The five worst Buccaneer injuries
Lately the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are beginning to resemble a M*A*S*H unit. Any second now I expect Coach Gruden to come out to a press conference dressed like Col. Blake and be interrupted by Bruce “Radar” Allen’s shouted warning of “Choppers!”

In the last three weeks the Buccaneers have lost offensive lineman Luke Petitgout and running back Carnell Williams for the year and running back Michael Pittman for six to eight weeks. At the rate the Buccaneers are going through running backs, you may see Ricky Williams emerge from the haze, and hopefully not one of his own making.

Each one of these injuries will critically impact the Buccaneers season for the negative. The loss of Williams may be the worst because of the high draft position spent on him and the potential he has flashed. Pittman’s loss also ranks high because of the multitude of roles he fills. Finally, Petitgout’s loss is painful because he brought a needed veteran presence and physical style of play to an offensive line that desperately needed it.

All three injuries taken together are possibly the worst loss of talent due to injury the Buccaneers have ever suffered. But are these the greatest loss due to injury Tampa Bay has had to endure? It could be, but there have been others before:

1. Jimmy DuBose’s knee injury in 1978
DuBose was not a game-breaking back, but he was a solid contributor on the early Buccaneer teams. Instead, his injury is more devastating because of the seeming cruelness of the timing. DuBose injured his knee on a tackle during an interception return that came shortly after he became the first Buccaneer to rush for 100 yards in a game (109 against the New York Giants). Imagine setting a personal best and seeing your career end all in a matter of moments. That is the definition of devastation.

2. Doug Williams’ broken jaw in 1978
In his rookie season Williams led the Buccaneers to a .500 record after eight games. In the tenth game Williams suffered a broken jaw on what many felt to be a cheap shot by Fred Dryer of the Los Angeles Rams. Without Williams the Bucs lost five of the final six to finish 5-11. Had Williams stayed healthy the Bucs may have gone from “Worst to First” one year earlier.

3. Nathan Wonsley’s neck injury in 1986
Wonsley was an undrafted free agent running back in 1986 that came out of nowhere to run for 100 yards twice. Once was in a rare win at Detroit, the other in an exciting overtime loss to Los Angeles. On kickoff coverage against the Bears, Wonsley suffered a career-ending neck injury. The Bucs were going to be horrible regardless of Wonsley’s efforts but the fact that an unexpected source of excitement was snuffed out on a dreadful team hurt a great deal.

4. Lee Roy Selmon’s back injury in 1984
The greatest player in Buccaneer history saw his career end in ignominious fashion. Selmon was injured at the Pro Bowl following the 1984 campaign and missed the entire 1985 season before retiring in 1986. The 1984 defense fell on hard times even with Selmon, but the 1985 season saw them free-fall to the 28th ranked defense in the league. Could Selmon have stopped that by himself? Unlikely, but it would have been nice for his career to end on better terms.

5. Trent Dilfer’s broken collarbone in 1999
To me this is the most devastating injury in team history because the Buccaneers needed a veteran quarterback in the NFC Title Game. Dilfer started off 1999 horribly and was benched midway through the year, but once he came back he played better and helped the Buccaneers climb back into the NFC Central Division race when he suffered his injury against Seattle in Week Eleven.

Shaun King led the Bucs to the division crown and a playoff victory, but when the Bucs needed just one touchdown against the Rams in the title game, Dilfer was left on the bench. Think Dilfer couldn’t have made the difference? One year later, Dilfer guided a team similar in talent and philosophy to a Super Bowl victory.

Will the injuries the Buccaneers have suffered so far this year compare to the devastating ones listed above? Only time will tell but the smart money is on yes. The Buccaneers are not doomed, but this latest series of setbacks sure won’t help any.

Denis Crawford, October 2007