NFC South: John McKay

Basketball's LeBron James caused a stir when he said he should be on the NBA's Mount Rushmore. With that in mind, let's have a little fun.

Let's talk about a Mount Rushmore for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

There are only four slots available and I'm not seeing anyone on the current roster who deserves that status. There are some current players who can get there, but they're not there yet. That's why I think you have to go back into Tampa Bay's past to determine who deserves to be included.

At least in my eyes, the first three spots are easy. Then, there's a tough call for the fourth spot.

Here are my four choices for a Buccaneers' Mount Rushmore. Feel free to add your thoughts in the accompanying comments section.

Lee Roy Selmon: You have to start with Selmon because he was Tampa Bay's first superstar. He brought respectability to the franchise in its early years and had a Hall of Fame career.

Derrick Brooks: For years, Selmon was unquestionably the best player in franchise history. Selmon's greatness hasn't diminished, but I'd give Brooks the nod as the best player in franchise history now.

Warren Sapp: Like him or not -- and many don't -- you have to give Sapp his props as a player. He was the first Tampa Bay player to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

Tony Dungy: This one's a tough call and I had a tough time choosing Dungy over Ronde Barber, John Lynch, Mike Alstott, Doug Williams, Jon Gruden and John McKay for the final spot. But I'm going with Dungy because he was the first coach to make this franchise consistently respectable. By the way, I'm giving retired tight end Tyji Armstrong special honorable mention for his many contributions.

Time running short for Greg Schiano?

October, 13, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. -- They cheered, ever so slightly, as running back Doug Martin and wide receiver Vincent Jackson walked off the field at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. They did the same as defensive tackle Gerald McCoy walked into the tunnel to the locker room.

And, then, there was coach Greg Schiano.

The venom directed at him by a large group of fans in the southeast corner of the stadium was loud. The language was so vicious, the only way to summarize it was that the crowd was telling Schiano he needs to go back to being a college coach.

[+] EnlargeGreg Schiano
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsGreg Schiano's Buccaneers have lost 10 of their past 11 games going back to last season.
"I didn't hear anything," Schiano said a few moments after his team lost, 31-20, to the Philadelphia Eagles.

It's a good thing Schiano has thick skin because patience is running thing among the fans. And it's time to start wondering whether ownership's patience is wearing thin as well.

The Bucs have lost their first five games of this season and 10 of 11 dating back to last year. There were no real signs of progress against the Eagles. In fact, you could make a case that the Bucs' revamped defensive secondary regressed. Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon played well enough to lead the Bucs to a 17-14 halftime lead, but didn't do much of anything positive in the second half.

Glennon wasn't alone. Instead of blowing a late lead as they've done several times already this season, the Bucs took a shortcut and simply got blown out.

"We need to get it figured out quickly," Schiano said.

That's a huge understatement. On top of the losing, the Bucs seem to be in disarray in every way. Former franchise quarterback Josh Freeman was run out of town after a public feud with the team. According to a USA Today report, the NFL Players Association pointed to Schiano as the culprit for leaking a story that Freeman was in the league's drug program.

Then, there's the whole MRSA situation. Three players (guard Carl Nicks, kicker Lawrence Tynes and cornerback Johnthan Banks) have been diagnosed with MRSA since the preseason started. Nicks recovered enough to play in two games before he was diagnosed with a recurrence last week.

Has there ever been a crazier time for this franchise? The expansion days of John McKay come to mind. So do the Sam Wyche days and the final days of Raheem Morris.

But I'll make the case that what's happening now deserves more of a big top than anything in franchise history. Unlike McKay, Wyche and Morris, Schiano has plenty of talent with which to work. (The Bucs have eight guys who have been to the Pro Bowl.)

Unlike McKay, Wyche and Morris, circus acts weren't expected from Schiano. The guy came from Rutgers, where he had a reputation as a builder and disciplinarian.

Yet, even with all that discipline, the Bucs seem to be running amok. How does Schiano reverse the fortunes of this team?

"You stand to your convictions without being stubborn and you move forward," Schiano said. "We've got a good group of people in that locker room and coaches and they're going to stick together and we're going to get it turned. As long as you know that, you're going to do it."

The part about sticking to your convictions makes me think of that scene in "Hoosiers" when Gene Hackman's character, coach Norman Dale, says "My team is on the court" as a way of sending a message to his team. That stuff works in movies.

Real life can be another story. I'm not sure that continuing to play cornerback Darrelle Revis in zone coverage is going to lead to a turnaround for the Bucs.

The next three weeks or so are critical for Schiano and the Bucs. They play division rivals Atlanta and Carolina and travel to Seattle. An 0-8 start is looking possible.

Again, I have no idea if ownership is growing as impatient as the fans. But I do know that the Glazer family, which owns the team, does not like to be embarrassed.

