Current Buccaneers (from left) Barrett Ruud, Earnest Graham, Antonio Bryant and Gaines Adams modeled the throwback uniforms during Friday's press conference
For a generation of Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans, the highlight reels in their heads are colored exclusively in red and pewter.
This fall, the Buccaneers will take all of their fans – those who remember the orange and white era fondly and those who have grown up in the team's recent era of success – back to the franchise's roots.
On November 8, 2009, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will wear orange for the first time in almost 13 years. In an event that Buccaneers fans have anticipated for some time, the Buccaneers will conduct their first-ever 'Throwback Game.'
Specifically, the Buccaneers will don uniforms meant to replicate the team's very first look from its inaugural season in 1976. The Florida Orange, red and white combination changed subtly over the years that followed, but the Bucs' current management conducted painstaking research in order to faithfully replicate that 1976 uniform.
The result is a nostalgic link to a past the Buccaneers wish to preserve for their fans.
There were only 26 teams in the NFL before the Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks began play in 1976; now there are 32. At the end of that season, the Oakland Raiders beat the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI. Those Roman numerals have now ballooned to XLIII, the identifier of the championship game played last February in Tampa's Raymond James Stadium. The Bay area, such a new and humble part of the NFL in '76, has now hosted four Super Bowls, and its own team, the Buccaneers, won Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego.
It was a different era that the Buccaneers sailed into in their sunshiny orange jerseys in 1976, one with 14-game seasons, teams that ran more than they threw, players who sought second jobs in the offseason and a draft that stretched for 17 rounds with no television camera in sight. It was not an era that favored expansion teams, which were forced to populate their rosters from a pool of players mostly cast off from other teams.
That led to a memorable 0-16 season for the inaugural Buccaneers, not an accomplishment to be celebrated, by any means, but not a time to be forgotten, either. That start is most notable for how quickly, in a larger sense, the franchise rose from that difficult setting; by 1979, it's fourth season, Tampa Bay was in the NFC Championship Game.
And soon, there were stars in orange and white. The 1976 season had one in the making in Hall of Fame-bound DE Lee Roy Selmon, though he was limited to five games in his debut campaign. Others would emerge: Doug Williams, Ricky Bell, Cedric Brown, Batman Wood, Jimmie Giles. Even when the team found victories hard to come by from 1983 to 1996, there were those who did the orange-clad faithful proud: James Wilder, Kevin House, Scot Brantley, David Logan, Paul Gruber, Hardy Nickerson, Mark Carrier, Ricky Reynolds and many others. Even Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp proudly wore the orange and white for two seasons. Mike Alstott put it on for one unforgettable rookie season.
Most of that time, the Buccaneers toiled in the "Black-and-Blue" division, the NFC Central. They fought rugged teams from the Midwest, the Bears and Vikings, the Lions and Packers. It is fitting, then, and another avenue for nostalgia, that the Packers will be on the opposite sideline when the Bucs turn back the clock to 1976 on November 8.
The Buccaneers announced their Throwback Game during a press conference at team headquarters on Friday morning, shortly before the players on the current roster were due to report for Training Camp 2009. Four of those players – Gaines Adams, Antonio Bryant, Earnest Graham and Barrett Ruud – came to One Buccaneer Place early in order to model the legacy uniforms for the delighted crowd.
The Buccaneers moved into new One Buccaneer Place, their state-of-the-art headquarters, in 2006, a decade after the last season in orange and white. The players who modeled the throwback uniforms on Friday strode out onto the polished wood stage in the massive team auditorium. Just outside, huge photos of the Buccaneers' 2002 Super Bowl victory – in red and pewter uniforms – lined the hallway walls. The men in their orange jerseys looked incongruous in this setting, but they also clearly enjoyed modeling the legacy uniforms. For a time, at least, they were living links between the team's present and its past, and they will be again in November.
Honoring that past was clearly important to Buccaneers Co-Chairman Edward Glazer, who drove the project to reproduce the 1976 uniforms.
"This is a very, very exciting day for us; any time you get to introduce – or in this case, reintroduce – a jersey, well, those days don't come along very often," said Glazer, who then symbolically donned a hat bearing the old logo. "Welcome back Bucco Bruce and the original Buccaneers."
The Buccaneers' will wear orange jerseys and white pants against the Packers in November. To be exact, the jerseys are "Florida Orange," the primary color adopted by the team when it began play in 1976. Tampa Bay's original uniforms weren't universally loved, but they were definitely unique, and they are now an indelible part of the franchise's history that the modern team and its fans want to celebrate. Interestingly, the orange jerseys were worn just once during the 1976 season, in a preseason game.
The 1976 jerseys are framed on the sleeves with a large white stripe sandwiched between two thinner red stripes. The jersey numbers are white with red trim. The pants have vertical orange stripes outlined with two thinner red stripes. The socks have alternating orange, red and white stripes.
And the famous Buccaneer helmet has been recreated to exact specifications, too. The white helmet has red-orange-red stripes running along the crown from front to back, with the pirate head logo on each side. The iconic pirate is unchanged – winking left eye, feather in cap, knife clinched in teeth.
"It definitely feels good to be a part of the first game wearing the original uniform," said Graham, a Florida native who remembers the Bucs' days of orange. "And they look great. I remember watching highlights of Mike Alstott and Derrick Brooks in the orange uniforms when football was influential to me. Now I get to live it a little bit."
The Buccaneers last put on such helmets on December 22, 1996, the last game of the final season in orange and white. That contest was a 34-19 win over the visiting Chicago Bears as Tampa Bay finished the '96 season with five victories in its last seven outings. In fact, the Buccaneers' last five home games in orange and white were all victories. The following season, Tampa Bay introduced its pewter-and-red uniforms with the windswept flags on the helmet and went on to break a 15-year playoff drought in 1997.
Cornerback Ronde Barber began his Buccaneer career in 1997. Since he is the longest-tenured player on the team's 2009 roster, there are no current players who wore the orange and white. A good portion of the roster wasn't even in high school yet when the Bucs last pulled on orange pants or jerseys.
For at least one game, however, Barber and all of his 2009 teammates will be a part of that orange tradition. And that orange tradition is an unforgettable part of Buccaneer history.