This is the latest post in Kurt’s continuing series to identify the NFL’s Ultimate Franchise Player of All-Time. For an explanation of his methodology for choosing each franchise’s ultimate franchise player, and then how you and he will choose the NFL’s Ultimate Franchise Player from that list, click here.
The execution of the offensive line – Coach John McKay was ready to deliver the Pavulon/potassium chloride cocktail himself.
And although Midwest Sports Fans may not be among the 2,600-plus websites banned in the People’s Republic of China, that nation’s population includes more than a billion people who have no interest in reading on about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ultimate Franchise Player.
For the first two decades of its existence, the Bucs were a joke for an NFL franchise because original owner Hugh Culverhouse basically ran them into the ground.
It was not until Culverhouse’s passing in 1994 that credibility finally came to the franchise.
What the Buccaneers did have from day one was a dedication to go defense first, a tact originally taken from front office executive Ron Wolf.
The team took its lumps on the field when it lost its first 26 games in 1976-77, being shut out 11 times with what was by far the worst offense in modern NFL history. But even then, personnel from other teams were noting that the Buccaneers were building a potential championship caliber defense.
The offensive help finally started to arrive in year three of the franchise, and in year four the Bucs found themselves in the NFC Championship Game.
When the team finally achieved prolonged respectability under new management in the late 1990s, the focus was again on defense, led by Coach Tony Dungy who became a trendsetter with the ‘Tampa 2″ scheme. By 2002, the team finally won their long elusive “first win with temperature under 35 degrees” in the NFC Championship and would ultimately become Super Bowl champs.
With all this in mind, it is no surprise that the countdown to Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ultimate Franchise Player focuses on defense, defense, and more defense. And one defender stands above all others. Here is the best ever to don either pewter or creamsicle orange – the same hue used by the University of Tennessee with much less ridicule.
FIRST FOUR OUT
A couple of secondary names from the past are left on the cutting room floor: CB Donnie Abraham (1996-2001), who intercepted 20 passes in a three-year period, and original Buc Cedric Brown (1976), who had two pick-sixes among nine interceptions in 1981. Also among the top omissions is 2006 first round pick Davin Joseph, who has made the Pro Bowl twice off the offensive line, along with fellow OU Sooner alum Gerald McCoy, who earned Pro Bowl recognition this past season in his third year in the league.
25. Vinny Testaverde (QB 1987-92)
After winning the 1986 Heisman Trophy, the Miami Hurricanes and Penn State Nittany Lions met in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl to determine the national champion – an event so large that NBC moved the game to prime time and sent Bob Costas as part of its broadcast crew.
During a pre-game interview segment Costas asked Vinny what he envisioned doing 10 years down the road in 1997 – to which he responded “hopefully still playing football.”
Well, Vin was still in the league not only in ’97 but also 2007. His run after being selected first overall by the Bucs in 1987 was not glorious. He played six years in orange and was intercepted 35 times in his first full year as starter.
But since he lasted 21 years in the league, I just had to find a spot for him here since I wasn’t able to with the other six NFL teams he played for.
24. Dwight Smith (S 2001-04)
Some of the contributors who came up huge in Super Bowl 37 get recognized on the list. Dwight’s two defensive touchdowns from that game alone gets him in the countdown.
23. Joey Galloway (WR 2004-07)
Galloway was drafted originally by the Seattle Seahawks and did pretty well in his first four seasons in the Northwest, but he was one of my first four out in my Seattle countdown. While bouncing around several other NFL teams, Joey had a nice late-career renaissance in Tampa and is the only receiver in franchise history to record three straight 1,000-yard seasons.
That might be all you need to know about the lineage of Tampa receivers, although Kevin House (1980-86, 17+ yards per catch) was a difficult omission.
22. Josh Freeman (QB 2009-present)
Hearing the pundits over the past couple of years, many think of Freeman as a horrific Heath Shuler bust of a draft choice. Well, Josh threw for 27 touchdown passes in 2012; it was not quite his 25-touchdown/six-interception season of two years earlier, but it was a decent campaign except for throwing eight picks in a two-week period in Weeks 15/16.
His final 19th place QB rating for the year placed him just ahead of Jay Cutler, Christian Ponder, and Matthew Stafford. So he would work just fine in the NFC North, as opposed to the South, where the current benchmarks are Cam Newton, Brees, and Matt Ryan.
Or put another way, a recent USA Today 2013 Draft magazine did a 2009 “re-draft” with all the teams and their needs from four years ago now having hindsight vision. Freeman went second overall in that draft. He lasted until No. 17 (two picks after Mark Sanchez) in the real thing.
Coach Greg Schiano is talking about drafting a No. 2 quarterback to bring “competition.” If Freeman somehow did fall on the outs, he would have PLENTY of value in the trade market considering how teams just fell over themselves acquiring Matt Flynn and Carson Palmer, and are about to reach desperately for Geno Smith and Matt Barkley in this year’s draft.
