January 16th, 1995 at 7:22 in the morning. The sun rises over Tampa International Airport as the temperature hovers at a chilly 55 degrees outside. In many ways, this chilly Tampa morning was the dawn of the franchise so many have come to know and love. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers joined the NFL in 1976, but the Bucs that live and breathe today were born on that morning. The 2002 Super Bowl Champions were conceived just over eight years before Super Bowl XXXVII would actually take place.
As the sun crept up into the sky, the Buccaneers were a shaky organization, to say the least. Following the passing of previous owner Hugh Culverhouse, the purchase of the team became a hot topic. This was made especially intriguing by the people coming out of the woodwork with interest in the team. In hindsight, the most interesting might be Peter Angelos. Angelos was then, and still is, the owner of the Baltimore Orioles. Not only was Angelos showing interesting in the Buccaneers, but he was clear that they’d be moving to Baltimore if his purchase was successful.
The chaotic relocation of the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore one year later could’ve been completely null and void if the Bucs had been dragged there in 1995. It’s a thought that, looking back, could’ve shaped much of what the NFL has become today. But Angelos would not get his wish. Instead, at the last moment Malcolm Glazer would fly under the radar to purchase the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a mind boggling $192 million. The figure might not seem like much today, especially considering the Los Angeles Clippers were just purchased for a whopping $2 billion by Steve Ballmer.
Yet in 1995, $192 million was the record. Malcolm Glazer set the record during that day for the most a sports franchise had ever been purchased for. With the mere purchase of the Bucs, Glazer suddenly looked nothing like the controversially stingy Culverhouse. It was a precedent that would set a course for the sort of franchise most fans had likely been hoping to have for nearly two decades prior. It wouldn’t take long for Glazer’s goal to become clear. Glazer wanted the same thing that every diehard fan had been dying for… a winning franchise. He wouldn’t grasp at straws wildly, but he certainly wasn’t afraid to do some maneuvering along the way.
On April 22nd, 1995, the temperature was almost identical near Madison Square Garden in ‘The City So Nice, They Named It Twice.’ It was the night of the 1995 NFL Draft. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered the draft with the 7th Overall Pick. However, the regime, Malcolm Glazer included, knew who they wanted and worked to get them. Two key transactions took place to give the Bucs two future hall of famers in a single round. The realization of this wouldn’t come immediately, but we now know exactly what this round would come to mean for the franchise. It would also be a defining moment early in Malcolm Glazer’s new venture.
The first transaction came through the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles seemed eager to fill the void left by Reggie White’s departure two years prior to this. They saw a gem in Boston College Defensive End Mike Mamula, and they weren’t afraid to wager on this. The Eagles came to the Buccaneers about this. The agreement was for the Eagles to trade their first round pick (12th overall), and two second round picks (43rd and 63rd overall) to the Bucs. In exchange, the Bucs would hand over their 7th Overall Pick, as well as their third round pick (72nd overall). The deal was struck, and the Eagles pounced on combine standout Mike Mamula. The Lackawanna High School alum would go on to zero pro bowls, zero super bowls, and an altogether lackluster career.
A few picks later, the Buccaneers went on to select a Defensive Tackle out of Miami by the name of Warren Sapp. I don’t need to delve into the history books to explain what Sapp would come to mean for the Bucs. However, this was not the end of the Bucs’ first round. The Bucs sat on a total of three second round picks right now, and Glazer and company understood what that was worth. The Bucs came to ‘America’s Team’ out of Dallas with an offer. Two second round picks (41st and 63rd Overall) in exchange for the Cowboys’ 28th Overall Pick. Dallas agreed and the deal was struck. The Bucs hit the clock and snatched a Linebacker from Florida State by the name of Derrick Brooks.
These two selections were a foundation that could not have been laid without Malcolm Glazer at the top. Not settling for their spot in the draft, the Bucs traded their way into two first round future Hall of Fame inductees in a single night. Brooks and Sapp would come to anchor a defense that was less than a decade from the richest prize in the sport. The spotlight soon after the draft aimed at Lee Roy Selmon becoming the first Buccaneer in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It wouldn’t be until almost two decades later, but Selmon finally has some company in fellow Buccaneers Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp.
Unfortunately, this historically significant offseason would not result in immediate success. In 1995, the Bucs worked hard for a disappointing 7-9 record. The transformation was far from over, and the next big change came on January 22nd, 1996. Almost a year to the day following Glazer’s purchase of the Buccaneers, Tony Dungy was hired to take the helm as the new Head Coach. It was a huge moment for the former Vikings Defensive Coordinator. He walked into a messy team, but Dungy could see the diamonds buried under a pile of underwhelming creamsicle orange history.
One year and one more disappointing season passed by. Dungy was on his way to molding the team he saw, but a 6-10 record in ‘96 showed that he wasn’t quite there yet. In April of ‘97, they said a bitter farewell to Bucco Bruce and the creamsicle orange. Pewter and Red burst onto the scene along with the flag that has come to truly identify the Bucs to the world. The complete rebranding of the team – color, logo, and uniform included – was a breath of fresh air in Tampa. Only days later, the 1997 Draft would include the third round acquisition of another key defensive puzzle piece in Cornerback Ronde Barber.
The 1997 season was a turning point. Riding on a 5-0 start to the season, along with an eventual 10-6 record, the Bucs found themselves in the NFL Playoffs for the first time in 15 years. At the expense of the Detroit Lions, the Bucs 20-10 wild card victory became their first playoff win since 1979. Nine months later, the Bucs would take the field at Raymond James Stadium for the very first time. The Chicago Bears crumbled in a 27-15 loss that night which also marked the Bucs first victory in Ray-Jay. The Buccaneers were becoming a team to be reckoned with that harnessed a defense to be feared.
