Buccaneers.com's Scott Smith takes a look at the best player in Buccaneers history to wear uniform numbers 41-50.
Listen, this isn't going to come as a big surprise: The history of Tampa Bay Buccaneers wearing jersey numbers 41-50 is not a rich one. There are two very obvious choices and several other perfectly good players but this is nothing like the dogfight we're going to see later this week with the 51-60 range.
So, to spice things up in this less-than-scintillating installment in this series, please allow me to introduce all of you to a game that we (Bucs staffers who have reason to attend practices) occasionally play during training camp. It's jersey number-related, so it's quite relevant here.
The idea is to get the best possible start to an all-time Buccaneers team using players whose jersey numbers add up to 100. We usually start with a duo – such as Brian Kelly (25) and Davin Joseph (75). That pairing gives you a very good and long-term cornerback and a Pro Bowl guard. Not a bad start. Or Mike Evans (13) and Keenan McCardell (87); it's a little one-note but that's a fantastic receiving duo to start with.
https://www.buccaneers.com/news/the-top-buccaneers-in-every-jersey-jameis-winston-josh-freeman" target="_blank" >Read part one of The Top Buccaneer in Every Jersey: 1-10
https://www.buccaneers.com/news/the-top-buccaneer-in-every-jersey-11-20-mike-evans-ronde-barber" target="_blank" >Read part two of The Top Buccaneer in Every Jersey: 11-20
https://www.buccaneers.com/news/the-top-buccaneer-every-jersey-warrick-dunn-doug-martin" target="_blank" >Read part three of The Top Buccaneer in Every Jersey: 21-30
https://www.buccaneers.com/news/the-top-buccaneer-in-every-jersey-31-40-mike-alstott-keith-tandy" target="_blank" >Read part four of The Top Buccaneer in Every Jersey: 31-40
The problem, of course, is that some of the best players in franchise history don't have a good complementary figure to get to 100. Sure, you'd love to have Warren Sapp (99), but who are you going to pair him with? Donald Igwebuike. If you want to start out good up the middle on defense you could match up John Lynch (47) with Shelton Quarles (53). And if Devin White (45) becomes as good as we all hope, he and Derrick Brooks (55) would be a great pairing.
Generally, we graduate from that discussion to trios that add up to 100, which adds a lot of possibilities. You could grab yourself a quarterback, say Brad Johnson (14), give him a great all-around, pass-catching back in Warrick Dunn (28) and still have room for either a tone-setting middle linebacker in Kwon Alexander or an NFL sack king in Shaq Barrett (both 58). Or, we mentioned Brian Kelly before…how about reuniting him with Ronde Barber (20) and having just the right amount left over for Derrick Brooks.
Buccaneers.com's Scott Smith takes a look at the best player in Buccaneers history to wear uniform numbers 1-10.
What can you come up with?
While you contemplate that, we move on with our next segment of numbers. Some of these choices are inevitably going to be tougher than others, either due to too many good candidates or too few solid choices, so we're also noting the "level of difficulty" of each choice. The 40s have traditionally been the least-used numbers in the NFL so there are some interesting winners below.
41: CB Norris Thomas
I'm not here to tell you Norris Thomas is one of the all-time great Buccaneers. His career AV total as a Buccaneer, according to Pro Football Reference, is 17. But you know what? That's the same final total as Shaun King, who we picked at 10, and Mark Robinson, who we picked at 30, not to mention Craig Erickson and Horace Copeland. The Bucs got Norris in a 1980 trade with Miami and he stuck for five seasons, playing in 65 games with 35 starts. The other reasonable candidates are Craig Swoope, Joe King, Lorenzo Neal (for one really good year) and Corey Lynch. That tells you all you need to know.
Level of Difficulty: 2.
Thomas doesn't blow us away but he was obviously a useful player to stick around for five years and he doesn't have anyone challenging him for the throne.