6’6”, 240, and just heading into his age 25 year. There are plenty of NFL teams who would take Freeman over their current situation in a heartbeat. The best is likely yet to come.
21. Doug Williams (QB 1978-82)
Just two years after Warren Moon was snubbed completely in the NFL Draft, Doug Williams made history be being selected first-round by the Buccaneers after being a Heisman candidate at Grambling State University.
At first glance you might be turned off by his Tampa stat line, completing more than 47 percent of his passes. But the offense instantly became respectable under Doug, and the team went 33-33-1 with Williams as a starter, far better than many others who followed in Tampa. Also, Williams was only sacked 65 times in those 67 games, an incredible statistic – the man was difficult to bring down.
After being low-balled in contract talks with the Bucs, Williams took a sabbatical in the USFL before returning to the NFL. More on Doug when I get to Washington Redskins UFP.
20. Doug Martin (RB 2012-present)
To put Martin’s 1,454-yard rookie year in proper context among franchise annals, consider that a mere two more seasons of that production would put Martin amongst the top-five franchise all-time in rushing yards. Of course he won’t get to pad his stats in a game against the Raiders every year, but winding up the top rookie back out of the 2012 Draft class is not a bad start.
19. Mark Carrier (WR 1987-92)
It got quite confusing when Carrier went up against the Chicago Bears’ Mark Carrier twice per year for a while. With just more than 5,000 yards in his six years in Tampa, Mark remains the Bucs’ all-time leading receiver.
18. Hugh Green (OLB 1981-85)
Hugh was a flat-out stud at the University of Pittsburgh, earning All-American honors three times while recording 52 TFLs and 53 sacks in his four years. Hugh likely used up too much tread at the collegiate level and fell somewhat short of expectations with the Bucs, although he did make the Pro Bowl twice. He spent the second half of his pro career with the Dolphins.
17. Keyshawn Johnson (WR 2000-03)
As was the case in his other stops in the league, Johnson had a good three-year shelf life before inevitably wearing out his welcome. Me-Shawn was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1996 Draft by the New York Jets, and his productivity was good enough that Jets were eventually able to get a No. 12 and No. 27 overall choice for Johnson, who was soon given a contract by the Bucs (8 years/$56 million) that made him the highest paid receiver in pro football.
Me-Shawn caught 106 passes during the 2001 season and followed that up with another strong campaign in the Bucs Super Bowl year. By 2003, however, Johnson’s relationship with coach Jon Gruden eroded to the point that he was paid basically to be declared inactive for the final seven games of that season. He was traded soon after that.
16. Tony Mayberry (C 1990-99)
Even in the franchises dark ages, the Bucs were pretty well set at center. Steve Wilson and Randy Grimes preceded Mayberry and both had nice careers. Mayberry started every game for nine consecutive years and finished his career strong, making the Pro Bowl in each of his final three seasons.
15. Shelton Quarles (MLB 1997-2006)
For the first time we hit the sweet nectar of the Bucs franchise history, the stout defenses of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Quarles went undrafted in 1994 and spent a couple of years in the Canadian League before finding a roster spot with the Bucs and then becoming an eight-year starter. Along with getting a Super Bowl ring, Quarles also earned his lone Pro Bowl nomination in 2002, and scored in a game in Cincinnati that year.
14. Brad Johnson (QB 2001-04)
Name some of the starting quarterbacks over the years with the Bucs: Gary Huff, Steve DeBerg, Steve Young (they didn’t put him to good use), Craig Erickson, Shaun King, Brian Griese, Chris Simms, Bruce Gradkowski.
At least Brad helped get the team a world title. In fact, 2002 was Johnson’s career year, getting intercepted only six times in 451 regular season attempts. His 92.9 passer rating that season was his career best.
13. Dexter Jackson (SS 1999-2002, 2004-05)
Super Bowl XXXVII itself was not competitive, but the MVP voting sure was. Simeon Rice was actually the selection by the media, but the percentage of Internet voting by the humanoid fans weighted into the equation named Jackson and his two interceptions as the game’s MVP. Dexter used that huge game to cash in on the free agent market, but he would return to the Bucs a year later.
12. Paul Gruber (OT 1988-99)
Of course Wisconsin was going to be repped on the list!!! One of the better pre-Barry Alvarez Badgers ever, Gruber was a top-five overall pick, and although he never made the Pro Bowl, he did start 183 games while spending his entire 12-year career in Tampa. He is only one of three former players in the team’s ring of honor.
11. Jimmie Giles (TE 1978-86)
An absolute physical specimen, Giles remains the TE on the all-time Bucs team, withstanding all challenges from Kellen Winslow Jr. and others. Giles made the Pro Bowl four times during his tenure wearing the Bucco Bruce decal.