In 1999, the most significant moment for Malcolm Glazer and the Tampa Bay community came off the field. The Glazer Family Foundation was established to aid charitable and educational causes in the Tampa Bay area. While most fans will remember Glazer for what he did for the team, thousands more will remember the Glazer name for what it meant to their families and children in times of need.
The next few seasons would be mixed, but 2002 would bring the day of reckoning. The hire of Jon Gruden as the new head coach in February of 2002 was key. Dungy had spent years laying the groundwork of the Bucs. They were on the cusp of utlimate success, but it had eluded them in Dungy’s six years in charge. Dungy’s defense was truly magnificent. The defense he’d put together was an incredibly important piece, but the offense did not have the same success. Malcolm Glazer was instrumental in this change. Seeing an offense that couldn’t quite put things together consistently, he went after Gruden.
It was for the offensive failure that Glazer fired Tony Dungy following the 2001 season. Glazer clearly had his eye on Gruden, but it wouldn’t be a simple acquisition. This was not like the calm matter-of-fact hiring of Lovie Smith witnessed this offseason. Glazer got the coach he wanted, but at an almost unbelievable price. The Raiders, former home of Gruden, lost their head coach. In exchange, they received a smorgasbord of goodies. The Raiders were traded Tampa’s first and second round draft choices in 2002, a first round choice in 2003, and a second round choice in 2004. Not to mention the $8 million cash paid to the Raiders over the next three years.
Malcolm’s son, Bryan Glazer, said this of the deal to get Jon Gruden. “We were determined not to let outside pressures derail us from our goal to find the best person to coach the Buccaneers. That person is Jon Gruden, the finest young mind in the game.” This 12-year-old quote could have ended very different. Essentially, the Glazers bet the house on Jon Gruden. They bet the house, the car, the vacation home, and $8 million on Jon Gruden. Regardless of how promising a coach might be, that’s a scary moment. In a different situation, the losses could’ve been almost crippling.
Mark Cook of Pewter Report, a frequent guest on WTB?, has earned the adoring nickname of ‘Ginger Badass.’ I like to think of Malcolm Glazer as the original ‘Ginger Badass.’ Some owners would’ve been terrified of a proposal such as this. It was risky beyond belief, but Glazer wasn’t scared of it. Like a boss, Glazer did whatever he needed, no matter the cost, in order to get what he felt was best for his team.
Very fortunately for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and their fans, this gamble would pay off in the best way possible. Without a doubt, 2002 was the Year of the Bucs. Jon Gruden made the year’s mantra “Pound the Rock.” This slogan was reinforced by quarterback Brad Johnson and fullback Mike Alstott. The offense was better, but like the previous years, the defense was the key. The 2002 season had a rocky start in a 20-26 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints. One week later, the defense would set the tone for the 2002 season by shutting out the Baltimore Ravens 25-0.
The Bucs steamrolled their way to a franchise best 12-4 record, the first conference championship in franchise history, a 2002 Super Bowl Championship, and arguably one of the most dominant defensive seasons in modern NFL history. Malcolm Glazer bet it all for the Buccaneers, and he hit the jackpot. The image of Glazer holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy on January 26th, 2003 has become an icon of what he meant, and will always mean, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Malcolm Glazer was always a businessman, but if you look at that smile, you can see the genuine and pure joy etched across his face. He loved this team. That day was the culmination of eight years of hard work by Glazer and countless others.
The fact that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers held their heads high that day as the 2002 World Champions is memorable, but Malcolm Glazer is more than one day. His legacy is etched across the history books of this franchise for eternity. More importantly, the foundation he established for the community of Tampa makes a constant impact even today, 15 years after it came to fruition.
On May 28th, 2014, the world found out that Malcolm Glazer had passed away at the age of 85. The outpouring of love for Malcolm was tremendous. Every major sports news site reported on his passing. Players, coaches, and fans alike took to Twitter to express their reaction to the news.
“A very sad day for me learning of passing of Malcolm Glazer. He was special in my life. I loved the family atmosphere he set for the Bucs.” – Tony Dungy
“One time for my owner & great man #RipBoss” – Warren Sapp
“Rest in peace to the driving force that helped transform the organization that changed my life forever. Forever grateful!! RIP Mr. Glazer.” – Gerald McCoy
This only scratches the surface of those who expressed their gratitude to Glazer for what he meant to not only the Bucs, but to each of their lives. Jon Gruden said of Glazer, “He was a genuine, hard-working, one-of-a-kind man. He was a friend, a trailblazer and I’ll miss him.” These were men who got to work with Glazer personally, a man clearly instrumental in each of their lives.
I never got the opportunity to meet Malcolm Glazer. I was never a player, coach, co-worker, or friend of his. I can’t imagine the hurt that his family is feeling today. I’m just a fan who decided to write about him. Despite all of that, I understand what a great man he was by his actions and the testimony of those who did know him. On May 28th, the Bucs didn’t just lose an owner. The world lost a good man. His impact on the lives of those around him will be felt for years to come. His impact in the Tampa community will last longer and mean more than any Super Bowl ever could.
Malcolm Glazer’s legacy remains in the family, friends, and countless others he influenced in his life. His memory will live on in the hearts of each and every one of them. Rest in peace, Malcolm Glazer. You were the original ‘Ginger Badass,’ and your legacy will live on forever.