The Bucs have been an embarrassment recently. If that doesn't change, the Glazers also might have some unkind words for Schiano.
Offensive tackle Paul Gruber reportedly will be the next player inducted into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ring of Honor.

That’s a great choice. Gruber belongs in the Ring of Honor with John McKay, Lee Roy Selmon and Jimmie Giles. Gruber was the consummate pro for 12 seasons. He was an excellent left tackle, who happened to have the misfortune of playing on some very bad teams. That may have prevented Gruber, who also was a true professional on and off the field, from getting all the recognition he deserved. But this latest honor may help make up for it.

Gruber deserves this honor, but there’s obviously something going on behind the scenes. The Bucs have been going in chronological order from the start of their franchise an expansion team. McKay and Selmon were logical choices as the first two inductees. When Giles was inducted last year, some fans and media said former quarterback Doug Williams should have gone in ahead of him. But, shortly before Giles’ selection, Williams had left his job in Tampa Bay’s front office on less than good terms.

By jumping ahead to Gruber, who played in the 1980s and 1990s, the Bucs clearly are moving a generation forward. They have passed over Williams and it obviously has to do with the lingering animosity between him and the team.

Williams and the Bucs need to work through that. I don’t know that things will ever be warm and fuzzy between Williams and the Bucs. But there’s no reason pettiness (on both sides) can't be set aside and things can’t at least be cordial at some point down the road.

Williams is a huge part of Tampa Bay’s history. At some point, he needs to be in the Ring of Honor.

NFC South evening update

June, 4, 2012
METAIRIE, LA. -- Looks like it was fairly quiet as I made my way from Tampa over to Louisiana on Monday afternoon to cover New Orleans Saints' minicamp Tuesday.

There weren’t many headlines to choose from, so let’s take a quick run through the ones that were most significant.
  • In what has been a strange offseason in New Orleans, here’s another strange story. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, who is suspended for the first eight games of the season, watched players work out for the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets. Saints owner Tom Benson recently agreed to buy the basketball team and has said Loomis will have a supervisory role. That’s great. Loomis knows how to conduct business, but shouldn’t he have all his attention at the moment focused on getting quarterback Drew Brees signed to a long-term deal?
  • The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will hold a news conference Wednesday to announce the next member of their Ring of Honor. This could come with some drama. The Bucs previously have inducted John McKay, Lee Roy Selmon and Jimmie Giles. The next logical inductee would be former quarterback Doug Williams. But he left a position with the team’s front office on bad terms. The Bucs could try to rebuild that bridge by going with Williams or they could go with some other candidates from their early history -- like Kevin House or Ricky Bell. The other option would seem to be skipping ahead to guys like Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, John Lynch and Mike Alstott. Or the Bucs could skip only slightly ahead and go with someone like offensive tackle Paul Gruber. My guess is the Bucs will stay true to history and induct someone from the 1970s or ‘80s. Once they jump to players from the 1990s, it will be difficult to go back in time.
  • Mike Triplett points out the Saints still have some other appeals pending on their punishments in the bounty program. All of them may be long shots, but the Saints, particularly linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith have nothing to lose at this point.
  • The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continue to say they will build through the NFL draft and I think that largely is true. But the Bucs aren’t going to hesitate when it comes to trying to add some veterans to fill holes. The latest example came Monday as the Bucs signed defensive linemen Wallace Gilberry and Jayme Mitchell. Both have spent the last few seasons bouncing around the NFL. With Da’Quan Bowers recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, the Bucs need to look under every rock for potential help on the defensive line.

Final Word: NFC South

December, 30, 2011
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 17:

High-powered offenses: Assuming the Saints play their starters, and they say they will, their game with the Panthers may look like a mismatch at first glance. But, look again. The Panthers are a much better team than they were earlier in the year. They’ve won four of their past five games and they’ve scored 164 points in that span. Since Week 12, only the Saints (189 points) and the Patriots (171) have scored more points. Carolina also has won three straight road games after snapping a 12-game road losing streak.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireMatt Ryan is 73 yards away from setting the Atlanta franchise record for passing yards in a season.
Bright spot: The Falcons can take a bit of good news out of Monday night’s loss to New Orleans. They’re very good at bouncing back from a loss. The Falcons have not lost back-to-back games since 2009.

Erasing Jeff George: Like the Saints, the Falcons also are saying they’ll play their starters. Let’s hope that’s true and let’s hope Matt Ryan at least plays long enough to throw for 73 yards. If he does, he’ll set the franchise record for passing yards in a season. The record is 4,143 yards and it was set by Jeff George in 1995. No team should have George at the top of its record book for 16 years.

Last dance? I don’t think the Bucs are literally playing for coach Raheem Morris’ job on Sunday in Atlanta. I suspect ownership already has made a decision and one game isn’t going to change it. There’s been some speculation Morris could stay if he replaces himself as defensive coordinator and makes a change at offensive coordinator. It’s possible, but I think it’s highly unlikely. The Bucs have crumbled during a nine-game slide. If this were Morris’ first or second year, he might stick. But this is his third year and, by that time, you should be seeing progress -- not major regression -- from a youth movement.

