With more than one player in the Pro Bowl for the first time in four years, the Buccaneers had an opportunity to make a strong impact in the NFL’s all-star game on Sunday. They didn’t disappoint.
WR Vincent Jackson, RB Doug Martin and DT Gerald McCoy made the Buccaneers’ pewter helmets highly visible in the sea of blue and white jerseys, from the beginning of the evening until the end. Jackson was the Bucs’ first receiver in the Pro Bowl since 2003, Martin was the team’s first all-star ballcarrier since 2002 and McCoy was Tampa Bay’s first starter in the game since 2008, and they all played extensively.
That Buc trio combined to produce 139 yards from scrimmage, three touchdowns, a tackle for loss and a turnover that set up one of the NFC’s eight touchdowns. Jackson scored the conference’s first points on a 36-yard touchdown catch in the opening quarter and he was the only NFC player to find the end zone twice. Martin also scored, and McCoy set up Jackson’s second touchdown of the night with a fumble recovery.
It was a heady night for the Buccaneers – or afternoon, actually, in Honolulu – and one that bodes well for the franchise’s immediate future. But was it the best representation the NFL’s 27th franchise has ever had in the Pro Bowl?
It’s certainly close. Below are our Captain’s Blog picks for the five best overall Pro Bowls for the Tampa Bay contingent, starting with the fifth selection. In each case, the Pro Bowl is identified by the NFL season which it followed, even though the actual game was played in February of the next calendar year.
This one shoulders its way onto the list largely by the sheer size of the Buccaneers’ representation. A team-record nine Tampa Bay players took part in the game, four on offense, four on defense and one on special teams.
No Buccaneers scored a touchdown in the game, a 38-17 AFC victory. However, kicker Martin Gramatica made a 48-yard field goal and was responsible for five total points, and starting offensive linemen Jeff Christy and Randall McDaniel helped the offense post 333 yards and not allow a sack. Backs Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn combined for 93 yards of offense and Dunn tied for the NFC lead with seven catches.
On defense, Donnie Abraham, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch and Warren Sapp combined for 13 tackles, two passes defensed and one sack, which belonged to Sapp. The Bucs were all over the field that day in Honolulu, which made it a fun one to watch for fans back in Tampa.
One thing is clear when one looks through old Pro Bowl box scores: Lee Roy Selmon was really, really good on the all-star stage. Selmon’s contributions alone nearly got the 1983 and 1984 games onto this list, as he had two sacks in each of them. The 1983 game is a very close honorable mention because Selmon and Buc teammate Hugh Green helped the NFC hold the AFC to 209 yards and three points in a lopsided affair, numbers that are unheard of in modern Pro Bowls. The 1984 game is also a memorable one for fans of the late, great Buccaneer lineman because it was also his last NFL outing.
But the Pro Bowl after the 1981 season topped both of those. The NFC lost, 16-13, but the Bucs’ two representatives did all they could. Tight end Jimmie Giles, in his second trip to Hawaii, scored the NFC’s only touchdown on a 15-yard catch and Selmon kept the game close with eight tackles and an amazing four sacks. Sacks were not yet an official statistic in 1981, so Selmon’s big night isn’t listed in the Pro Bowl record book, but those four sacks do equal the top mark, shared by Mark Gastineau and Reggie White.
The Bucs had “only” three players in this Pro Bowl, and none on offense, but they still made an enormous impact. In fact, Derrick Brooks was named Pro Bowl MVP.
That was due largely to his 59-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second half, which gave the NFC a 17-10 lead in a very hotly-contested match-up. The Bucs’ conference would go on to win, 23-17, putting a brief halt in the trend of ever-inflating all-star game scores. The six previous Pro Bowls had featured an average of 74 total points, so this one was nearly half as offensive, and the scores out of Hawaii have only gone up since.
But Brooks and fellow Buc Ronde Barber had a big hand in holding the AFC down in February of 2006. In addition to his interception, Brooks also contributed two tackles and a pass defensed, while Barber had two stops of his own and three crucial pass break-ups. One of Barber’s passes defensed broke up a potential touchdown pass in the NFC end zone, and the other two were on the sort of deep balls that are so prevalent in the Pro Bowl.
On top of all that Buccaneer punter Josh Bidwell helped immensely with field position by averaging 48.4 yards per kick. One of his punts was even downed roughly one inch from the AFC goal line.
Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy guided the NFC squad in this all-star game after the Buccaneers fell to St. Louis in the conference championship game, and his lineup looked very familiar. Four of the 11 starters on defense were Bucs – Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Hardy Nickerson and Warren Sapp – and his workhorse on offense proved to be none other than Tampa Bay’s bruising fullback, Mike Alstott.
Alstott ran 13 times for 67 yards – rather good rushing numbers for a Pro Bowl, but did his best work around the goal line. Every time the NFC got near the painted grass, Dungy put in his big back and Alstott was able to punch it in, scoring a Pro Bowl-record three rushing touchdowns. Not only does that single-game record still stand 13 years later, but it is only one of the career Pro Bowl standard for rushing touchdowns. Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson owns four Pro Bowl rushing TDs in his career.
The NFC built a two-touchdown lead in the second quarter and never let the AFC get any closer. That was largely due to the combined work of the four Buccaneer defenders, who put up 10 tackles, one interception, two passes defensed, a quarterback hit, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. A good chunk of that production belonged to Brooks, who accounted for two of the NFC’s six takeaways with an interception and a fumble recovery. Brooks returned his interception 20 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, making him one of only two players, along with former Patriots and Jets CB Ty Law, to own two Pro Bowl pick-sixes.
Lynch also had an interception in the game but it was erased by an illegal-contact penalty on one of his teammates. Even without that added turnover, however, this was the biggest collective impact a group of Buccaneers has ever had on a Pro Bowl outcome.