The first-ever Throwback Game in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history, staged just over a year ago, turned into one of the franchise's most memorable days.
Josh Freeman's first start. Josh Freeman's first win. Raheem Morris' first win. A stirring fourth-quarter comeback against the heavily-favored Green Bay Packers. A raucous crowd. Lee Roy Selmon's emotional induction into the brand new Buccaneers Ring of Honor. Selmon's name taking its place on the stadium façade. Players clad in classically beautiful throwback jerseys. The stadium decked out in orange as if it had gone through a 30-year time warp. The past, present and future of the franchise married on one inspiring afternoon.
Now, take many of those same elements, but add in both a playoff chase and a superheated rival coming to Raymond James Stadium, and what do you have?
Throwback Game 2.0.
This is a day no Buccaneers fan is going to want to miss.
(Visit Buccaneers.com all week for more details on this year's Throwback Game. Tuesday, find out all the intricate details about what it takes to prepare the stadium for the game, and how this week's fan giveaway item was conceived.)
Given how wildly popular the first Throwback Game was in 2009, when the Buccaneers defeated the Green Bay Packers, 38-28, on November 8 and the Ring of Honor was unveiled, this year's edition has been circled on many calendars since the date was first announced in July. That date is now upon us: The Buccaneers will play the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, and they will once again break out their brilliant orange jerseys.
The Buccaneers will also give Selmon company in the Ring of Honor: legendary Head Coach John McKay will be posthumously inducted as the second member of the ring, with his name joining Selmon's on the façade. McKay's son, former Buccaneers General Manager and current Atlanta Falcons General Manager Rich McKay, will be on hand to accept the honor for his father.
McKay was at the Buccaneers' helm for the first nine seasons in franchise history (1976-84), which remains the longest tenure for any Tampa Bay head coach. He led the expansion team to a stunning division title in 1979, just four years into its existence. The Buccaneers advanced all the way to the NFC Championship Game that season, then made return trips to the playoffs in 1981 and 1982.
McKay was also known for his dry wit and memorable one-liners, in both defeat and victory. He was a master at deflecting attention away from his young and developing team and unto himself, and some of his best quips still roll off the tongues of Buccaneer fans decades later.
"John's legacy will forever be felt in Tampa," said Buccaneers Co-Chairman Bryan Glazer during the Ring of Honor announcement in July. "He led this franchise from the very beginning and, along with Lee Roy Selmon, set the standard for what it means to be a Buccaneer. John's wisdom for both football and life, combined with his wit, truly made him an individual anyone would be lucky to encounter."
Selmon will also be on hand Sunday to honor his new Ring of Honor compatriot. He couldn't think of a better choice than the only head coach he knew in the NFL.
"None of us knew how to play in the National Football League; we had to be taught," said Selmon. "But he was patient with us and how he built this team from the ground floor up. He set a stage where we could stay encouraged while we were going through some struggling years."
Fans who were surprised at the level of commitment to the Throwback Game at Raymond James Stadium last year will know what to expect when they attend Sunday's game. The stadium will once again get a full orange makeover, with the original pirate logo taking center stage on the field and dressings throughout the venue completing the look. Players will wear the uniforms unveiled last year, which were based on the team's original uniform in 1976; cheerleaders will get their own throwback garb. Orange is sure to be prevalent in the stands as well.
Fittingly, the Buccaneers will honor that inaugural 1976 team, McKay's first. Approximately 30 players and five coaches from that first squad will be at the stadium and will be recognized throughout the first half by the franchise and its fans, from Cedric Brown to Richard Batman Wood to Wayne Fontes to Selmon's brother and former teammate, Dewey Selmon.
And, of course, the 2010 Buccaneers will be conducting some important work, too.
Despite being the youngest team in the NFL and frequently relying on a dozen rookies a week, the Buccaneers have compiled a 7-4 record and are in the thick of the NFC playoff race. On Sunday, they'll get a visit from the team with the best record in the conference – and the NFC South – as the Falcons come to town for a rematch of last month's very close affair in Atlanta. This could be the most critical intradivision game the Buccaneers have played in Tampa since a thrilling overtime win over the Falcons on Christmas Eve day in 2005.
The circumstances of Sunday's matchup with the Falcons would be enough to make this weekend's contest one of the most hotly anticipated events at Raymond James Stadium in years; the return of the Throwback Game and McKay's induction into the Ring of Honor would be the same. This Sunday, it will all come together on a milestone date in Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise history.