old. Every year I was out to prove that I could still play, and not only play but I could play at a high level. That was a mission I was on every year.
“As I got into year nine, 10, 11 and 12 the chip got a little bigger. I really wanted to show people that age didn’t matter to me. Maybe it mattered with a guy on another team someplace, but I was fighting off Father Time and trying to make it happen. I had a lot of fun. People in Tampa got to see the best football I had in me.”
• Although weakside Lavonte David has called the plays for the Bucs’ defense the last two years, Bucs linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson has insisted that Mason Foster take on those duties this year as the middle linebacker traditionally has those responsibilities in the Tampa 2 defense. Foster said the transition back to being the quarterback of the defense is no big deal for him.
“I did it my rookie year and we had a lockout that year,” Foster said. “I had never dealt with the speakers before in your helmet [in college]. I’m used to it. It’ll be a smooth transition – real smooth. I had to do it all practice and in every practice I had the microphone speaker in my helmet last year and the year before. The only time I didn’t wear it was on game day. I had to get calls in through the speakers last year, too.”
• It’s interesting to note that neither Bucs coordinator Jeff Tedford nor Leslie Frazier has held a press conference since their initial ones back in January. That’s by design, as head coach Lovie Smith doesn’t want too much leaking out publicly about the team’s new offense and new defense in an attempt to surprise opponents in September – namely the Carolina Panthers in Week 1.
While there aren’t many surprises with the Tampa 2 defensive scheme that Smith and Frazier have run for years in their respective stops in St. Louis and Chicago (Smith) and Indianapolis and Minnesota (Frazier), there are a few new wrinkles in Tedford’s Buccaneers offense that Smith wants to keep under wraps. By not allowing Tedford and Frazier to talk to the media and answer questions, Smith can help achieve that goal. Once the 2014 regular season starts, Frazier and Tedford will both be made available to the media with press conferences on a weekly basis.
From what I’ve seen of Tedford’s offense I think it’s going to take the NFL by storm and place the Buccaneers in the top 15 offenses in 2014. I also expect quarterback Josh McCown to be a breakout star in the NFL this year.
However, don’t think of McCown as a high-scoring shooting guard like Michael Jordan in this offense. Instead, think of him more like a great point guard like John Stockton, who effectively gets the ball into the hands of the team’s playmakers and avoids costly turnovers.
• The 2014 NFL Draft has come and gone and some draft pundits are already gearing up for 2015. It’s strictly for entertainment purposes, but former Pewter Reporter Charlie Campbell has a real early two-round mock draft at WalterFootball.com that has the Bucs picking 11th. Tampa Bay drafts Texas A&M offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi in the first round. After starting at guard in 2012, the 6-foot-5, 300-pounder moved to right tackle to replace Jake Matthews, who moved to left tackle. Ogbuehi is expected to follow suit in 2014 and once again replace Matthews, but this time on the left side.
In the second round, Campbell has the Bucs taking Texas defensive end Cedric Reed, who had 10 sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss in 2013. The 6-foot-6, 258-pounder also had five forced fumbles last year.
Walter Chrepinski, who owns and operates WalterFootball.com, also has a two-round mock draft out for 2015. In his version, Tampa Bay selects Florida State’s Heisman Trophy winning quarterback and national champion Jameis Winston in the first round and Oregon center Hroniss Grasu in the second round. In case you are wondering, Winston is the second quarterback selected in the first round of the 2015 draft. Chrepenski has Oregon’s Marcus Mariota going first overall to the New York Jets. Here is a link to the mock draft.
Chrepinski anticipates Tampa Bay still having issues at guard in 2015. He notes the Bucs acquired Evan Dietrich-Smith in free agency this year, but projects the team moving him to guard and inserting Grasu in at center next year.
• And finally, I’ve got some very exciting news to share with you. We have partnered with Bayshore Solutions, Tampa Bay’s largest and most prestigious web development company, to build a new PewterReport.com website that will launch this September. Our new website will have cutting edge technology and features, as well as an easily accessible mobile version of PewterReport.com.
Planning this massive endeavor, which has been in development behind the scenes in earnest since January, has taken a great deal of my time during this busy Bucs offseason, which is why I have been largely absent from the PewterReport.com message boards. I thank and applaud Mark Cook as the Pewter Report representative for handling almost all of the message board inquires and conversations over the past year and continuing that into the foreseeable future.
As publisher, I have a multitude of roles and duties that encompass more than just covering the Buccaneers as a beat writer. Spearheading and managing this website overhaul will continue to take up a large amount of time this summer and into the 2014 Bucs season. I just want the Bucs fans that have noticed my absence from the boards for some time now to know why that occurred – and to share the good news about a new PewterReport.com that will operate more smoothly and look more professionally than our existing website.
I have always felt that you, the PewterReport.com visitor, are the best and most educated, passionate and loyal Bucs fans around. You deserve a new and better PewterReport.com experience, and we are working diligently to make that happen for you in 2014.
We’ll have more on the new PewterReport.com website in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for that, but in the meantime, please help us get over 14,800 followers on our Twitter page (@PewterReport) by following us if you have yet to do so, and by encouraging your followers to do the same by tweeting out a message on behalf of @PewterReport. We are only a few hundred Bucs fans away from that goal and appreciate your help. Thank you!
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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