On Thursday, the Buccaneers will hold a press conference to announce the fifth person selected for the team’s Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium. That person’s name will join those of Lee Roy Selmon (inducted in 2009), John McKay (2010), Jimmie Giles (2011) and Paul Gruber (2012) on the stadium façade.
Who will it be? Let’s consider the possibilities. Note #1: The following players and coaches are listed alphabetically and not in any order of likelihood. Note #2: We went deep, deep, deep on this list, so you may consider some of the options below to be much more viable than others. That’s fair, but there’s no harm in making an overly comprehensive list. And, just in case this list isn’t comprensive enough, tell me in the comments the obvious candidate(s) I missed.
Donnie Abraham: A starter almost from Day One after the Bucs nabbed him in the third round out of East Tennessee State in 1996, Abraham held the franchise title of all-time interceptions leader for several years, and he still ranks second. He had at least five interceptions in five of his six seasons as a Buccaneer, finishing with 31 overall to surpass Cedric Brown and Mike Washington for the top spot (now owned by Ronde Barber, 47). In 1999 and 2000, Abraham became the only player in team history to have at least seven interceptions each in consecutive years.
Mike Alstott: Clearly one of the most popular players in franchise history, he is also one of the most decorated, and he remains a prominent figure in the Bay area. Alstott’s six Pro Bowl selections are the most by an offensive player in team history, and he is also the team’s all-time touchdowns leader by a very wide margin. Alstott ranks second in team history in rushing yards and fourth in receptions, and some of his second and third-effort runs are among the most memorable plays in team history. He was also an important part of the Bucs’ 2002 Super Bowl team and he scored four touchdowns during that playoff title run.
Ronde Barber: There are no rules on paper as to who is eligible for the Ring, and when, but it seems likely that the team would not select anyone whose career is still active. Still, if there was an indication that he intends to retire, it’s not impossible the franchise would want to honor him right away. Barber wasn’t originally included when observers identified “The Big Three” (Derrick Brooks, John Lynch and Warren Sapp) as the core of the Bucs’ defense and the franchise’s mid-’90s turnaround. However, as time has gone on, it’s become more and more clear that Barber’s place in Buccaneer – and NFL – history is as important as those three former teammates. Barber is the Bucs’ all-time leader in games played, games started, interceptions and defensive touchdowns, and he has found the end zone an incredible 15 times (including playoffs). Barber is also a five-time Pro Bowler and the architect of what is probably the single most important play in team history, his game-sealing 92-yard interception return TD in the 2002 NFC Championship Game.
Ricky Bell: A movie starring Mario Van Peebles was made of Bell’s sadly abbreviated life, an indication of how significant he was in Buccaneer history. The first overall pick in the 1977 draft, Bell had a wonderful six-year NFL career that was unfortunately cut short by his unsuccessful battle with dermatomyositis. The first five seasons were in Tampa, where he produced the first 1,000-yard rushing season in franchise history. Bell rushed for 3,057 yards and 16 touchdowns as a Buc, highlighted by his 1,263 yards for that breakout 1979 team.
Derrick Brooks: Many believe Brooks is Selmon’s main competitor for the title of best player in franchise history and he may follow Selmon and Sapp into the Hall of Fame as soon as next year. There certainly wasn’t a more steady producer in team annals: He never missed a game from his rookie season of 1995 through his final year of ’08, playing in 224 straight. During that time, he amassed an incredible 2,196 tackles, roughly 800 more than the next player on the list (Barber). He also won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2002 and scored eight defensive touchdowns in his career.
Cedric Brown: A stalwart on the first great Buccaneers defense, mostly starting at free safety, Brown played nine seasons and exactly 100 games for Tampa Bay. He ranks third in team history with 29 interceptions behind Barber and Abraham. Brown held the team’s single-season record with nine interceptions for 20 years, before Barber broke it with 10 in 2001.
Mark Carrier: Consideration must be given to the top-producing wide receiver in team history. Carrier’s 5,018 receiving yards remains the top figure in the Bucs’ record books and his 321 receptions trail only the 430 of James Wilder, a running back. Carrier broke the team record with 86 receptions in 1989 (later surpassed by Keyshawn Johnson) and that season became the first Buccaneer to make the Pro Bowl in four years. Until the arrival of Johnson in 2001, Carrier was the only receiver in the team’s first 25 years to make the all-star game.
