Keith Kunzig was the third Buccaneer fan to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame
Keith Kunzig, a.k.a. 'Big Nasty', our first Fan of the Week winner, was an instant convert to Buccaneer fan-dom thanks to former S Mark Cotney//
A boy of eight in the '70s, a bit big for his age but not the biggest kid in class, Keith Kunzig shared a brash prediction with his mom, as little boys are wont to do.
A newly-minted Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, Kunzig, passionate about football, told his mother that he was going to make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Buccaneer.
Kunzig went on to college football, but he never did play in the NFL or suit up for the home team. His cherished mother passed away in 1999.
That meant his mother was no longer around in the summer of 2001 when, true to his word, Kunzig made it into the Hall of Fame. But this is no sad story. Kunzig's mother was with him in Canton, Ohio, in his heart and around his neck on a special display, just as she is for every Buccaneers home game, plus several road contests each year.
In 1999, the NFL began recognizing fans across the country by making one rooter from each team an honorary introduction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame each year. Kunzig was the third such Buccaneer fan to make the trip to Canton, Ohio, where, as usual, he donned the makeup and Buc garb that has earned him the nickname 'Big Nasty.'
Though Kunzig's gameday get-up begins with the necklace bearing his mother's image, it involves much, much more, from an intimidating red, white and black-painted face to a specially-detailed construction hat bearing a menacing rhino horn. While it is this outrageous visual work that makes Big Nasty one of the most recognizable fans in Raymond James Stadium each home game, it is his lifelong devotion to the Buccaneers that has made him a Hall of Fame fan.
Kunzig is also the first winner of the Buccaneers' new 'Fan of the Week' program on Buccaneers.com. The team is accepting submissions from fans, locally and across the country, who feel they are on par with Kunzig, and each week Buccaneers.com will announce one winner as the team's 'Fan of the Week.' The winner, if local, will be invited along with a guest to a closed Buccaneers practice. Out-of-town winners will be sent a Buccaneer prize pack.
Fan of the Week hopefuls must submit, by regular mail, a written description of why they believe they should be chosen, in a maximum of 300 words. Entries should also include a picture of the fan in Buccaneer garb for possible display with the eventual story. Click here for an address and additional information.
Winners will be contacted by a Buccaneers.com interview and asked 10 questions about their Buccaneer passion.
Kunzig, informed of his invite to a closed Bucs workout, had to momentarily drop the phone to let out an excited whoop. That's quite a reaction from a man who shares Hall space with Buccaneer great Lee Roy Selmon. Keep in mind, we're talking about a guy who eats, sleeps and breathes Buc ball.
"I get up at about 5:00 a.m. before a game and start doing the makeup," said Big Nasty. "Then I start pacing around the house, getting nervous. Then when it gets to the game, it's show time, brother. You feel like you're an actual player, because I really believe that we have to get as loud as we can on third down to get everybody up. Let's face it – when we're at home and that place starts to rocking, that's a hard place to play.
"I think we're the loudest. I went to that '99 game in the dome in St. Louis and, yeah, it was loud. But take off that roof and let me hear what you sound like."
Kunzig likes to make several road trips a year – it was a game in Atlanta at which he got the picture of his mother which he wears around his neck – so Canton, the Hall's home, was a natural stop as well. That he was going there this past summer to become part of NFL history was far from normal, however.
"It was unbelievable," said Kunzig. "It's definitely a fan's ultimate dream – and honor – to receive something like that."
A tight schedule in Canton gave Kunzig only about 20 minutes to explore the Hall of Fame, but his first move inside the door was a beeline for the display of Selmon, the only Buccaneer player in the Hall.
"I call him 'god,' because he is that to me," said Kunzig with a laugh. "I remember when I was eight years old and I met him. The '79 Buccaneers touched my heart when I was a kid growing up. I guess you could say I'm a lifelong fan of the Bucs."
Kunzig was thrilled by Selmon's representation of Tampa Bay's franchise in the Hall, but the most important Buccaneer in his heart is former safety Mark Cotney.
At a football camp during his youth, one with NFL players helping to run the practices, Kunzig met a variety of the big-name Bucs from that era, such as Selmon, Scot Brantley and Cotney. It was the latter that helped form not only Kunzig's football future but also the boy's approach to life.
"I was a big kid, but I wasn't big enough to be a defensive lineman," said Kunzig. "I was going from squad to squad, and Scot Brantley said they were full of linebackers. I was disappointed, but believe it or not, here I am a big kid, I ended up with the DBs.
"I said to Mark Cotney, 'Mr. Cotney, everybody keeps telling me they're full.' And he said, 'You know what, you stay here. You're with us, kid.'
"I'll never forget that day. And I ended up winning an award for the hardest-working kid in camp. It definitely touched my heart, and to this day, my work ethic is A-1. I may not have the best talent, but I work harder than anybody. Even now, over 20 years later, I feel like he changed my life. I sent him a letter to tell him so."
The Bucs have been a part of his life ever since, from his first date with his wife, at old Tampa Stadium, to his eventual proposal to her on the stadium's Jumbotron. His game days – and hers! – are filled with hours of preparation, and hours of joy.
And it's a joy that's evident in his voice when you talk Buc football with the good-natured Kunzig. We took some time to grill him with 10 questions regarding his Buccaneer fanaticism. These same questions will be posed to all future Fan of the Week winners, as we learn more about what makes Buc fans tick. Kunzig's replies follow.
