The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl with a veteran free agent at quarterback and a 4-3 defensive front featuring dominant players at defensive tackle and weakside linebacker.
The 1979 Tampa Bay Buccaneers stunningly made it to the NFC Championship Game with a homegrown second-year quarterback and a 3-4 defensive front propelled by a Hall of Fame defensive end.
The 1984 team ran James Wilder over and over again while the 2003 squad threw the ball all over the yard. The 1977 Bucs celebrated a single win that improved its record to 1-12; the 1999 Bucs were devastated when they couldn't get their 13th win and make it to the Super Bowl. The 1981 team had a white-haired, dry-witted former college football legend at the helm; the 2009 Buccaneers were led by a 33-year-old who wasn't shy about giving flying chest-bumps on the sideline.
Like every franchise in the NFL, the Buccaneers have seen their team change from year to year, take on new personalities and strengths and discover new highs and lows. But each one of those Tampa Bay teams, from 1976 through 2009, has committed itself to the franchise memory banks in one very specific and important way.
The official team picture.
Each year, a few weeks or a month into the season – after the initial flurry of roster moves has passed – the Buccaneers gather as a complete team for a photo that will be stored forever in the archives. It usually occurs on a Saturday morning before a home game, and it's usually a mixture of ceremony and shenanigans. Players don their darker (home) jerseys and full uniforms, which gives the event a formal affair, but they also pass the slower moments cracking jokes and building team camaraderie.
The 2010 Tampa Bay Buccaneers posed for their team picture on Saturday, one day before they would put their undefeated record on the line against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers.
While the picture was commonly taken on imported bleachers behind the team facility in years past, the Bucs have recently taken to gathering at Raymond James Stadium for the shot, as they did on Saturday. The players were arranged on photo risers constructed in Buccaneers Cove in front of the famous Pirate Ship.
It was sunny and hot on this particularly morning, good conditions for a sharp photo plus an instant reminder of what Sunday's game against the Steelers was likely to feel like. The players patiently arranged themselves in numerical order in eight rows, with the lower numbers at the bottom and the higher numbers at the top. The coaching staff filled out the uppermost rows.
As usual, the jokes were flying throughout, and some players had trouble holding a smile at just the right time for the photographer. Others, as always adopted chose to adopt a menacing stare and avoid smiling altogether. Eventually, the team posed for the perfect series of shots, backs straight and numbers proudly displayed on their red jerseys. Afterward, position groups gathered together on the field to take their own pictures for keepsakes.
Once the best photo is chosen, it will be screened onto a souvenir cup to be made available to fans during the 2010 home finale, against Seattle on December 26.
The photo will also become an important part of team history, joining the 34 that came before it. For those who get an opportunity to plumb the team's archive, the collected team photos are a fascinating and sometimes amusing walk through Buccaneers history.
In the 1981 team photo, for instance, future Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon is inexplicably the one player caught looking sideways, away from the camera, while still-popular linebacker Scot Brantley sports a bushy full beard. The blindingly white shoes of the coaching staff really stand out in the 1985 shot, and the 1996 photo features a young Mike Alstott, in his rookie orange jersey, with a goatee and a middle part. Brad Culpepper has flowing locks in that same shot, and Trent Dilfer notably still has hair at all.
One can also get a sense of the flow of team history – and the history of other teams – in the archived team photos. In that 1996 shot, for instance, you have Alstott and cornerback Donnie Abraham just starting out, overlapping with Hardy Nickerson, Paul Gruber and Courtney Hawkins. You can pick it Karl Williams, number 86 on the top row, not yet "The Truth," not yet really known to Buccaneer fans. You see Jerry Angelo, now the Chicago Bears' general manager, at the right end of the fifth row. In the middle of the sixth row is a young Mark Dominik, still 13 years away from assuming the Buccaneers' general manager position. Next to him is an equally young Dennis Hickey, then a pro scout and now the team's director of college scouting. Four men who would go on to be head coaches elsewhere join first-year Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy in the back row: Herm Edwards (N.Y. Jets and Kansas City Chiefs), Rod Marinelli (Detroit Lions), Lovie Smith (Chicago Bears) and Mike Shula (University of Alabama).
And so on. And this same exercise can be done with any of the 34 team photos that were produced from 1976 through 2009. Soon there will be a 35th shot to add to the list, and some time years from now, it too will be an intriguing memento of Buccaneers team history, full of stories and what-could-have-beens and what-did-becomes.