Tony Dungy: The coach tabbed by new ownership in 1996 to turn the franchise around and take it into a new era, Dungy didn’t disappoint. In his second season at the helm, he led the Buccaneers to a 10-6 record and their first playoff berth in 15 years and first postseason win in 18 years. He took over the Bucs’ all-time wins record as a coach with 54 victories from 1996-01, though he was later surpassed by Jon Gruden. One of the most respected men in the NFL during his years leading the Buccaneers and then the Colts, Dungy’s winning percentage of 56.3% with Tampa Bay (54-42) is the best in team history. Dungy is eligible for the Hall of Fame next year, and while his candidacy is built as much on his Colt years (including a Super Bowl win), he will nonetheless be representing the Bucs, too, when he gets into Canton.
Warrick Dunn: Dunn would probably be a more viable candidate had he not left for the Falcons in his prime years. After all, he is the 19th-leading rusher in NFL history with his 10,967 career years. He put up 4,986 of those yards as a Buccaneer, first for five years after he was drafted in the first round in 1997, then during a one-season return in 2008. He was also a thrilling pass-catcher out of the backfield and is third in team history with 306 receptions.
Earnest Graham: Again, we are going very deep on this list, and this might be something of a sentimental pick. Graham, an undrafted free agent who fought for everything in his career but always put the team first, is only ninth in team history with his 2,047 rushing yards. However, he played for eight seasons (2004-11), often assuming a different role from one season to the next and always serving as a team leader. He was alternately a special teams dynamo, a fullback, a reserve tailback and, most notably in 2007, a starting-caliber ballcarrier. Graham put up 10 touchdowns in that out-of-nowhere 2007 campaign and helped the Bucs to their most recent playoff appearance.
Jon Gruden: Buccaneers ownership boldly traded four high draft picks to the Oakland Raiders to acquire the rights to Gruden in 2002, and the payoff was immediate. Gruden led the franchise to its only Super Bowl title that year, guiding the Bucs to a team-record 12 regular-season wins in the process. Gruden is the franchise’s all-time leader with 57 wins as a head coach, and he led the team to three of the five division titles in team history.
Kevin House: A speedy big-play producer, House is the second-leading receiver in team history in terms of yards. In fact, his 4,928 yards on 286 catches stand only 90 behind record-holder James Wilder, and his 17.2 yards-per-catch indicate his downfield abilities. House is second to Giles with 31 touchdown receptions and second to Carrier with 14 100-yard games.
Brad Johnson: Johnson’s relatively short tenure with the team (2000-03) would probably be the biggest obstacle to his candidacy. Still, he was the starting quarterback for the 2002 team, which probably doesn’t win the Super Bowl without him. Johnson had even bigger numbers in 2003, even though that season was a disappointing follow-up to the title run, and his 83.2 passer rating as a Buccaneer is the best for any quarterback who started at least 25 games.
Monte Kiffin: Sure to be one of the figures most remembered from the Bucs late-90s/early-00s run of success, Kiffin is generally considered responsible for popularizing the Cover Two defense in the NFL. Kiffin’s Buccaneers ran it so well for so long that it is now widely known as “The Tampa Two.” Kiffin coached the Buccaneers’ defense for 13 years and, incredibly, it finished in the top 10 of the league’s rankings in 11 of those years, including nine in a row from 1997 through 2005. Tampa Bay ranked first in the NFL in defense in 2002 and 2005, second in 1998 and 2007 and third in 1997 and 1999.
David Logan: The Bucs got tremendous value out of a 12th-round pick in 1979 when they tabbed Pittsburgh DT David Logan. One of the team’s emotional leaders during his eight years on the team, Logan was second only to Selmon in career sacks (39) until Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp came along. Logan was also the Buccaneers’ best touchdown-scorer on defense, with four, until the arrivals of Barber and Brooks.
John Lynch: The first to arrive of the core players that would form the Bucs’ legendary defense, Lynch gave up a promising baseball career to pursue his true love, and ballcarriers rued that decision for a decade-and-a-half. One of the hardest hitters of the era, Lynch was selected to five Pro Bowls as a Buccaneer, tied for fourth-most in team history. He’s fifth in team history in tackles, sixth in interceptions and fifth in games played, and he earned the nickname, “The Closer,” for his penchant for game-clinching plays. Lynch was a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame last year in his first year of eligibility.