Fan of the Week Questionnaire
Buccaneers.com: How long have you been a Buccaneers fan and what is your first memory of rooting for the team?
Kunzig: The very first game I ever went to, I went with my mom and dad. I was just a little guy. I played little league and my team's name was the Falcons. We went to see an Atlanta Falcon-Buccaneer game. It was way back, '77 or '78 when we first started.
I have always been an underdog lover. My dad asked me, 'Why are you rooting for the Bucs?' From that day on, I have a Bucs fan. I just got pretty excited back then. We had gone to the game to root for the Falcons, believe it or not, but by the end of the game I was a complete Buc fan. I stayed with the Bucs from that day on.
(Editor's Note: Atlanta won that game, 17-0, on November 27, 1977.)
It was a like a conversion. I got to see the fans and their reactions – that was the very first football game I had been to. We lost that game, but I was hooked.
Buccaneers.com: What is your most prized Buccaneers possession?
Kunzig: My Mark Cotney autograph on a picture of him. He signed it, 'Keep Working, Mark Cotney, Captain Crunch.' I have Lee Roy's autograph, too, and he's in the Hall of Fame, but to be completely honest with you, that Captain Crunch one means the most to me.
Buccaneers.com: Do you have any superstitions or rituals that you follow for every game?
Kunzig: I've got a couple of them. The one thing with superstitions is, if you want to get them going, you want to keep them going!
The biggest thing I do is I never, ever leave without having my mom around my neck (on a lockout). When we made it into the playoffs, there were some heart-stopping moments. I would just kiss my mom and keep praying. I'll never go to a game without her. It's a Buccaneer thing with a picture of my mom.
Buccaneers.com: Do you have a Buccaneers-decorated room? Please describe.
Kunzig: Yes, it's absolutely incredible. We just re-did it. It's got my Big Nasty jersey in the middle of it, signed by all the Bucs. That's framed and I've got all kinds of Buccaneer autographs around it, anywhere from Lamar Thomas to Mark Cotney, Scot Brantley, Lee Roy Selmon – I could go on and on. I've even got a ball signed by Tony Dungy. I've got a couple of neat things from the team that I really appreciate. They all mean a lot to me. I keep everything.
Buccaneers.com: Who is your favorite Buccaneers player, current and all-time?
Kunzig: I got to stick with the guy that changed my life, Mark Cotney. My current one is the entire defense. I call it the 'Nasty Dog Defense.' Those guys are just unbelievable. Being a defensive player when I played myself, I appreciate how good they are. From Sapp to Lynch Mob to Derrick Brooks – the neat thing about it is that they remind a lot of that '79 team. They're close to the public, they're out there to help out the town. I've noticed that a lot. Now, let's face it, they're the hottest commodity in town.
Buccaneers.com: If you were the Buccaneers general manager for a day, what move(s) would you make?
Kunzig: I'd probably fire myself right away and put Rich McKay back in. I'd say, 'You can have it back, just keep us on the road to the Super Bowl. Don't let me screw it up!'
Buccaneers.com: Describe the items you wear (including any face paint or other skin adornments) on game day and their origins?
Kunzig: I had to design some kind of headgear. I got a construction hat from one of the Bucs' sales guys. I took that construction hat, and it was about the time they were talking about the 'Rhino Offense,' with Lorenzo Neal and Mike Alstott. I thought, I'm going to put a rhino horn on my helmet. I did that, then I got it airbrushed and it's got a rhino face on it. He's gearing down like he's angry, his nostrils flaring and everything.
I put the opposing team, whoever we're playing that week, and put them on the horn. We're playing the Packers this week so I'll put a big ol' piece of cheese on it. I try to get teddy bears representing the opposing quarterbacks, then I try to find a cool little kid that's getting into the game and I give to him.
Buccaneers.com: How does your family feel about your Buccaneers obsession?
I guess you could say, the Bucs have been in my life a long time. My wife points that out to me all the time. Anywhere from getting engaged at the game, on the Jumbotron, to our first date.
It was the Eagles game in '91, when they almost beat us and we had a big comeback at the end. We got there and it was downright pouring. We park, and we're running a little bit late, and it's pouring. She's looking at me like, 'Okay, we're going to go home now, right?' And I said, 'You ready? Let's go!'
I was thinking, I'm not going to get a second date with this girl. But it was funny, by the end of the game, she was into it. Now she's a nut-case with me.
Buccaneers.com: Describe the Bucs' most memorable game since you began rooting for the team?
That Rams game that just passed (in 2000) was unbelievable. That's everybody's favorite game, but like I said, I'm a traditionalist. I still remember losing that (1979) game 9-0 in the NFC Championship Game. We end up playing them again (in 1999) and we're improving! What was it, 11-6. We're getting closer.
I think the second championship game had my emotions whacked. I was crying, I was happy, I was losing my mind. We were four minutes from a Super Bowl, man.
Buccaneers.com: Simply put, why are you a Buccaneers fan?
Because I know nothing else to do but to love my Bucs. My Bucs mean everything to me. They're a way of life to me. I'm a fanatic, I guess you could say. I just love everything that the Buccaneers stand for. Period. Enough said.