Something about putting on sun-kissed orange jerseys and pirate-logo helmets always brings out the thrills for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their fans. Why is that familiar pirate with the knife clinched in his teeth winking? Perhaps because he knows something fun is about to happen.
The Buccaneers have staged two previous Throwback Games, first bringing back the orange-and-white in 2009 and then repeating the process last fall. In both cases, the franchise pulled out all the stops at Raymond James Stadium to transport everyone back three decades in time, and in both cases the action on the field was heart-stopping.
Now it's time to do it again. The most anticipated date on the Buccaneers' home schedule has finally arrived: Sunday's contest against the Carolina Panthers is also the 2011 Throwback Game.
The Buccaneers' traded in their original orange uniforms for their current red-and-pewter scheme in 1997, immediately launching a new era of franchise success. The Bucs broke a 15-year playoff drought in '97, returned to the postseason in 1999, 2000 and 2001 and then went all the way in 2002, winning Super Bowl XXXVII. The Bucs' current uniforms have proved very popular – and successful – but there's always room for nostalgia.
On November 8, 2009, Tampa Bay put on orange jerseys for the first time in 13 years and proceeded to upset the heavily-favored Green Bay Packers, 38-28. It was not only the first start for young franchise quarterback Josh Freeman, but also his first win and the first of many rousing fourth-quarter comebacks he would engineer. It was also the first win for first-year Head Coach Raheem Morris.
A year later, the Buccaneers pulled out their pirate helmets once again and fielded a fierce battle with the Atlanta Falcons, who would go on to an NFC-best 13-3 record. On this occasion, it was the Falcons who staged a comeback in a 28-24 victory, but the game still ranked as one of the most exciting of the season.
This year's opponent in the Throwback Game is the Panthers, and the Bucs' intense rivalry with Carolina is surely part of the formula that made the last two orange-and-white contests so compelling. The Packers remain an emotional foe for Tampa Bay from the teams' history together in the NFC Central, and there is definitely no love lost between the Bucs and Falcons. Plus, this year it is the Panthers who will be trotting out an exciting rookie quarterback, as Tampa Bay gets its first look at new division threat Cam Newton.
This year's contest has a lot to live up to given the last two Throwback Games, but one thing is for certain: The Buccaneers will do everything in their power to make the afternoon a memorable one.
As with the last two years, the players will be clad in uniforms based – down to the most minute details – on what the team wore during its inaugural 1976 season. While later decades brought on a brighter and darker orange in the Bucs' togs, the '76 version was a less glaring shade that has proved to be extremely popular with Tampa Bay fans. Three years into the ongoing process of embracing the nostalgic orange uniforms and the team's rich history before red and pewter, there is sure to be more orange-clad rooters in the Raymond James Stadium fans than ever before. In addition, Buccaneer coaches, cheerleaders and team personnel will have their own versions of orange-based clothes.
The stadium will once again get its own orange-and-white outfit, too. Fans who were surprised at the level of commitment to the Throwback Game at Raymond James Stadium in 2009 now know what to expect. The original pirate logo will take center stage on the field, with bunting and dressings throughout the venue completing the look.
This is a day no Buccaneers fan is going to want to miss, and that's even more true because the date is going to double as the induction ceremony for Jimmie Giles as he becomes the third member of the team's Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium.
Giles' name will join those of Lee Roy Selmon and John McKay on the stadium façade. Members of the 1981 playoff team on which the prolific tight end was a Pro Bowl performer will join their former teammate on the field at halftime for his induction.
The Buccaneers will also pay homage to those 1981 Buccaneers throughout the afternoon, calling special attention to such former standouts on hand as Richard "Batman" Wood, Scot Brantley, Mark Cotney, Hugh Green, Cedric Brown, Mike Washington, Kevin House and James Wilder.
Of course Giles, who caught 45 passes for 786 yards and six touchdowns to help lead the 1981 team to its second playoff berth in three seasons, will be the guest of honor. The Buccaneers have chosen to expand their Ring of Honor with their first breakout star on offense, as Giles was responsible for the first three Pro Bowl berths for the franchise on that side of the ball.
Giles eventually made four Pro Bowl trips, including one after that 1981 campaign, second among offensive players in franchise annals only to fullback Mike Alstott. He remains the only Buccaneer tight end ever to receive that honor.
Giles is also the franchise's all-time leader in touchdown receptions, with 34, and he is the only player in team history to score four touchdowns of any kind in a single game (versus Miami in 1985). He ranks third in team annals with 4,300 receiving yards and finished with a robust 15.4 yards per carry, indicating what a deep threat he was. As a player who could stretch the field and be a centerpiece in the passing game, Giles was a standard-setter for a tight end position that now boasts quite a few prolific receivers.
The Bucs' current tight end, Kellen Winslow, is a perfect example, as he is tied for the team lead with 52 catches through 11 games. Winslow will get his third opportunity to put on the orange jersey and join Giles as a kindred spirit in Buccaneer history, despite the fact that his career began six years after Tampa Bay put its original uniforms in the closet. In fact, none of the 2011 Buccaneer players were in the league during the first, 21-year run of the orange-and-white uniforms, so the Throwback Games always represent a big treat for the current team.
More than anything, however, it's a treat for the fans who will fill Raymond James Stadium on Sunday afternoon and, while hopefully cheering their team to another win over a bitter rival, will also think back to the original Buccaneer glory days of Giles and company. No more waiting for the return of the orange: The 2011 Throwback Game is here!