Josh Freeman was only eight years old the last time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wore "Florida Orange" uniforms for an entire season. Still, in recent years he has been instrumental in helping nostalgic Buccaneer fans enjoy that mostly decommissioned color.
Since 2009, the Buccaneers have played one "Throwback Game" every fall, breaking out a beautiful set of orange and white uniforms modeled faithfully on what was worn during the team's inaugural 1976 season. On each such occasion, the franchise has also pulled out all of the stops on game day at Raymond James Stadium, transporting fans into a previous era via both sight and sound. The Throwback Game has become one of the most anticipated afternoons on the schedule every year for ticketholders…and that is likely true for Freeman, the Bucs' young quarterback, as well.
On Tuesday, the team revealed which date on the 2013 schedule will get the way-back treatment while also announcing that individual-game tickets will go on sale next Wednesday. This year's Throwback Game will occur on September 29 when the Arizona Cardinals visit. Freeman should mark his calendar in anticipation of that game, because the orange jerseys have treated him well.
Freeman was wearing orange for his first NFL start, in fact. That was the eighth game on the schedule in his 2009 rookie season and has been the starter ever since. Coincidentally, the one outing he has missed due to injury since then was the team's Throwback Game against Carolina in 2011. Despite that, Freeman has donned the pirate-emblazoned helmet three times, and the cumulative results have been quite good for him.
The Buccaneers won that Throwback Game against Green Bay in 2009, 38-28, snapping an 0-7 start to the season and getting the young passer's career off to a fantastic start. Thirteen months later, Freeman, wearing orange again, led the Buccaneers to a 10-point fourth-quarter lead over first-place Atlanta only to see the Falcons rally for two late scores and a 28-24 win. After missing out on the 2011 Throwback Game, Freeman threw for a career-high 420 yards against New Orleans in the 2012 version, though the Saints also rallied for a late win.
In all, Freeman has completed 57 of 111 passes for 806 yards, seven touchdowns and just two interceptions while wearing the Bucs' throwback uniforms. The completion percentage is lower than his career average, thanks mostly to a 14-for-31 effort in his debut start, but his averages of 269 yards per game and 7.26 yards per throw are well above his career marks. That coupled with the excellent 7-2 TD-INT ratio has helped Freeman compile a strong 88.6 passer rating in Throwback Games. He's even run nine times for 61 yards in those three outings.
Few current Bucs have any similar track record to speak of in the orange jerseys. Ronde Barber had played in all four Throwback Games, but he retired this spring and will be calling preseason Buccaneer games from the WFLA-TV booth in August. Gerald McCoy has been on the squad for three years but played in just two Throwback Games. The amazing fact is, the 25-year-old Freeman is now the sixth-longest tenured player on the Buccaneers roster. Many of his teammates will be getting the Florida Orange experience for just the first or second time this September.
One exception: wide receiver Mike Williams. Williams has three Throwback Games under his belt and, like Freeman, seems to have taken to the orange quite well. In those three games he has put up a combined 15 catches for 197 yards and a touchdown. One of those games was the 2011 contest that Josh Johnson helmed while Freeman was recovering from a shoulder injury, but in 2010 Freeman and Williams hooked up for six receptions that produced 68 yards and a touchdown against Atlanta.
The Cardinals' visit in September will be the Buccaneers' fifth Throwback Game overall. The team is 1-3 in Florida Orange since bringing its original uniforms back for annual cameos, but all but one of those games has been in doubt down to the final minutes, including all three in which Josh Freeman has participated. Arizona will be the fifth different opponent to catch the Bucs in their throwbacks, and many of Tampa Bay's own participants will be different this year, too. But Freeman has established a very good track record in orange and, like most Buccaneer fans, is almost surely looking forward to putting it on again.