Dave Moore: Another fan favorite, Moore fashioned a long and successful career out of hard work and the willingness to take on any role. From long-snapper to H-back to special-teamer to blocking tight end to starter, Moore did it all over 13 seasons and 190 games as a Buccaneer. No offensive player in team history played more games than Moore, and only Brooks ranks ahead of him on that chart overall. Moore made the Pro Bowl as a long-snapper in his final season of 2006 and is fifth on the team’s touchdown receptions chart with 24.
Hardy Nickerson: The first and still one of the greatest unrestricted free agent acquisitions in team history. In the first year of the new CBA, in 1993, the Bucs snatched Nickerson from Pittsburgh, where he had been an underrated performer for six years. If not for Reggie White in Green Bay, Nickerson might have been the best signing in the entire league, as he immediately set a team record with 214 tackles in ’93. Nickerson would remain a force at middle linebacker for the Buccaneers through 1999, even once returning from a mysterious heart ailment to dominate again. His 1,028 tackles as a Buccaneer still rank third in team history.
Shelton Quarles: One of the greatest “finds” by the scouting department in team history, Quarles was a former undrafted free agent playing in the Canadian Football League when he was lured south by Mark Dominik. Quarles was an immediate hit as a special-teamer in 1997 and later a starter at strongside linebacker, but it was when he moved to middle linebacker in 2002 that his career really peaked. Quarles made the Pro Bowl in his first year at that position and went on to post 985 tackles, fourth-most in team history.
Simeon Rice: His Buccaneer tenure wasn’t as long as those of, say, Brooks or Sapp, but Rice burned brightly during most of his six years in Tampa. In fact, in those six years he posted five of the 13 best single-season sack totals in franchise history, including three of the top four. From 2002-05, Rice averaged 14 sacks a year, topped by his 15.5 for the Super Bowl champs in ’02. He finished with 69.5 sacks as a Buccaneer, trailing only Selmon and Sapp.
Warren Sapp: Sapp actually challenged Selmon’s career sack record, finishing with 77.0 as a Buccaneer before concluding his career in Oakland. Sapp also joined Selmon as a winner of the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, in 1999, and went to more Pro Bowls (seven) than any Buccaneer other than Derrick Brooks. During nine rollicking, dominant and thoroughly outsized years in Tampa, Sapp became the face for the most dominant defense of that era. And, of course, his selection for the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past February makes him one of the obvious favorites for the Ring.
Mike Washington: Another one of the stalwarts on the Bucs’ early defense, Washington still ranks fourth on the team with 28 career interceptions. He was the starter at right cornerback for most of his nine-year tenure in Tampa, playing in exactly 100 games with 97 starts. Washington scored four touchdowns during his career and was the team-leader in interceptions twice.
James Wilder: Statistically, Wilder is easily one of the top two or three players in team history. He stands atop the Bucs’ all-time charts in both rushing yards (5,957) and receptions (3,492) and is second only to Alstott with 48 touchdowns. Wilder still owns the top single-season rushing mark in team history – 1,544 in 1984 – and his 1,300 in 1985 is third-best after Doug Martin’s great rookie season in 2002. In those two seasons, Wilder was basically the Bucs’ entire offense. In ’84, for instance, Wilder recorded 407 of the team’s 483 carries and also led the squad with 85 receptions, a team record at the time.
Doug Williams: Williams was the offensive leader of that first breakout Tampa Bay team in the late ’70s. A first-round draft pick in 1978, Williams is best remembered in NFL circles for his MVP performance for Washington in Super Bowl XXII. However, he was also the first great quarterback in team history, still ranking third in team history with his 73 touchdown passes.
Richard “Batman” Wood: Wood was one of the colorful figures on the Bucs’ great defense of the ’70s and early ’80s in part because of his nickname, inspired by his habit of painting a band of black around his eyes and putting bat symbols on the tape on his hands. Wood played nine seasons as a Buccaneer, ranking 10th in team history with 132 games played. He also remains the sixth-leading tackler in Buc annals with 855.