FAB 4. Mayberry Deserves To Be In Bucs Ring Of Honor
He is the most decorated offensive lineman in Buccaneers history, yet he was never a household name – even in the Tampa Bay area.
I’m not talking about venerable left tackle Paul Gruber, who was inducted into the Bucs Ring of Honor a few years ago after a decade of great play despite being snubbed for the Pro Bowl year after year.
I’m also not talking about Davin Joseph, the team’s first-round pick, who was a two-time Pro Bowler before a severe knee injury in 2009 ultimately shortened what could have been a great career.
The Buccaneer I am talking about is center Tony Mayberry, who played 10 years in Tampa Bay and earned three Pro Bowl berths from 1997-99, which is the most of any Bucs offensive lineman in franchise history. Mayberry’s presence in the middle of Tampa Bay’s offensive line helped propel the team to the playoffs in 1997 and 1999 when the Bucs won their first division title in 15 years.
It’s time to give respect where it’s due, and include Mayberry’s name in the discussion for a future Bucs Ring of Honor induction.
“When Paul Gruber got inducted into the Bucs Ring of Honor, which he wholeheartedly deserved, right away I said that they have to put Tony Mayberry in there because he’s more decorated,” former Bucs guard Ian Beckles said. “Tony came in with me in the 1990 draft. He was a fourth-round pick and I was the fifth-round pick – about five picks apart. We played each other for seven years. He just quietly held it down. You didn’t hear much from Tony. He didn’t make mistakes. He played for 10 years, but he started nine straight for the Bucs. I don’t know that he ever came off the field. You didn’t hear his name a lot because he didn’t mess up. He was our cog in the middle of the line.”
No, Mayberry doesn’t deserve to get in the Bucs Ring of Honor ahead of former Tampa Bay head coach Tony Dungy, who will be inducted this year. Nor should he be ahead of legendary cornerback Ronde Barber, who should get in after Dungy, or middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson or Super Bowl-winning defensive end Simeon Rice.
But after the Glazers induct those men, and when the team is considering the next wave of Buccaneers greats, Mayberry’s name needs to be in the mix with running back James Wilder, who still remains the team’s all-time leading rusher after three decades, Shelton Quarles, who is the fourth-leading tackler in team history, and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who coached for more years in Tampa Bay than anyone and has been a part of more Buccaneers wins than any other coach.
With the exception of Barber and Nickerson, who each made it to five Pro Bowls and helped the Bucs become a winner in the late 1990s, and Gerald McCoy, who is still playing, every other Tampa Bay legend with at least four Pro Bowls has earned the Bucs Ring of Honor distinction. Mayberry went to three Pro Bowls, which is more than Rice, running backs Warrick Dunn and Doug Martin, linebacker Hugh Green and Joseph, who each earned two Pro Bowl berths.
Top Bucs’ Pro Bowlers
Derrick Brooks 11
Warren Sapp 7
Mike Alstott 6
Lee Roy Selmon 6
Gerald McCoy 6
Ronde Barber 5
Hardy Nickerson 5
Jimmie Giles 4
Tony Mayberry 3
When it comes to offensive linemen, Mayberry stands alone with three Pro Bowls, ahead of Joseph, who had two, and left tackle Donald Penn, left guards Randall McDaniels and Logan Mankins and center Jeff Christy, who each had one.
What made the 6-foot-4, 285-pound Mayberry special during his playing days was his athleticism.
“People look at centers like the Pouncey twins, and they look at how athletic they are and how they can pull, but people forget that Tony Mayberry was doing that back 15-20 years ago,” said former Bucs defensive tackle Booger McFarland, who is the new ESPN Monday Night Football analyst. “He was able to snap and be athletic. He was at the precipice of the athletic center – not the 320-pound guys. He was 285 pounds and he understood everybody’s job. He was at the forefront of that. He was a consummate professional and a leader of men.”
Legendary Bucs fullback Mike Alstott marveled at the Wake Forest graduate’s intelligence and his thinking man’s approach to football.
“He’s very intelligent and very well spoken,” Alstott said. “He was very knowledgeable. He was strong, but not a real big, push-the-weights-around kind of guy. Between his knowledge, his quickness and his leverage as a lineman, he was able to get the job done. He was a technician, and he understood his opponents and how to play them. He would outsmart them. He was a great guy. He was a guy that didn’t need head butts. He shied away from all that stuff. He was more methodical. He was the perfect technician and smart.