42: RB Ricky Bell
If we needed any sort of sentimental value to break the tie, Bell would easily have it, but we really don't. That's largely because the Buccaneers have mostly avoided giving away jersey number 42 since Bell was traded to San Diego in 1982 and subsequently died from heart failure caused by dermatomyositis in 1984. The 42 jersey has not been retired by the team but since Bell it has only been worn by running back Steve Bartalo for nine games in 1987 and cornerback Eric Everett in 1990. Anyway, Bell did enough to win the top spot here regardless during his five seasons as a Buccaneer, particularly with his 1,263-yard season in 1979. He was the best thing the upstart Buccaneers had going on offense in '79, paired with the NFL's top-ranked defense, which was evidenced by his 38 carries for 142 yards in the franchise's first playoff game, a divisional win over Philadelphia.
Level of Difficulty: 1.
Bell is essentially the entire history of number 42 for the Buccaneers.
Buccaneers.com's Scott Smith takes a look at the best player in Buccaneers history to wear uniform numbers 11-20.
43: RB Jerry Eckwood
The Buccaneers drafted Eckwood in 1979 to complement Bell and it worked immediately. Eckwood only played three seasons in Tampa (and in the NFL) but all three were almost equally and helpfully productive: 958 yards from scrimmage in 1979, 979 in 1980 and 864 in 1981. The 152.3 rushing yards per game the Bucs averaged in 1979 behind Bell and Eckwood remain the highest average the team has ever achieved in a season. There are a number of other fullbacks on the list, including Jameel Cook and William Howard, but none approached Eckwood's production. Bobby Rainey had a decent run in 43 a few years ago but his Buccaneer totals in 40 games essentially match one of Eckwood's seasons.
Level of Difficulty: 2.
Eckwood's short tenure is a concern but he didn't really have any serious competitors.
44: S Ivory Sully
For most Buccaneers fans, this is sure to be one of the most obscure names on the entire list from 1-99, but that's what you get in the mid-40s. Sully started 25 games for the Buccaneers with that number on his back in 1985 and 1986, and that is by far the most for any player in team history. In fact, the other 17 players who have been on a roster for a Buccaneers regular season game while wearing number 44 have combined for 31 starts. The current wearer, Dare Ogunbowale, could have a chance to take this away if he lasts for a few more years and maintains a relevant role. The Buccaneers traded for Sully after he had spent six seasons as a non-starter for the Rams and gave him a much bigger role.
Level of Difficulty: 6.
This was one of those numbers where it was hard to find a candidate to feel good about putting on a list of names that includes (or will soon include) the likes of Ronde Barber, Mike Alstott, Derrick Brooks, Lee Roy Selmon and Warren Sapp. Dallas Clark might be the most memorable name to put on the number for the Bucs but he was only in town for one year.
45: CB Jeris White
Yes, this spot is likely to belong to another Mr. White pretty soon, but we can't give it to Devin just yet after only one season. For now, it essentially comes down to Jeris White versus Wayne Haddix, and while Haddix had the higher peak with a Pro Bowl season in 1990 he otherwise only played in six more games as a Buccaneer. White had a longer tenure and by the end more production, having started 46 games over three seasons and intercepting 12 passes. White was the fourth member of that strong early secondary that included Mike Washington, Cedric Brown and Mark Cotney. Haddix is credited with 10 AV for his surprising seven-interception, three-touchdown season but White got his total up to 28 over his time in Tampa.
Level of Difficulty: 6.
I would listen to an argument that Haddix's Pro Bowl appearance is enough to swing the argument in his favor.
Buccaneers.com's Scott Smith takes a look at the best player in Buccaneers history to wear uniform numbers 21-30.
46: CB Danny Reece
Reece had this number during the first five years of Buccaneers history and nobody since has come close to his 72 games played in it. Vince "Pookie" Workman was a useful part of the Bucs' backfield in 1993-94, particularly catching passes, but he topped out at 31 games, though he did log 19 starts. Reece started 10 games in 1976 in the Bucs' secondary and did have one pick, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries (one returned for a touchdown) that year, but he is best remembered for his work in the return game. One of the more incredible stats in franchise history is the fact that Reece only called for seven career fair catches while returning 222 punts, the latter of which remains a team record. He also occasionally returned kickoffs.
