The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team born in 1976 into a cruel terrain for expansion teams, rather remarkably made the playoffs in 1979, at the end of just their fourth season. Even better, those '79 Buccaneers knew what to do when they got there, turning their very first taste of the postseason into a rousing victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. That game, which signaled the true arrival of the NFL's 27th franchise as a contender, is one of the greatest moments in franchise history.
However, after a return to the postseason in 1981 and 1982, the Buccaneers fell into a long playoff drought. They neither posted a winning record or made the playoffs in each of the next 14 years before finally turning things around following the mid-'90s purchase of the team by Malcolm Glazer.
Though it was hardly the only reason, and probably not even the biggest one, for the team's decade-and-a-half of struggles, the Buccaneers' efforts in the annual NFL Draft, particularly in the first round, didn't help matters. An ill-fated trade during the 1982 draft created a domino effect that left the team without first-round picks in the next two years, nor a competent quarterback to speak of. The first-overall pick in 1986, Bo Jackson, never played for the team. The first-overall pick in 1987, quarterback Vinny Testaverde failed to become the franchise savior, though he did end up with a long NFL career.
Paul Gruber was a definite hit in 1988 but Broderick Thomas, the 1989 first-rounder, didn't have a lasting impact. Keith McCants, Charles McRae and Eric Curry (1990, 1991 and 1993) were all clearer busts and the 1992 pick went to the Colts for, sigh, Chris Chandler.
It was with this history that the Buccaneers went into the 1995 draft, having landed what they hoped would be their franchise quarterback in Trent Dilfer in 1994. Rich McKay, newly-minted with the GM title, was in charge of the room and manning the phones. What McKay and the Bucs would accomplish in the first round of that draft, on April 22, 1995, would make NFL history and help reverse the franchise's fortunes in stunning fashion.
It began with a little trade down the board during the first hour. The Buccaneers started the day – in that era, the draft was still held over the weekend and split between one long Saturday and one long Sunday – with the seventh-overall selection. The Eagles, in pursuit of Combine workout warrior Mike Mamula called about moving up from number 12 and McKay agreed, getting back a pair of second-rounders and including the Bucs' third-round pick.
When the Buccaneers were finally on the clock at the 12th pick, they picked the player who had been sliding down the board, disruptive Miami defensive tackle Warren Sapp. Sapp's talents were obvious; his slide was based on off-the-field concerns, whether valid or not. At this point, McKay could have kicked off his shoes and played spectator for the rest of the first round. Instead, he kept working the phones, eventually turning one great pick into one unparalleled round of drafting.
As the first round progressed, the Bucs saw that one of their favorite prospects, Florida State linebacker Derrick Brooks, was also sliding. In his case, it was likely due to a perceived lack of size in an NFL that still employed such linebacking behemoths as the 270-pound Levon Kirkland. Some thought that Brooks might end up as a safety in the NFL, thus reducing his overall value a bit.
When Brooks was still on the board in the latter stage of the round, McKay made his move. Using the second of the two picks he had gained from Philly, #63 overall, he was able to move up 13 spots, from #41 in the second round to #28 in the first round. And that's how Brooks also became a Buccaneer, just a few hours after Sapp came aboard.
Eighteen years later, Warren Sapp was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Just one year later, Derrick Brooks joined him in the Hall, also as a first-year candidate. That made the Buccaneers' 1995 draft one of just three in league history to produce two Hall-of-Famers in the same round (also the 1965 Bears first round and the 1996 Ravens first round). It remains the only time in NFL history that a team has drafted two Hall-of-Fame defenders in the same round.
Brooks and Sapp began to emerge as superstars in 1996 after the arrival of Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin. They would be the cornerstones upon which the franchise built one of the longest-lasting defensive dynasties in league annals, a group that ranked in the NFL's top 10 for nine straight years and 11 times in a 12-year span. Sapp would win NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1999; Brooks would take the same award in 2002.
At the very end of that 2002 campaign, Brooks would seal the Buccaneers first Super Bowl victory with a 44-yard pick-six against Oakland, a moment that ranks as one of the greatest in franchise history. But the way in which Tampa Bay landed both Brooks and Sapp on one fateful day in 1995 counts as a landmark accomplishment in league history, and as such it might be the greatest moment the Bucs have ever produced.