“There was a screen play against Carolina or Detroit – I can’t remember. Tony was over there leading the way. He threw a great block and then he was in the end zone with me. It was only a 20-yard play, but he was a guy that had the mobility, the leverage, the technique and the smarts to play so long.”
Long-time Bucs radio play-by-play announcer Gene Deckerhoff made his “Alstott up the gut!” phrase popular in the late 1990s, and the “up the gut” part was just as much about Mayberry as it was about Alstott.
“Hell yeah, I was coming right off Tony and whichever way he would he push the nose [tackle] on the belly play,” Alstott said. “I had a great feeling off of that and wherever he would take the guy I would cut right off of Tony. That was my first play my first year and even the first couple of years – the belly. It was just a regular fullback belly play, and Tony was the guy.”
One of Alstott’s more famous runs, a 31-yard touchdown blast up the middle against Detroit in the third quarter of Tampa Bay’s 20-10 Wild Card win at Houlihan’s Stadium in 1997, featured a great block by the best center in Bucs history. After the snap, Mayberry quickly slipped to the next level and sealed off Lions weakside linebacker Scott Kowalkowski.
Who was the lone Lions defender five yards behind Alstott, chasing him into the end zone? It was Kowalkowski, who Mayberry held at bay long enough for Alstott to break free for his electric, tackle-breaking touchdown run that gave the Bucs a 20-0 lead with 11:06 left in the third quarter.
“All of my centers are key for all of my big runs up the middle, and Tony helped get that started my first four years,” Alstott said. “I was running the belly from the I and the belly from the fullback position, and we incorporated ‘power,’ which they say is off-tackle, but it’s really inside the tackle.
“He controlled everything. He was the back block on the one-technique for those ‘power’ runs because we were pressing the ‘A’ gap. If that ‘A’ gap is there, we’re going to hit it rather than the ‘C’ gap. If Tony has a good block in that gap and we can get the tackle up to the MIKE linebacker I was going downhill.”
McFarland, who was Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in 1999, only squared off against Mayberry for one year, but remembers the impact he made in the Bucs’ ground game, which featured Alstott and running back Warrick Dunn.
“Obviously, any time the play goes up the middle the center will play a vital role in that,” McFarland said. “Anytime Alstott went up the middle, it was Tony, and Frank Middleton and Jorge Diaz and the role those guys played opening up holes for him. It was phenomenal.”
Beckles recalls how the run-oriented nature of Tampa Bay’s offense put a lot of pressure on the offensive line to be physical and get the rushing attack going, especially against some stiff competition in the NFC Central division.
“Tony, stature-wise, wasn’t the biggest guy in the world, but he was playing against some beasts back then,” Beckles said. “Look at the defensive linemen now, and there are some good ones, but we were playing against Jerry Ball and Chester McGlockton, Reggie White, Keith Millard, Eric Swann and John Randle – guys that are Hall of Famers. Back then they figured out some times to put them on the center, and he would have the best guy on his nose and he would have to snap the ball, make the calls and make the key block. It could be a long day for Tony, but he definitely held his own against the best in the world.”
Not only was Mayberry physically tough enough to do battle in the trenches against some big, strong defensive tackles, he also had the mental toughness to play through injuries week after week as one of the most reliable players in Tampa Bay history.
“Tony is a mild-mannered guy and was very intelligent,” Beckles said. “If you didn’t know him or he didn’t tell you he played in the NFL you probably wouldn’t figure that out. He was a very cerebral deep thinker, but he was tough as nails. I saw him play half a season with a spiral fracture in his snap hand. It seems like today these players are missing games for some minor things that Tony and some of the players back then played with. We figured out ways to play through stuff. His toughness was underrated because I don’t remember him coming out of a game – at least in the seven years I played with him.”
In fact, in Mayberry’s 10-year career in Tampa Bay from 1990-99 he played in 160 games, which is the sixth most in Tampa Bay history and ahead of the likes of Alstott (158), linebacker Shelton Quarles (148) and defensive tackle Warren Sapp (140). Mayberry started 145 games, including 144 consecutive starts, which is the fourth most in Bucs history behind only Ronde Barber (232), Derrick Brooks (221) and Gruber (183).