10. James Wilder (HB 1981-89)
In a record not likely to be broken in the current 16-game season, Wilder recorded an astounding 492 touches in the 1984 season, carrying the ball 407 times and catching 85 passes. Wilder fell just short of the total single-season yards-from-scrimmage record. Although in the season finale, John McKay classlessly called for the Florida Flop out of his defense, conceding a touchdown from the opposition, so Wilder would get one final shot of the record outside the context of the game.
Wilder currently has a son playing football in the Florida State Seminole program.
9. Warrick Dunn (HB 1997-2001, 08)
I originally had Dunn a couple of slots higher in the ranking, not realizing that he actually spent half of his career with the Atlanta Falcons. Dunn made All-Pro twice as a Buccaneer and is perhaps more regarded for his charitable work and the adversity and family tragedy he overcame to become an NFL star.
8. Simeon Rice (DE 2001-06)
He, along with fellow Illinois teammate Kevin Hardy, both went top-three overall in the 1996 Draft. Simeon spent the second half of his career with the Bucs, recording 67.5 sacks in a five-year period, plus seven sacks in five post-season games for Tampa.
If Simeon is only No. 8, who the heck can be in my top seven???
7. Mike Alstott (FB 1996-2007)
Yet another Big Ten product, Alstott quickly became the gold standard out of the fullback position and would be a four-time All Pro selection. His early contributions led the Bucs to the Divisional playoff in his second season.
Alstott’s parents were shown on the TV broadcast, then sitting quietly in the back row of seats at Lambeau Field, his dad wearing a generic NFL cap. You mean they didn’t go all out, wearing his jersey lit up like Christmas ornaments?? Modest folks.
That, incidentally, is the highest offensive player in this ranking.
6. Hardy Nickerson (MLB 1993-99)
The first phase of the Bucs shedding their status as perennial laughingstocks came when Nickerson was signed as one of the first big-money free agents in the modern era. Hardy was worth every penny, making the Pro Bowl five times as a Buc and recording 214 tackles in his first season with the team.
5. John Lynch (SS 1993-2003)
Way back when, Lynch was a standout prep quarterback in the San Diego area and also a one-time minor league pitching prospect. Lynch made the Pro Bowl nine times, but his final four trips to Hawaii came as a member of the Denver Broncos. Not spending his entire career in Tampa is the only thing that knocks Lynch down a couple slots in these rankings.
4. Warren Sapp (DT 1995-2003, HOF)
It was the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft, and all indications were that Warren Sapp’s wait in the Green Room would not be long; he would be one of the first players selected. But ESPN had breaking news, that Sapp had failed substance abuse tests during the evaluation process and that many teams were now taking a second look at him.
The next couple of hours became a circus as an aspiring agent named Drew Rosenhaus tried to explain to a television audience that Sapp had been wrongly accused as his client slid down the draft board. When finally selected by the Bucs at No. 12, Sapp seemed like a defeated man – and the televised presentation of the NFL Draft had officially reached the reality show status it enjoys today.
In the end, the Bucs got a pretty good bargain. At his peak, Sapp was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and recorded 16.5 sacks from his three-technique position in 2000.
It was somewhat surprising that Sapp made the Hall of Fame on his first year on the ballot in 2013, and this summer’s induction in Canton will be a culmination of what started in a cloud of controversy 18 years earlier.
3. Lee Roy Selmon (DE 1976-84, HOF)
Ranked No. 98 on the NFL All Time 100 list, Selmon was the Buccaneers first ever selection with the top overall pick of the 1976 Draft.
He did not disappoint, making the Pro Bowl in each of his final six seasons in the league. Unfortunately a back injury cut his phenomenal career short.
Post-career, Selmon became iconic in his adopted Tampa area with his business dealings and his involvement with the University of South Florida Athletic Department. A toll road was even named after Selmon in 1999.
He may not be first on this list, but you could easily refer to Selmon as Mr. Tampa Bay Buc.
2. Ronde Barber (S 1997-present)
Years after his twin brother hung it up, Ronde has continued his own magnificent career. At this writing, Tampa management is trying to persuade Ronde to return for a 17th season in pewter. Barber is the final remaining member of the 2002 championship team and has five Pro Bowls, two All-Pro selections, and a 10-interception season to his name.
BUCCANEERS ULTIMATE FRANCHISE PLAYER SELECTION
Derrick Brooks (OLB 1995-2008)
The NFL Top 100 Countdown had Selmon at No. 98 and Derrick Brooks sitting at No. 97.
I really don’t think it’s that close between the two, however.
At his peak in 2002, Brooks scored on defense five times, four in the regular season and another pick six in the Super Bowl. Brooks and Warren Sapp are the only Bucs to ever earn Defensive Player of the Year honors. All told, Brooks spent every down of his career as a Buc, was named All-Pro five times and selected to the Pro Bowl 11 years in all.
Come early 2014, look for Brooks to get the call from Canton first ballot. Derrick Brooks is clearly the top pirate in Tampa Bay football history.