John McKay's signature was all over the first decade of Tampa Bay Buccaneers football. Now his name will be a permanent and visible part of the team's legacy.
McKay will be the second person inducted into the Buccaneers' new Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium, with the posthumous election taking place on December 5 during halftime of the team's game against the Atlanta Falcons. Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon became the Ring's first inductee last November.
The Buccaneers held a press conference on Wednesday afternoon to reveal McKay's selection as well as the date of the team's much-anticipated 2010 Throwback Game. As in 2009, the two events will take place concurrently, and in McKay's case, as it was with Selmon, that is particularly fitting. McKay was the Buccaneers head coach from its inaugural 1976 season through the 1984 campaign and he led the orange and white-clad team to its first three playoff appearances.
Selmon's Buccaneer playing career coincided exactly with McKay's tenure at the helm, and the two propelled Tampa Bay to a stunning run to the NFC Championship Game in 1979, just the team's fourth year of existence. Selmon was at One Buccaneer Place on Wednesday to help celebrate McKay's selection. Selmon was scheduled to speak at the press conference regarding his mentor following an opening statement by Buccaneers Co-Chairman Bryan Glazer.
"John's legacy will forever be felt in Tampa," said Glazer. "He led this franchise from the very beginning and, along with Lee Roy Selmon, set the standard for what it means to be a Buccaneer. John's wisdom for both football and life, combined with his wit, truly made him an individual anyone would be lucky to encounter."
Also on hand for Wednesday's press conference was Rich McKay, John's son and current president of the Atlanta Falcons. McKay followed in his father's footsteps in becoming a key figure for the Buccaneers, holding the posts of vice president of football administration (1992-94) and general manager (1995-2003) during his 12 seasons with the club.
The Ring of Honor is prominently displayed at Raymond James Stadium and recognizes the individuals who have made the most significant contributions to the history of the franchise.
Rich and the McKay family will be on the field during halftime when John's name is added to that display.
"My father loved the Tampa Bay area and relished the opportunity to help build the Buccaneers," said Rich McKay. "He would have been very pleased to see what has become of this franchise and would have been humbled by this tremendous honor. Our entire family is appreciative of the Buccaneers organization for recognizing my father's contributions and forever ensuring his place in the team's history."
McKay was already a legendary college coach by the time the Buccaneers lured him to the NFL in 1976 to take over their fledgling franchise. As the head coach at USC from 1960-75, McKay led the Trojans to four national championships (1962, 1967, 1972 and 1974) and helped popularize the I formation. After two losing seasons with a team that had been previously limited in its recruiting by probation, McKay guided the Trojans to an undefeated season and a national title in just his third year at the school.
That would prove to be a familiar pattern for McKay, who assumed an extraordinary challenge when he accepted the head coach position with the Buccaneers, one of two NFL expansion teams in 1976. Though the NFL has since found ways to help subsequent expansion teams field more competitive squads, the Buccaneers had no such advantages and the results were felt on the field during the 1976 and 1977 seasons. However, Tampa Bay won five games behind the league's fourth-best defense in 1978 and then shocked the NFL with a 5-0 start in 1979. The Bucs would go on to claim their first NFC Central title in '79 and advance to the NFC title game against the Los Angeles Rams, winning their first playoff game against Philadelphia to move within one victory of the Super Bowl.
That 1979 team featured Selmon, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and the league's number-one ranked defense, setting a precedent for strong play on that side of the ball that still helps define the Buccaneers franchise. McKay's Buccaneers made it back to the playoffs in 1981 and 1982, winning a second division title in '81. McKay retired after the 1984 season with 45 career wins under his belt, including the playoffs.
Despite his impressive accomplishments on the sideline, McKay is remembered just as well for his quick wit and dry sense of humor, which served the franchise particularly well during the struggles of its first two seasons. His quips and one-liners, often delivered during postgame press conferences, remain legendary and are part of the reason McKay will always be one of the most recognizable figures in franchise history.
The Buccaneers' Throwback Game in 2009 was its first since the franchise adopted new colors and uniforms in 1997. By choosing to hold such a game, the team agreed to play at least one more each season through 2013, and the chosen date for this year's throwback has been one of the most anticipated pieces of news of the offseason. That is partially due to how universally popular last year's Throwback Game proved to be, with fans embracing the temporary switch.
The uniforms for last year's Throwback Game were based on the "Florida Orange" ensembles first worn in 1976 and were perfected after more than a year of research and design. On game day, the throwback concept was extended to virtually every aspect of the event, from the painted logos on the field to the cheerleaders uniforms to the stadium's bunting. The game was memorable in many ways; in addition to the popular uniforms, the matchup with the Green Bay Packers was then-rookie QB Josh Freeman's first NFL start and it proved to be the Buccaneers' first win of the season.
The Buccaneers will strive to make the 2010 Throwback Game just as memorable, and they have chosen as their opponent one of the team's longest-running rivals. Even before Atlanta and Tampa Bay became NFC South division mates in 2002, the two teams had met frequently. Obviously, the Buccaneers played their NFC Central foes twice a year for 25 seasons, but among all other teams only the New Orleans Saints have been a more frequent opponent for the Buccaneers than the Falcons.
The Buccaneers have faced Atlanta 35 times in their 34-season history and hold an 18-15 edge in the all-time series. Among the highlights in the series were narrow and crucial Buccaneer victories over the Falcons in their first two playoff seasons of 1979 and 1981; the 1987 opener in which Steve DeBerg threw a franchise-record five touchdown passes in a 48-10 Bucs win; the showdown with Michael Vick and a surging Atlanta team in December of 2002 which resulted in a Tampa Bay win and firm control of the NFC South in its inaugural year; and a critical overtime win in Week 16 of the 2005 campaign in which Dewayne White blocked a potential game-winning field goal to keep Tampa Bay on track for victory.
The Buccaneers and Falcons have met in the final month of the season every year since the NFC South was formed in 2002, and the outcome of the game has frequently proved important in deciding the division. The game could once again be crucial when the two franchises collide this December, and with the Bucs wearing their throwback gear, it is certain to be a memorable afternoon.