That’s nine consecutive seasons without missing a single snap.
The fact that Mayberry played so well for so long and earned three straight Pro Bowl appearances as he helped the Bucs end a 13-year playoff drought in 1997 and come within one game of the Super Bowl in 1999 is reason enough to include Mayberry’s name in the Bucs Ring of Honor.
“That’s criminal if he’s not in the Ring of Honor,” said Bucs defensive end Chidi Ahanotu said. “Tony’s one of those forgotten guys. Not only was he the center, who manned our offense, he was a presence in our locker room. You know how Tony could talk, Scott. That was one of our central figures in the locker room that kept everybody in check. Sapp had a way of barking down your throat. Tony could bark down your throat in a very analytical, philosophical and cerebral way. He would get on you, but he wasn’t mean about it.
“Tony should be in the Ring of Honor. That’s how I feel about it. I don’t know how the Bucs feel about it, but Tony Mayberry deserves to be in that Ring of Honor. No doubt. We don’t have the success we had without Tony. You could always count on him. He was so smart and a great athlete. I can’t say enough about him. Not only do I love Tony as a person, I loved him as a football player, too. I played with a lot of football players and he was definitely one of the best.”
Mayberry was one of my favorite Buccaneers to interview. When I needed perspective on something, he was one of my go-to guys because he was so cerebral and thoughtful on a wide array of topics. He was a “big picture” guy.
Yet Mayberry didn’t like to talk too much about himself. He would rather others receive praise and credit. He was the ultimate Tampa Bay teammate that way, so it was no wonder he was caught off guard when I asked him if he felt like he belonged in the Bucs Ring of Honor as the franchise’s most decorated offensive lineman – even more decorated than Gruber.
“That’s a humbling thought to think of, especially since it’s been a while since I’ve strapped on the shoulder pads,” Mayberry said. “I know it’s kind of hard to believe, but I don’t really give it that much thought. I was just out there doing my job. We had great guys in that building.
“I played with Paul my entire career. He was somebody I was trying to pattern myself after because of his consistent nature. He was the captain of the room even though when it came time to go on the field I was the captain of the O-line. It was a good dynamic. I got 10 straight years in and he was out there every snap I was.”
Mayberry’s final game in the NFL was his final game wearing a Buccaneers helmet – the Pro Bowl following the 1999 season. Mayberry had been playing with a back injury at age 32 and instead of extending his contract, Tampa Bay signed 30-year old Minnesota center Jeff Christie, who Dungy and offensive line coach Chris Forester knew from their days together with the Vikings prior to coming to the Buccaneers. Christie signed a five-year, $17.5 million contract in 2000.
“It’s difficult,” Dungy said of Mayberry’s departure. “For a guy to play that well, and play in three straight Pro Bowls for us, play so many straight games and really be a part of the foundation of what we’re trying to build – it’s tough to say goodbye, in so many words.”
While Mayberry was a Pro Bowler, Christie was the starting Pro Bowl center for the NFC, so the Bucs viewed the slightly younger Christie as a bit of an upgrade at the position. Dungy and the Bucs coaching staff coached Christie at the 1999 Pro Bowl as the result of being the NFC runner-up team in the NFC Championship Game that year.
After the Pro Bowl Mayberry decided to retire after 10 years in the league, and join just a handful of Buccaneers greats, including Gruber, Alstott, Brooks and Barber, to play his entire career in Tampa Bay. It’s only right that his name be included among the legends on the walls at Raymond James Stadium.
“I love Tony – he’s a great guy,” Alstott said. “He was a happy-go-lucky guy and really enjoyed playing football. He was a sneaky guy – and by that I mean I knew he was a three-time Pro Bowler because I went with him. But not a lot of people would know Tony went to three Pro Bowls and Paul Gruber didn’t. I guarantee a lot of people would lose that bet. Tony was the heart of our offensive line. He played 10 years, went to three Pro Bowls and really helped us change that offense to where we needed it to be in 1999.
“He didn’t want the accolades, but he helped us turn things around in Tampa. He was an instrumental piece to building that team when I first got there. Tony was one of the key pieces to that ground attack we had for so many years. At some point, there has to be some respect for what he has done.”