When he switches uniforms from purple to pewter, Jeff Christy (#62, left), will assume a rich Buccaneer tradition at center
Jeff Christy, the newest Buccaneer, played seven seasons for the Minnesota Vikings, long enough for even an offensive lineman to attain a decent media guide bio. That is no small task for a center, not to mention the writer trying to beef up his history file. In a sports world obsessed by statistics, NFL offensive linemen play in a virtual stat vacuum, with only 'Games Played' and 'Games Started' to fill the void.
So, it comes as no surprise that Christy's media guide bio with the Vikings focuses on the his string of consecutive starts - along with his Pro Bowl history, of course. Since stepping into the Minnesota starting lineup to begin the 1994 season, Christy has missed just four games, anchoring an offensive line that developed into one of the league's best. Considered the emotional leader of that unit, which also included such standouts as Randall McDaniel, Todd Steussie and Korey Stringer, Christy built a reputation as a gritty, lunchpail player.
His run in Minnesota is now over, but Christy steps right into a Buccaneer center position rich with the same ironman tradition. In fact, with a few minor exceptions (see below), Christy follows just three players who have stood at the heart of the Tampa Bay offense for the entire 24-year history of the franchise.
The Buccaneers' continuity at center is nothing short of amazing. Since the Tampa Bay franchise began play in 1976, 355 different players have been in the Bucs' starting lineup for a regular season game, an average of over 16 starters for each of the 22 positions. As unscientific as that analysis is, it still speaks to what any long-time Buccaneer fan realizes: there has been a lot of player turnover during the course of team history, with the very notable exception of the center position. Those same fans can probably name the three centers that have started 92% of the 372 Buccaneer games every played.
Steve Wilson, Randy Grimes and Tony Mayberry.
Wilson stepped into the starting lineup at the end of the 1977 season, after Jim Ryczek (21 starts) and John Ward (3) had shared the center spot for the team's first 24 games. From Wilson's first start on November 27, 1977 until the present time, he Grimes and Mayberry have started 342 of the 348 regular season games played by Tampa Bay. Backup Jim Leonard got six spot starts from 1980-82 during short Wilson injuries before Grimes arrived on the scene in 1983.
During the next two seasons, Grimes slowly took over for Wilson, starting occasional games when the veteran was hurt and finally taking over for good at the end of the 1984 campaign. For the next six seasons, Wilson would miss only one start (excluding 1987 replacement games), and that one was taken by Mayberry when he arrived in 1990. Mayberry started the first game of his career in '90 while Grimes was recovering from a pre-season arm injury, then stepped aside for the veteran to finish out the season. Mayberry then took over for good to start 1991 and went on to start a team record 144 consecutive contests.
Mayberry's amazing streak will come to an end when Christy suits up in 2000, though Mayberry is sure to continue his personal string of starts in another uniform. The Bucs won't miss a beat, either, with the player recognized as the NFC's best center stepping into that slot. It is encouraging when a team can replace a player as valued as Mayberry with one of Christy's lofty caliber. It is remarkable that the Bucs have now done that at center three times in a row.
Steve Wilson, Randy Grimes, Tony Mayberry. Now Jeff Christy. At this rate, the Bucs better start scouring the junior high circuit for Christy's eventual replacement.