Stats are for losers: Let’s put Tampa Bay’s nine-game losing streak in perspective. It’s the longest active losing streak in the NFL. It’s Tampa Bay’s longest losing streak since losing 11 consecutive games between the 2008 and ’09 seasons. The last time the Bucs lost 10 straight in a single season was 1977, the franchise’s second season, when the Bucs lost their first 12 games. If the Bucs lose to the Falcons, Morris will join John McKay and Leeman Bennett as the only coaches in franchise history to have more than one 12-loss season.

Final Word: NFC South

December, 2, 2011
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:

[+] EnlargeLee Roy Selmon
Manny Rubio/US PresswireThe Bucs will wear throwback uniforms Sunday, hoping for results like the teams led by Lee Roy Selmon used to get.
Creamsicle time: The Buccaneers will be wearing their throwback uniforms against Carolina. Yeah, the orange and white uniforms are back. Might not be a bad thing, because at least in the days of Lee Roy Selmon and John McKay the Bucs actually were capable of playing very good defense. Tampa Bay has a (slightly) better record than Carolina, and the Bucs are playing at home. But I have a tough time seeing a Tampa Bay win, unless the defense suddenly starts making some tackles. Since Week 5, the Bucs have allowed an average of 30.6 points per game. Only the Colts (31.3) have allowed more. The Bucs also are allowing a league-worst 6.5 yards per play in that span.

Breaking in the rookie: After losing Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart to injuries, the Texans are expected to start rookie quarterback T.J. Yates against the Falcons. Good luck with that. Since 2002, the Falcons are 11-1 when facing a rookie quarterback. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the only team with a better record against rookie quarterbacks in that span is the Steelers (14-1).

Happy (almost) anniversary: Atlanta’s defense is coming up on what would be a very big milestone. The Falcons have not allowed an individual running back to rush for 100 yards in 14 straight games. The last time it happened was when Carolina’s Jonathan Stewart went over 100 yards on Dec. 12, 2010.

A tip for the Detroit defense: Hey, any defense going up against the Saints can use all the help it can get. If it’s third down, you might want to put some tight coverage on New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham. He’s caught 13 passes on third downs this season. All 13 have been turned into first downs.

Shades of 2009: I’ve said several times that the Saints of this season are starting to remind me of the Saints of 2009, who went on to win the Super Bowl. Here’s the latest example. A victory against the Lions would put the Saints at 6-0 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for only the second time in franchise history. The only other time that happened was 2009.

Remembering Lee Roy Selmon

September, 4, 2011
Lee Roy SelmonMalcolm Emmons/US PresswireLee Roy Selmon was the first Tampa Bay Buccaneer elected to the Hall of Fame.
TAMPA, Fla. -- I remember precisely where I was the moment Lee Roy Selmon was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I was standing outside a hotel ballroom in Miami in 1995. It was the day before the Super Bowl. A few minutes after the privileged voters inside the room had voted Selmon in, the door swung open. Out walked Tom McEwen, the legendary former sports editor of The Tampa Tribune.

"He’s in," McEwen said.

For the rest of that afternoon, evening, the media brunch and all during the Super Bowl, I kept seeing writers, league officials, former players and even Ferdie "The Fight Doctor" Pacheco coming up to McEwen and offering congratulations.

The response was the same every time.

[+] EnlargeLee Roy Selmon
Malcolm Emmons/US PresswireDefensive end Lee Roy Selmon was the first draft pick of the expansion Buccaneers and the top overall pick in 1976.
"Why are you congratulating me?" McEwen said. "Lee Roy’s the one who got into the Hall of Fame. He’s the one who played the game."

That’s the first story I thought of when I heard Selmon had been hospitalized Friday after suffering a stroke. It kind of sums up the story of the first Buccaneer elected to the Hall of Fame and the first member of the team’s Ring of Honor.

He died Sunday at the age of 56.

A humble, exceedingly gracious man, Selmon never was one of those people who would go around seeking attention or adoration. He simply earned it by his play on the field and the way he carried himself off it -- during and long after his career ended in 1984.

McEwen, a powerful man, might have twisted some arms to get the votes. But Selmon was the one who did the grunt work. He was the one who beat double-teams and chased down quarterbacks every Sunday. He was the one who endured the 0-26 run the Bucs went on as a 1976 expansion team.

He was the one who made the Bucs seem like miracle workers (long before the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars entered the league under a different set of rules in 1995) when they reached the NFC Championship Game in the 1979 season.

Yeah, the 1979 team had some guys like Doug Williams and Jimmie Giles who made some big plays on offense. But John McKay’s first winning team won with defense and Selmon was the center of that.