Level of Difficulty: 2.
Workman deserved mention and there were some brief contributions from the likes of Nathan Wonsley, David Gibson, Blue Adams and Jorvorskie Lane, but nothing comes close to Reece's overall contributions.
47: S John Lynch
Nobody wore this number in a Buccaneers game until 1985, and through 1992 it had been utilized in a total of 34 Tampa Bay contests. And then Lynch came along in 1993 and easily made number 47 his own. Nobody, of course, has worn it since he left after the 2003 season. Inducted into the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor in 2016, Lynch has also been a Hall of Fame finalist in each of the last seven years. Known as one of the most fearsome hitters in league history, Lynch also finished his Buccaneer tenure with 23 interceptions and 973 tackles. Former Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin, who will join Lynch in the Ring of Honor this fall, nicknamed his hard-hitting safety "The Closer" for his penchant for making big plays at crucial moments late in games.
Level of Difficulty: 1.
As I mentioned earlier, zero isn't an option but there really was no debate here and likely never will be.
Buccaneers.com's Scott Smith takes a look at the best player in Buccaneers history to wear uniform numbers 31-40.
48: LS Andrew Economos
I got in trouble a couple of weeks ago when I leaned a little too heavily on positional value at jersey number 7 and picked quarterback Jeff Garcia over kicker Martin Gramatica. Yes, I later recanted. I won't make the same mistake here and pick a short-term linebacker or fullback over Economos, who had a very long run as the team's long-snapper, and was very good at his job. He only played three games in 2006 and missed seven contests in 2011 but otherwise handled the Bucs' snapping job in all 16 games of his other five seasons with the team. It added up to 108 total contests, which is far, far more than any other number 48 wearer. Another good long-snapper, Andrew DePaola moved right into that same number when he replaced Economos in 2014 but his tenure was "only" three seasons. Current linebacker Jack Cichy could make a run at it if he can find some better fortune regarding injuries and stick around for a lengthy career.
Level of Difficulty: 2.
Economos was an easy choice but it still feels a little strange to have a long-snapper on the list.
49: LB Riley Bullough
A linebacker named Randy Gill wore this number in one game for the Bucs in 1978 and then nobody touched it again until 1995. Tight end Cedric Saunders (who later spent five years as the team's director of player development) got into three games with the 49 jersey that season, and safety Bradley McDougald did the same thing in 2013 before switching to 30 the next season. That's it. That's the whole history of the 49 jersey for the Buccaneers prior to the arrival of Bullough as an undrafted free agent in 2017. At least Buccaneer fans will recognize the name thanks to Bullough's star turn in HBO's Hard Knocks that year. Bullough got into a total of 12 games with the 49 jersey on his back, mostly on special teams though he did start three times in 2018 and contributed 16 tackles and one pass defensed.
Level of Difficulty: 3.
It may not seem like a worthy addition to this list but there really was no other option.
50: C Steve Wilson
The 50s are going to be dominated by linebackers but they start with an offensive lineman who held down the center position for the Buccaneers for most of a decade. (That started of long-tenured Buccaneer centers, with Wilson followed by Randy Grimes, Tony Mayberry and John Wade.) Wilson was part of the Buccaneers' inaugural college draft class in 1976 and he actually wore number 79 for two seasons before switching to 50 in 1978. He still logged 101 games and 91 starts in that latter number and was an anchor for a line that blocked for some strong rushing seasons by Ricky Bell and James Wilder. Given how well his career has started, there's a very good chance we'll be picking Vita Vea if we do this exercise again in four or five years. Linebacker Jeff Gooch also deserves strong consideration as he played in 105 games for Tampa over two different stints, but his 22 starts lag well behind Wilson's total.
Level of Difficulty: 7.
Gooch was a very good special teams player, a starter for all of the 1998 season on a strong defense and a fan favorite who was often serenaded with cries of, "Goooooooooooch!" He's not far behind Wilson here though, again, I expect Vea to pass them both.