To some Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans, the 1976 team that kicked off pro football in the Bay area is just a dim memory, or a dusty page in the NFL's history books. If Buc fans look back fondly at any team in the franchise's formative years, it's the 1979 squad that came within a whisker of making it to the Super Bowl.
But as remarkable as it was for that team to rise to such heights in just the fourth year of the Bucs' existence, it owed its foundation to its 1976 predecessor. As difficult as the journey was for the NFL's 27th franchise in its earliest days, it was also a time to be celebrated. The Buccaneers refused to break, and before long that fertile ground laid down in 1976 produced a bounty. In fact, a dozen men who played for the Buccaneers in that inaugural season were also a part of that successful '79 squad, including quite a few key starters.
Now, in 2009, we celebrate that one-of-a-kind team of 33 years ago. Though the Buccaneers, and the Bay area itself, are quite a bit different three decades later, it's easy to remember when Tampa was awash in orange as it became part of the exclusive fraternity that is the National Football League.
This fall, the Buccaneers are going to flip back the calendar to those heady days when the team was just getting its feet wet in the NFL. When Tampa Bay takes on its old division foes, the Green Bay Packers, on November 8, the players will take the field in throwback uniforms based on the exact uniform the team wore in 1976.
And, thanks to Buccaneers.com, you'll be able to join in the fun and the nostalgia with throwback gear of your own. A variety of shirts, hats, jerseys and other merchandise based on the Bucs' legacy uniforms will go on sale in the online team store on Friday, beginning at 11:00 a.m.
Those 1976 uniforms were worn by Lee Roy Selmon and his brother Dewey, as well as a host of names that have faded into the team's history books over the last three-plus decades. There were young stars in the making, such as Mark Cotney and Richard "Batman" Wood, veterans from other squads extending their careers in Tampa such as Pat Toomay and Steve Spurrier, and many others who would see only a short time in the NFL.
Under Head Coach John McKay, the Buccaneers were a colorful crew, even when the wins were hard to come by in the first two seasons. McKay became known for his wit and caustic one-liners in the face of difficult outcomes, but he was also quietly building a winner based on stifling defense. By 1979, Tampa Bay had the best defense in the NFL — setting a franchise-long tradition of excellence on that side of the ball — and the Bucs were in the playoffs. Led by Selmon and quarterback Doug Williams, they were in the NFC Championship Game, one step from the Super Bowl.
The uniforms had changed in small ways during those early years, mostly in trimming details, such as how the jersey numbers were outlined, and variations to the base orange color. A 1979 throwback jersey would have some subtle but noticeable differences from the original 1976 outfit. To be sure, the Buccaneers want to honor all the years in orange, especially such landmark campaigns as 1979, but the decision to go with the '76 version of the uniform was meant to highlight the franchise's earliest days.
That means Florida orange jerseys with red and white trim, white pants with orange and red stripes and that famous Buccaneer helmet with its pirate head logo. It is all faithfully recreated, thanks to a painstaking process that has taken more than a year. Digging through historical archives and enlisting the help of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Buccaneers Co-Chairman Ed Glazer worked out the minute details of the uniform, from head to toe, even though the actual equipment from that era was fraught with inconsistency. In the end, a Mike Washington jersey from 1976 helped establish the uniform's dimensions and stitching and the sort and a Council Rudolph jersey from 1977 helped establish the perfect color matches. Glazer also relied on team photo archives, old NFL Films footage, other uniform samples and more.
The Buccaneers shelved those uniforms in 1997 when they introduced the striking and aggressive red-and-pewter look that has defined the team since. The dozen years since have been marked by an effort to improve every facet of the team, a dedication of focus that peaked with the team's first Super Bowl title in 2002. The Bucs are proud of what they have accomplished under the ownership of the Glazer Family, which purchased the team in 1995, but they are also determined to maintain a connection with the team's past.
Many Buccaneer fans feel the same way, and it was for them that the Throwback Game was conceived and put into motion. The Packer game will mark the first time that Tampa Bay players have donned orange and white uniforms since December 22, 1996, but previous-era merchandise can still be spotted on fans around the Bay area.
Now comes an opportunity to update that nostalgic section of one's Buccaneer wardrobe, and to take part in what should be one of the more entertaining afternoons in recent franchise history. A classic opponent and a clash of orange and green that hasn't been seen in Tampa since the old days of the Black-and-Blue division.
And, in the stands, the raucous support of an orange-clad crowd cheering on a team that, just like in 1976, will not bow no matter what the circumstances. Visit the throwback section of the Bucs' online team store now.