Selmon still was the center of the team in subsequent years when Williams left and things went bad. He left the game after the 1984 season because of a bad back, but he remained the icon of all icons in Tampa Bay.

The Bucs were bad for the next decade, but fans and the team could always point to Selmon as a point of pride. He stuck around town and stayed active in the community. He eventually joined the staff at the University of South Florida and helped the college start its football program.

Selmon remained an ambassador for the Bucs as the late 1990s arrived and things got better. Even if you weren’t in Tampa Bay for Selmon’s playing days, you knew who he was. There’s a Tampa expressway named after him and I have to drive by one of the restaurants that bears his name to get just about anywhere.

I’ll think of him every time I go by that restaurant and I’ll have one lasting memory of the man. Last November, Selmon was a guest speaker at a luncheon to honor McEwen at Saint Leo University.

At one point, Selmon said he wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame if it hadn’t been for McEwen. No doubt, McEwen played a role. But, like McEwen said, Lee Roy was the one who got into the Hall of Fame and he was the one to play the game.

He played it with uncommon grace and dignity and he lived his life that same way. That’s why the legend of Lee Roy Selmon is going to keep lingering in Tampa Bay.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Of all the hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of moments Jimmie Giles could have picked as his favorite with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, this one’s definitely not the cleanest. It also may surprise you a bit at first.

“Wrestling in the mud with (teammate) David Lewis,’’ Giles said Wednesday as the Bucs announced he will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at a Dec. 4 home game with Carolina.

[+] EnlargeJimmie Giles
Darryl Norenberg/US PresswireJimmie Giles compiled 4,300 receiving yards and 34 touchdowns in nine seasons in Tampa.
The wrestling session happened at the end of the 1979 season, a crucial one for the Buccaneers. Needing a win to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, the Bucs beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 3-0, in a torrential downpour.

The team that began as an expansion franchise in 1976 and started 0-26 would go on to stun everyone and reach the NFC Championship Game. It was a high-water mark for a franchise that soon would fall back to its losing ways. Giles was with the Bucs from 1978 until 1986 and, by that point, the Bucs were mired in something well below mediocrity.

They spent the latter half of the 1980s and the early and middle parts of the 1990s as a national joke. Actually, there were all sorts of jokes in those days.

“The sign on the ticket window was “Sorry, we’re open,’’ cracked long-time Tampa Bay radio personality Jack Harris, who was one of the guest speakers before Giles took the microphone.

But one of the best things the Bucs have done since starting the Ring of Honor two years ago is that they’ve embraced their past. It would be easy to try to forget it all and skip the whole era before coach Tony Dungy came along and changed the climate and the uniforms switched from orange and white to pewter and red.

That also would be a mistake because there were some good times and good players from those early years. Co-chairman Bryan Glazer made it a point to say the team’s present and future wouldn’t be possible without its past. He’s right.

Lee Roy Selmon and John McKay, the first two inductees, created some magical moments for a young franchise. So did Giles, who played tight end and went to four Pro Bowls while with the Bucs.

“It was Jimmie Giles and some others who helped turn this team around,’’ Harris said. “It was a great era.’’

But a short era. Sooner or later, the Bucs will open the floodgates for their Ring of Honor. That will start when Derrick Brooks goes in, which will clear the way for guys like Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Mike Alstott, Ronde Barber, Dungy and Jon Gruden.

It’s not quite time for that yet. Although there was a long dry spell between the 1979 team and the teams of the late 1990s, there are some other guys from those eras who deserve the honor. Guys like Ricky Bell, James Wilder, Paul Gruber and Hardy Nickerson should go in before the Bucs get to their more-recent past.

Then, there’s Doug Williams. He was the quarterback of the 1979 team and, by all rights, he should be going into the Ring of Honor before or with Giles. He’s not. That’s mostly Williams’ fault. He did some great things as a player and left Tampa Bay in a bitter salary dispute with former owner Hugh Culverhouse. Williams carried a grudge before finally returning to work in the team’s personnel department.

Things were good for a few years, but Williams left after the 2010 draft. Williams and general manager Mark Dominik weren’t getting along. Since his departure, Williams has taken some public shots at the Bucs. He’s not going to get into the Ring of Honor as long as that’s going on.

As Giles talked, I think there might have been a subtle message to Williams. Giles was talking about how the Bucs of long ago went through some tough times and weren’t beloved. Giles said that things change with time and that no one should succumb to bitterness.

That’s an excellent point. The Bucs are going out of their way to reach out to their former players. Let the water flow under the bridge.

The Bucs and their former players need to stay above the bridge -- above the pettiness.

Remembering Jimmie Giles

July, 13, 2011
TAMPA, Fla. -- I’m getting ready to head out to One Buccaneer Place for the news conference to formally announce Jimmie Giles into the team’s Ring of Honor.

