The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have an all-time regular-season record of 118-106 in their red-and-pewter uniforms, which were introduced in 1997. In the 21 seasons that preceded the switch, the franchise was 100-223-1 in its predominantly orange-and-white gear.
Yes, things have changed for the better in the last decade-and-a-half for the team, which has registered its only Super Bowl victory and four of its six division titles since changing logos and colors. But as the franchise has moved forward, so has it made an effort to reach back toward its roots, and at no point has that effort been more visually striking than on the afternoons of November 8, 2009 and December 5, 2010.
Those were the dates of the first two Throwback Games in franchise history, when the dashing pirate helmet logo and the orange jerseys made their long-awaited return to Raymond James Stadium.
On December 4, 2011, the Buccaneers will once again don their orange-and-white uniforms of old as the team's third Throwback Game takes place against a heated division rival, the Carolina Panthers. And forget that previous win-loss record for "Bucco Bruce;" the orange-and-white has a chance to get over .500 since its return and continue contributing to the success of the modern era.
The game will also feature a halftime ceremony to induct former Pro Bowl tight end Jimmie Giles into the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor. Giles, who spent his entire Buccaneer tenure (1978-86) in the orange uniforms, will join Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon and legendary Head Coach John McKay in the Ring.
The Buccaneers' throwback uniforms debuted in style in 2009, and in terms of connecting the team's past to its future, they couldn't have picked a better date.
Following a trip to London to play the Patriots in an American Bowl game, and a subsequent bye week, the Buccaneers were set to face the Green Bay Packers in Week Nine. With a young roster in the midst of construction under new Head Coach Raheem Morris, the team had struggled to an 0-7 start, and the decision was made to hand the starting quarterback reins to promising rookie Josh Freeman.
The Packers would go on to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth in 2009, but they couldn't keep an inspired Buccaneer team down on this day. In his first NFL start, Freeman directed the home team to a come-from-behind, 38-28 victory, tossing two of this three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. The former Kansas State star – Tampa Bay's first-round pick in the 2009 draft – has started every game since and in 2010 led the Bucs to a 10-6 record in his first full season at the helm.
A packed Raymond James Stadium crowd was obviously thrilled with the outcome, but the day's electric atmosphere was as much a product of the team's all-out Throwback Game effort. Not only were the players clad in down-to-the-last-detail recreations of the team's inaugural 1976 uniforms, but the Buccaneers Cheerleaders had their own throwback style, the stands were a sea of orange and the stadium itself was retrofitted in the old colors from bottom to top.
At halftime, Selmon became the first person inducted into the team's new Ring of Honor, with his name and jersey number unveiled on the stadium façade. During the ceremony, Selmon was surrounded by fellow members of the famous 1979 team that advanced all the way to the NFC Championship Game in just the fourth year of the franchise's existence. That team featured a ferocious defense led by Selmon's own prolific pass rush; the 2009 defense responded to the inspirational ceremony by recording all six of their sacks after halftime.
The Tampa Tribune said the day was a "tantalizing glimpse of the future" on a day the Buccaneers "saluted their past." Morris, who notched the first victory on his ledger as a head coach, thought the Throwback Game festivities added to his team's motivation.
"I think it was a big effect," he said. "It definitely created some excitement about the game. We played together and we played for that '79 team and that was special."
The Buccaneers' next game in orange came a little over a year later, and the stakes were even higher. This time, a 7-4 Tampa Bay team was playing host to the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons, who had the conference's best record at 9-2. The Buccaneers effectively needed a victory to stay alive in the division title race.
Once again playing inspired football in their orange-and-white togs, the Buccaneers took a 17-14 lead into the fourth quarter and increased it to 10 points on a nifty option-pass touchdown from fullback Earnest Graham to tight end John Gilmore. However, the Falcons returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown and rallied for a 28-24 victory. The outcome wasn't sealed until Atlanta cornerback Brent Grimes made a disputed interception on a diving play at the Falcon 19-yard line with less than two minutes to play.
The Buccaneers took the Throwback Game opportunity to induct McKay into the Ring of Honor at halftime, with Falcons executive and former Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay accepting the posthumous honor on behalf of his father. The stadium was once again awash in orange, from the end zone lettering to the bunting on the walls to the battle flags flying at the top of the stands.
In both 2009 and 2010, the Buccaneers' Throwback Game proved immensely popular with the fans, many of who raided their closets for orange gear or took the opportunity to update their team wardrobes. The players thrilled to the throwback uniforms as well, and have clearly looked forward to the next chance to take the orange jerseys into battle. Now everyone knows the exact date to break out the orange one more time.