The Buccaneers will put on their Throwback uniforms this Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, reconnecting the current roster with what is, to most of them, a very distant past. Even Ronde Barber, whose longevity is epic by NFL standards, missed playing in the orange and white by one year. For one current Buccaneer, however, Sunday’s game really will be a throwback to his first experience as a Buccaneer.
Many Tampa Bay fans will remember that quarterback Josh Freeman’s first NFL start happened to coincide with the team’s initial Throwback Game in 2009, a stunning 38-28 victory over the Green Bay Packers. Freeman, however, had made a cameo appearance at the end of the previous week’s game against New England in London. No, it’s not Freeman but rather Connor Barth whose debut coincided with the return of the helmet pirate.
Barth was signed during the team’s 2009 bye week, after Mike Nugent and Shane Andrus had tried and failed to hold onto the Bucs’ kicker job. Barth made one of two tries that day, then had a brilliant performance the next weekend in Miami and has since emerged as the most accurate kicker in franchise history.
It’s no wonder he’s a fan of the orange jerseys.
“Aw, it’s my favorite time of the year!” Barth enthused on Thursday, after another day of practicing in the white and orange helmet. “I wish we’d wear the orange more often. It’s just a cool color, I like the helmets, I like the feel and it’s always a fun game to experience.”
The return of the Throwback uniforms does seem to bring an added level of energy to the locker room each season. And even though this is the fourth year the Bucs have designated one game for the orange, it’s still a new experience for some. For instance, second-year safety Ahmad Black wasn’t activated from the practice squad last season until the week after the Throwbacks were pulled out.
Black will get his first chance to wear the orange on Sunday, bringing back memories of Bucs’ games he attended as a child growing up in nearby Lakeland. His aunt was even a Buccaneers Cheerleader back when they, too, were clad in that bright hue.
“I grew up seeing these,” said Black, smiling broadly. “I came to a couple games, and I think I had a field pass one time when my aunt was in orange. I like it. I personally think we should flip them out every couple weeks. It’s a great opportunity, but whether we’re playing in the old uniforms or the new ones I have to go out there and get the job done.”
Rookie cornerback Leonard Johnson grew up even closer to the Bucs’ game day home, in Clearwater, and also has vivid memories of the orange uniforms. It was already a thrill for Johnson, an undrafted free agent, to make the roster of his hometown team this summer, but getting to imitate the Buc stars from his childhood is even better.
“I’m just excited,” he said. “Just to have to the opportunity to be here, first of all, but now to put on the orange, it’s exciting. I used to watch games, early in my life, and I came to the stadium when they were in orange. I do like the uniforms. I’m trying to figure out how to coordinate my socks and shoes together, but I’m going to think of something to make it look nice.”
A few Bucs, like Barth and Black, would happily wear the orange uniforms more than once a year, and most of their teammates get a kick out of putting them on at least once for the special Throwback occasion. Of course, clothes and colors are ultimately a matter of taste, and 53 people are never going to all agree on the same thing. So, yes, there may be a quietly dissenting voice here and there on how orange stacks up against the usual bold red and pewter, but that doesn’t lessen anyone’s enjoyment over taking part in the Throwback Game.
Wide receiver Mike Williams is one of those voice, and he still appreciates the symbolism of the game, if not necessarily the orange.
“I really don’t like it,” said Williams, somewhat sheepishly. “But I wear them because it shows respect to the people who played before us. That’s the reason I like wearing them, but I don’t really like the colors.”
That’s okay – Williams will get to go right back to the Buccaneers’ hard-hitting red and pewter next week. In the meantime, most of his teammates and Buccaneer fans everywhere will get their week to bask in the orange brightness.