The Bucs did a first-class job of making the announcement of John McKay last year and Lee Roy Selmon the year before that. I’m sure they’ll do right by Giles, but I’m more curious to see this announcement than I was the first two.

That’s largely because I knew just about everything about Selmon and McKay. Selmon was Tampa Bay’s first draft pick, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a staple in the community and I sometimes eat at his restaurants. McKay was Tampa Bay’s colorful first coach and was famous before that as an outstanding college coach at Southern California. He stayed in Tampa Bay after he was done coaching and sometimes stopped by to watch practice back in the mid-1990s when his son, Rich, was general manager and I was covering the Bucs on a daily basis.

[+] EnlargeJimmie Giles
AP Photo/Sal VederJimmie Giles was on the 1979 Buccaneers team that went to the NFC Championship Game.
But Giles is a little different. I don’t know nearly as much about him. I remember him a little as a player, but I arrived in the Tampa Bay area for college just as Giles was wrapping up his time with the Bucs. Growing up in Pennsylvania, not many Tampa Bay games were televised locally unless the Bucs happened to be playing the Giants, Eagles or Jets.

Giles also spent time with the Oilers, Lions and Eagles, but the best part of his career came with Tampa Bay. He was with the Bucs from 1978 until 1986 and made four Pro Bowls during that time. He was part of the 1979 team that made an unlikely run to the NFC Championship Game.

In 13 NFL seasons, Giles had 350 catches for 5,084 yards and 41 touchdowns. Those aren’t huge numbers for a tight end. But you have to remember Giles was playing in an era when tight ends primarily were used as blockers. Giles did have some big moments as a receiver and none was bigger than Oct. 20, 1985, against the Miami Dolphins. In that game, Giles caught four touchdown passes.

Buccaneers teammate Gerald Carter once was quoted as saying that Giles could have been "one of the best all-time tight ends, if they'd used him more".

But the Bucs used Giles enough that he was one of their best players from an early history that wasn’t always pretty. He did enough to earn a spot in the Ring of Honor and a lasting legacy.

I’ll be back later with more on Giles.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have said they’ll make an announcement Wednesday about the next inductee to their Ring of Honor.

They won’t officially say who it is yet, but the St. Petersburg Times is reporting that it’s former tight end Jimmie Giles and they’re citing former quarterback Doug Williams as the source. I’ve got no problem with Giles going in as the third member of the Ring of Honor after Lee Roy Selmon and John McKay. Giles was a very good tight end. The Glazer family, which owns the team, works together to select members of the Ring of Honor and team co-chairman Bryan Glazer serves as the front man for those efforts. The Glazers are making a smart move by going by some degree of chronological order.

If he had skipped ahead to Derrick Brooks, guys like Giles, James Wilder, Paul Gruber and Hardy Nickerson would have to wait for years. Once Brooks goes in, it’s going to open the gates for the rest of the big names from Tampa Bay’s golden age -- Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Mike Alstott, Warrick Dunn, Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and Ronde Barber. By the time all those guys get in, Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount and Mike Williams might be ready to follow.

The Bucs didn’t have a glorious history before Dungy came along, but it’s important to recognize guys like Giles now and Brooks and friends can wait a few years. The guy who may be waiting the longest is Doug Williams. You could make a case Williams should be the next guy going into the Ring of Honor, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

After winning the battle of public opinion in his long-ago feud with former owner Hugh Culverhouse, Williams was back in the good graces of the franchise for a time. He worked in the team’s personnel department and was close with Gruden and former general manager Bruce Allen.

But Williams left due to a strained relationship with Mark Dominik after he became the general manager. Williams might not have the fans on his side this time. He’s taken public shots at the Bucs and Dominik, while the franchise has stayed quiet about Williams. Even while Williams still worked for the team, he created an awkward moment when the Bucs announced Selmon as the first member of the Ring of Honor. Williams spoke at that news conference and it was kind of bizarre. Instead of talking about Selmon, he spent almost all of his time talking about the 1979 team.

The franchise probably is going to stay quiet on Williams for a long time. He was an important part of the franchise’s early years, but he’s burned some bridges. Unless those are repaired, Williams probably won’t be going into the Ring of Honor.
There will be two new members inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame this fall. Former safety Sammy Knight and longtime radio and television announcer Bruce Miller have been named as the newest selections.

Each NFC South team has some way of honoring its former players. For instance, the Bucs do it with their Ring of Honor, which, so far, includes only Lee Roy Selmon and John McKay.

We’ll see how long this lockout lasts, but I’m thinking if it drags into the middle of June or later, we might go ahead and do some Call It polls to let you select who belongs in the NFC South Hall of Fame. There’s no such thing right now, but, even if it’s just for fun, it might be a good time to start one.

