WR Keyshawn Johnson isn't the only one wearing the red-and-pewter number 19 these days
Oscar Riedener. Does the name ring a bell?
If not, feel no shame. Riedener's name doesn't resonate in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' locker room, either, yet every man in there admires his handiwork.
Ah, Riedener's handiwork. Weighing seven pounds and standing 22 inches high, its design predates the Buccaneer franchise by 10 years. Each year, it is crafted by hand out of sterling silver in Parsippany, New Jersey.
And, each year, approximately 1,700 men battle each other ferociously for four months simply for the honor of laying their hands on Riedener's piece of art.
One suspects you've deduced, if not who Riedener is, what his contribution to the National Football League is.
In 1966, Riedener, a former vice president of design for Tiffany, sketched on a napkin what would become the Vince Lombardi Trophy. This ultimate NFL prize, awarded at the end of each season to the Super Bowl champions, is still manufactured by Tiffany and is still the reason every man in that Buccaneer locker room comes to work each morning.
How do we know this trophy so intimately, considering the Buccaneers have yet to lay hands on it? The Lombardi particulars come courtesy of a massive, 68-page beast of a release sent out recently by the NFL. Each August, the league's communications office sends out a stunningly comprehensive and wide-ranging 'Kickoff' release to prepare the nation's sports editors for the season at hand. It landed, with a thud, at One Buccaneer Place on Monday.
This year's Kickoff 2001 release from the NFL covers everything from the opening-game records of every team in the league (page 1) to the different motivational slogans hanging in team locker rooms (page 68). In between, we're given peaks at the players' international origins, the 30th anniversary of the NFL's longest game, situational records for every team, insider terminology and much, much more.
And, of course, with the Buccaneers emerging as one of the league's best teams over the past four seasons, there is much to be learned about the home team. For instance, did you know that Tampa Bay has blocked more kicks (field goals, extra points and punts) in the past five years than any other team in the NFL? By swatting a team-record seven of them last year, the Bucs pushed their 1996-00 total to 14, one better than Atlanta and Chicago, two better than Oakland and three better than Buffalo.
There are many more fascinating notes in this statistical manifesto that involve the Buccaneers in some way. For instance:
Passing Fancy: QB Brad Johnson, the Bucs' free agent jewel of 2001, has been a model of passing efficiency throughout his NFL career.
Just how efficient has Johnson been? Well, from the day he made his first start as an NFL quarterback in 1996 (September 8), through the ninth week of last season (October 30), Johnson completed at least 50% of his passes in every one of his starts. That streak reached an NFL record 48 straight starts at the beginning of a career before he fell one short against the New York Giants last December 3, completing 14 of 29 throws.
Johnson's streak is easily the longest in league annals. Brett Favre started his career with 36 consecutive games of at least 50% passing efficiency, the second-best mark ever. He's followed by Kurt Warner (27), Elvis Grbac (18) and Daunte Culpepper (16).
Fast Starters: The Buccaneers open the 2001 regular season in Dallas which, despite the Cowboys' 5-11 record last year, should give Tampa Bay fans pause.
Dallas is, by far, the most successful opening-day team in NFL history (among active franchises and excluding those with less than 10 years played). The Cowboys are 30-10-1 all-time on opening day, a .744 winning percentage that eclipses that of Denver (.622) and the New York Giants (.612). At one point, Dallas won 17 consecutive opening games.
The longest current opening-day streak belongs to Miami, with a run of nine heading into 2001. Miami is one of the nine playoff teams from last season that won its first game of the year, as are the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay's all-time opening-day mark is 10-15.
Just Win, Baby: Another area in which Brad Johnson has fared well as an NFLer is winning percentage. His overall mark of 32-18 as a starter, a 64% success rate, ranks eighth among active hurlers with at least 10 starts.
However, that mark doesn't even rank number one on the Bucs' roster. Third-year signal-caller Shaun King comes in fifth on that list, with a career starting record of 14-7, a winning mark of 66.7%. The Bucs are the only team in the league with two quarterbacks in the top 10 on that list.
Sales Leader: WR Keyshawn Johnson may not have been in a Bucs uniform as long as such stars as Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Warrick Dunn or Mike Alstott, but he's already at the head of the Tampa Bay back in terms of selling jerseys.
Johnson's #19 is the fifth-highest selling jersey in the entire NFL, as a matter of fact. The only players riding more fans' backs are Eddie George, Donovan McNabb, Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James.
Johnson is the only Buccaneer to rank in the top 15 individually, but the team as a whole has moved into elite status with its 1997 uniform change and subsequent rise to prominence. Tampa Bay was the league's ninth-best selling team in terms of merchandise in 2000, trailing only Dallas, Tennessee, Minnesota, St. Louis, Green Bay, Oakland, Denver and the New York Giants. Baltimore rounds out the top 10.
Where in the World: Third-year Tampa Bay kicker Martin Gramatica is one of only two players currently in the league who were born in Argentina. The other, astute Gramatica fans have probably already deduced, is Martin's brother, Bill, a rookie with the Arizona Cardinals.
Gramatica is the Bucs' only foreign-born player, but there are 29 other countries listed as birthplaces for players around the league. Among the countries that have produced current NFL roster members are Barbados (Jacksonville RB Elvis Joseph), Norway (Buffalo DT Leif Larsen), Sierra Leone (Arizona WR Bobby Newcombe), Iran (Oakland T Shar Pourdanesh), Guyana (San Francisco S Lance Schulters) and Cameroon (Cleveland T Roman Oben).
Getting On Board Early: Statistics indicate that teams that score on their opening drive win almost 60 percent of the time.
The Buccaneers succeeded at a better rate than that last year, winning 80% of the games (four of five) in which they scored on their first possession. That percentage ranked in the NFL's top 10. The league's best opening-score team was Oakland, which did so six times and won all six of those games. Philadelphia (5-0), Baltimore (4-0), the New York Giants (3-0), New Orleans (3-0), Pittsburgh (3-0) and Arizona (2-0) were all undefeated under those conditions.
Words of Wisdom: As if that 7-pound, 22-inch Tiffany trophy wasn't motivation enough, many teams add encouragement in the locker room in the form of slogan signs.
Some address priorities, like this Chicago Bears' sign: "The three most important things in life: 1. Your family. 2. Your religion. 3. The Chicago Bears."
Some, like this message in the New York Giants' locker room, deal with attitude: "Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond to it."
Others give an equation for success, like this note hanging in the Dolphins' locker room: "Positive Attitude + Effort = Performance."
Still others could be stolen from a corporate boardroom, like this sign gracing Baltimore's locker room: "Setting the 'Standard of Excellence.'"
The Buccaneers have their slogan for the locker room, a straightforward idea dealing in player accountability:
"Expectations. Execution. No Excuses. No Explanations."
Oh, and there's one other sign hanging above the Bucs' heads every work day:
"Whatever it takes."