Here’s a list of past inductees into the Saints Hall of Fame.
  • 1988 -- Archie Manning and Danny Abramowicz
  • 1989 -- Tommy Myers and Tom Dempsey
  • 1990 -- Billy Kilmer
  • 1991 -- Tony Galbreath and Derland Moore
  • 1992 -- George Rogers, Jake Kupp and John Hill
  • 1993 -- Joe Federspiel
  • 1994 -- Henry Childs and Jim Finks
  • 1995 -- Doug Atkins and Bob Pollard
  • 1996 -- Dave Whitsell and Dave Waymer
  • 1997 -- Stan Brock and Rickey Jackson
  • 1998 -- Dalton Hilliard and Sam Mills
  • 1999 -- Bobby Hebert and Eric Martin
  • 2000 -- Pat Swilling and Vaughan Johnson
  • 2001 -- Jim Wilks and Hoby Brenner
  • 2002 -- Jim Mora and Frank Warren
  • 2003 -- Jim Dombrowski and Wayne Martin
  • 2004 -- Rueben Mayes and Steve Sidwell
  • 2006 -- Joel Hilgenberg
  • 2007 -- Joe Johnson
  • 2008 -- William Roaf
  • 2009 -- Morten Andersen
  • 2010 -- Joe Horn
What key event significantly changed the fortunes of the Buccaneers – for better or worse? Give us your take and we’ll give you our definitive moment on May 25.

Coming into the NFL as an expansion team in 1976, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost a ridiculous number of games in very quick fashion. There was a brief flash after coach John McKay rode quarterback Doug Williams and defensive end Lee Roy Selmon all the way to the NFC Championship Game in the 1979 season. A few years later, Williams was gone after a salary dispute and the Bucs were maybe even worse than before.

Following Williams’ departure, they went through more than a decade of being the NFL’s biggest embarrassment. Former owner Hugh Culverhouse led the team through one bumbling step after another.

Things didn’t start to change until the Glazer family bought the team, Tony Dungy was hired as coach and Raymond James Stadium opened. Even then, the Bucs were good, but not quite good enough. That led to Dungy’s demise and the arrival of coach Jon Gruden, who won a Super Bowl in his first season. The Bucs haven’t won big since, but they seem to be a franchise on the rise with coach Raheem Morris and quarterback Josh Freeman.

If you vote Other, give us your suggestion in the comments area below.
TAMPA, Fla. -- I ran into Falcons team president Rich McKay in the Atlanta locker room after Sunday’s game.

His father, John McKay was inducted into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ring of Honor at halftime of the game. Rich spoke on behalf of the McKay family and about 20 members of the 1976 expansion team stood behind him.

But Rich McKay told me about another event the Bucs put on Saturday night that didn’t get publicized. The Bucs brought the McKay family (Rich was Tampa Bay’s general manager in the 1990s until 2003) and the players from the 1976 team together for a dinner at One Buccaneer Place on Saturday night. Rich McKay said the event was filled with stories about his father and the team’s early years and the closeness the initial players shared still was evident.

But there were some other guests at the event. The Bucs also had their current players spend some time socializing with the 1976 team members.
Raymond JamesAP Photo/Brian BlancoParts of Raymond James Stadium are expected to be empty when the 9-2 Falcons play the 7-4 Bucs.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Of all the people I know in the Tampa Bay area, a friend I’ll call “Dan’’ is the biggest sports fan.

Literally -- he’s 6-foot-7 and a former college basketball player. And figuratively -- he listens to sports-talk radio all day, reads the NFC South Blog and the rest of the sports internet world and still subscribes to two daily newspapers. He’s the only person I know under 50 who still subscribes to two daily newspapers.

He can name the full rosters of every pro sports team in Tampa Bay and every big football and basketball college program in the state of Florida. Heck, Dan even got emotional the other day when the Buccaneers cut Sabby Piscitelli.

So, when I talked to Dan the other night, I asked if he was going to Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium. He said no and I asked him why.

“I can’t afford it,’’ Dan said. “I’ll listen to it on the radio.’’

Like a lot of people in Florida, Dan lost his job because of an economic downturn that has hit Florida especially hard. He used to make very good money. But, even in those days, he didn’t have season tickets and he went to games only on rare occasions.

But what if things were still good? Would Dan buy a ticket for Sunday?

“Nah,’’ he said. “Maybe if it were a playoff game.’’

Well, guess what? Sunday essentially is a playoff game for the Buccaneers. They’re 7-4 and they need a win against the Falcons to have any chance to win the NFC South. They need a win to remain firmly in the playoff picture.

Even without Dan, you’d think the Bucs would have no trouble selling out this game. The game has been “flexed’’ to the 4:15 p.m. time slot, the Bucs will be inducting former coach John McKay into the Ring of Honor and will be wearing their creamsicle-color throwback uniforms. The game is being played in one of the league’s nicest stadiums.

[+] EnlargeTampa Bay's Ronde Barber
Kim Klement/US PRESSWIREA team official guessed that Ronde Barber and the Buccaneers should expect to see about 45,000 fans at Sunday's game.
But selling out is not going to happen. It’s not even going to come close to happening. I talked to a team official the other day and he said the Bucs are guessing they’ll be lucky to sell 50,000 tickets and actually get 45,000 to show up at the stadium, which seats more than 65,000.

This is nothing new this year. After selling out every home game since the opening of Raymond James Stadium in 1998, the Bucs haven’t sold out a home game this season. That means they haven’t had a home game aired on local television this year. At most of their games, they’ve announced that tickets distributed were somewhere in the 40,000s, and the Tampa Sports Authority, which runs the stadium, usually says the actual turnstile count is somewhere in the upper 30,000s or lower 40,000s.

I understand the economy and have seen lots of other friends besides Dan lose their jobs or take cuts in pay. I understand that Florida is full of transplants from elsewhere who would rather stay home and watch the team from their old hometown on television. I understand Florida’s weather is nice and there are a lot of other things to do on a Sunday and some of them are free or inexpensive.

But I can’t understand why the Atlanta game isn’t selling out or at least coming close to it. Back in the offseason, when the Bucs started sending out subtle messages about the strong possibility of television blackouts, I believed them. But I also thought that if the team played well, all those people who filled the stadium for a decade would come flocking back and the attendance problem would fix itself.

It hasn’t, and I’m at a loss to explain it. I understand season tickets cost thousands of dollars and are a luxury for the majority of people in Tampa Bay. But single-game tickets are a different story, and the winning by the Bucs hasn’t made much difference in walk-up sales.

That’s more than a little surprising, especially for this game. If there’s one game this year worth plopping down, let’s just say, $50 for, this would have to be it. As I mentioned, it is essentially a playoff game.

The Bucs have done their part. They’ve put a good product on the field. With quarterback Josh Freeman and a group of play-making young receivers, they have the most exciting and entertaining offense in franchise history. Their defense isn’t quite up to the old Tony Dungy/Monte Kiffin level, but it has come on strong in recent weeks.

Nobody seems to have noticed. I’ve got a couple of other theories on all this, but I’m fast running out of them.

First, last year’s 3-13 record didn’t help. Neither did the release of Derrick Brooks and a few other popular veterans following the 2008 season. There was some bitterness about all that, and it’s understandable. But we live in a knee-jerk society and you’d think the Bucs' winning football would have erased this by now.

Second, the fans seem to dislike the Glazer family, which owns the team. The perception is that the Glazers are “cheap’’ because they haven’t signed a lot of free agents and have had one of the league’s lowest payrolls the past couple years. There may be a bit of truth to that. But, overall, I think the perception is unfair and inaccurate. The Glazers are businessmen, but they also want to win. They brought Tampa Bay its only Super Bowl title and years of competitive teams. They’ve got a competitive team right now. Tampa Bay has a large transient population, but there still are enough natives or longtime residents who should remember what things were like back when Hugh Culverhouse ran the team.

Culverhouse operated in a day when there was no salary cap or floor. He always had the league’s lowest payrolls and he didn’t care if the Bucs won because he was pocketing millions off television contracts. The Glazers might not be the best owners in the league, but they’re not the worst. And compared to Culverhouse, they are gems.

Next year the Bucs are not raising season-ticket prices and they’re offering fans a 10-month payment plan. Indications from team officials are those sales are going fairly well, but they haven’t produced overwhelming results.

But let’s stick to this season. Let’s say the Bucs knock off Atlanta and go to Washington and beat the Redskins. Then, they come home for a Dec. 19 game with Detroit, which will probably draw about 40,000 people. Let’s give the Bucs a win against the Lions too. That puts them at 10-4 heading into a Dec. 26 game with Seattle. The game is scheduled for 1 p.m.

It could have big playoff implications for the Bucs and even the Seahawks in the crazy NFC West. It could get flexed into a better time slot by the league and television networks.

Day after Christmas? Bucs and Seahawks? It’ll be a Christmas miracle if more than 40,000 people show up. Let’s take it one step further and say the Bucs do get into the playoffs and somehow end up hosting a game.

Do they sell it out?

I doubt it. They can’t sell out the Atlanta game, which is pretty much the same thing as a playoff game.

You know that old riddle -- if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, I’ve never been able to figure that one out or spent a lot of time trying. But I do know one thing for certain: There’s a very nice football tree growing on Dale Mabry Highway right now. But, for whatever reason, Tampa Bay doesn’t seem to be noticing.

NFC South mailbag

October, 30, 2010
TAMPA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT -- Before I set out on another journey across "The Pond" -- that’s what we call the Gulf of Mexico in NFC South circles -- time for a quick dip into the mailbag.

Neil in Jackson, Miss. writes: I disagree with the idea that the Steelers game is must-win for the Saints. The NFC is so wide-open right now that they'll certainly be in serious contention for a wild-card spot even if they lose, and if they have a healthy Reggie Bush, Jabari Greer, Tracy Porter, and Drew Brees is back to form, then the Saints will surely be a dangerous team in the playoffs.

Pat Yasinskas: It’s fine to disagree. That helps make the world go round. I see what you’re saying and there certainly is some good logic to your points. But my point is, if the Saints lose, they’re 4-4 at the midway point and they’ll have the negative momentum of a two-game losing streak. When that happens, games that once looked like automatic wins no longer are. And we don’t know for sure what’s going to happen with the current injuries and what new ones might pop up. I’m just saying the Saints could be in a pretty deep hole if they lose to the Steelers. Yes, it’s possible they still could scratch and claw their way to a wild-card berth, but they wouldn’t go sailing in as the No. 1 seed like last year and that makes a big difference.

Robert in Dallas writes: Hey Pat Keep up the good work!! When will the rest of these football analysts give Josh Freeman some credit? All they talk about is Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford and Matthew Stafford!

Pat Yasinskas: I can’t speak for other analysts, but I think it’s obvious the Bucs hit it right when they drafted Freeman last year. He’s already good and he’s only going to better as the Bucs continue to try to upgrade the talent around him.

Steve in Redlands, Calif. writes: Keep up the great work with the blog! What do you make of the whole Pierre Thomas situation? Is this a case of information getting out of the building that shouldn't have, or is Sean Payton taking a negative motivational tactic? Either way, this seems like something that wouldn't have happened last year, and, for all of the Saints' talk about how they knew this year was going to be difficult, some of the stress is getting to the organization.

Pat Yasinskas: I think it’s pretty safe to say that information got out there because some important people in the Saints’ organization wanted it out there. Were they trying to motivate Thomas? Yes, that’s very possible. But, when you do that, you run the risk of alienating a guy who has been a pretty good player. Without a contract for next season, I think Thomas’ days in New Orleans might be numbered, barring him suddenly getting healthy and having a big second half of the season.

Justin in Charlotte writes: I have a theory on the passing offense in Carolina. During preseason, there was talking of being more creative in the passing game. I don't know if "creative" meant play calling, route running, formations, etc. Whatever they did, it failed miserably. Do you think they threw the "creative" plan out the window and went back to their '08 and '09 passing philosophy for the Niners game? Matt Moore was getting pressured, but handled it much better. He seemed like a different player out there.

Pat Yasinskas: Yes, I don’t know that we ever really say that “new’’ and “creative’’ passing game. But it looked like the Panthers let Moore just go back to doing what he did well at the end of last season in the San Francisco game. Hopefully, John Fox and Jeff Davidson learned a lesson from that.

Chris in Phoenix, Ariz., writes: Atlanta was really high on Harry Douglas saying he is a big key in the Atlanta offense yet while Michael Jenkins was gone they didn’t go to him much. Jenkins came back and they still don't open the playbook for him. I know he is more of a slot WR, but it doesn't seem like they do much with him. When do they plan on going to him and actually making him a key in the offense?

Pat Yasinskas: I don’t think we’ve seen anything close to the Falcons’ true plan for Douglas yet. But I’ve got a hunch we will start seeing it after the bye week and through the second half of the season. Douglas is a natural slot receiver and wasn’t really going to excel in Jenkins’ spot as the No. 2 receiver. Now, that Jenkins is back and fully settled into his regular role, I think you’ll start to see the Falcons make more use of Douglas out of the slot. He’s a guy that can make some things happen downfield and that could bring a valuable element to the offense.

Scott in Tampa writes: You've mentioned several times that Josh Freeman gives the Bucs something they have never had, which is a QB who could win a game for them. I decided to do some digging to see if any other QB in Bucs history compares. Freeman has 5 4th Quarter comebacks in just 15 starts. Only 3 QBs in Buccaneers history have more: Doug Williams (12), Trent Dilfer (11), and Vinny Testaverde (8). At this rate, he'll be the franchise leader in comebacks by the time he's 25.

Pat Yasinskas: Thanks for doing the research. That’s very interesting stuff. Freeman’s shown a great knack for leading comebacks. But that’s not my only point with him. I believe, for the first time in franchise history, the Bucs have a quarterback who is playing in a philosophy where it’s his job to win and Freeman has the tools to do that. Williams played in a John McKay system in which defense was the strength. His job was to let the defense keep the game close and try to pull it out with a big play at the end. It was similar for Dilfer in the Tony Dungy system. Actually, Dilfer probably had even more restraints. The Bucs had a dominant defense through most of his time and relied heavily on the running game. Testaverde never really had a shot to do much because the talent around him was horrible. Basically, Williams and Dilfer were game managers and their job was not to lose games. Freeman’s playing by a whole different set of rules and that should make for an exciting career for him.