Bucs vs. HOF Class of 2010
Here’s a fun game that can be played every year. Whenever the Hall of Fame announces its list of enshrines, try to recall how those players performed against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sometimes you’ll be surprised at what you find.

The Professional Football Hall of Fame’s 2010 class of inductees is one of the strongest in many years. There was little doubt as the careers of Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice wound down that those two men would one day be enshrined in Canton, Ohio. This is no top-heavy class, however. Russ Grimm, Rickey Jackson, Dick LeBeau, John Randle and Floyd Little all had stellar careers and it is hard to argue with their selection.

Now Floyd Little and Dick LeBeau both retired before the Buccaneers came on board in 1976, so they don’t qualify for the game. Russ Grimm was a guard for the Washington Redskins and it’s hard to quantify his performance. However, in a 1982 game at Tampa Stadium, during the height of the Redskins’ “Hogs” heyday, Grimm helped blaze a trail for fellow Hall of Famer John Riggins to run over the Bucs for 136 yards in a 21-13 Redskin victory.

John Randle was a pass-rushing demon, record 137.5 sacks in his career. According to Bucpower, Randle recorded 10 of those against Tampa Bay; including a two-sack performance in a 1999 encounter the Bucs lost 21-14.

The Bucs had better luck against Rickey Jackson, the longtime Saints linebacker. Despite being the ringleader of the “Dome Patrol,” the Saints linebacking corps nickname during their high water era of the late 80’s and early 90’s, Jackson only recorded four of his 128 career sacks against Tampa Bay. All four came in two games: a 24-21 New Orleans victory in 1983 and a 17-13 New Orleans win in 1984.

Jerry Rice began in the NFL in 1919….ok, I exaggerate a bit. Rice came into the NFL in 1985 and didn’t retire until last Thursday….ok, I’m kidding again. Rice’s first game against Tampa Bay was the 1986 season opener, and he only caught five passes for a pedestrian 54 yards.

After that game, however, Rice most likely smiled broadly when he saw the Bucs on the schedule. In 1987, Rice caught seven passes for 103 yards and three touchdowns, beating Rod Jones so badly that the cornerback earned the nickname “Toast.” In 1989, Rice caught eight passes for 122 yards and a touchdown.

In 1992, Rice caught seven more passes (are we detecting a pattern here????) for 118 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner over a very frustrated Ricky Reynolds in a 21-14 San Francisco victory. Finally, in 1993 Rice burned the Bucs for three more touchdowns and an astonishing 172 yards on eight catches in a 45-21 49er beat-down of Sam Wyche’s Bucs. This was the game in which a NFL Films sideline microphone caught Wyche stating of his defense, “We are a bunch of sad sacks, aren’t we?”

In early 1997 it appeared Rice’s Hall of Fame career could have ended when Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp tackled the wide-out by his facemask (that was unintentional, wasn’t it Warren?). The torque of the hit ripped Rice’s knee and he was out for the season. Rice would come back but except for a 48-yard touchdown for the Raiders against the Bucs in Super Bowl XXXVII, he never burdened the Bucs again.

On a personal note however, it seems to me that Emmitt Smith in particular owes the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a special mention during his induction speech Saturday night. For it was against the Buccaneers 20 years ago that Smith enjoyed the first of many 100-yard rushing games.

Do you remember October 7, 1990? George Bush the elder was in the White House, millions of Americans tuned in every week to watch The Golden Girls (God Bless Betty White, she’s the only one left) and Milli Vanilli was just weeks away from being exposed….. but I digress.

The Buccaneers entered the game with a heady record of 3-1. The week before the Bucs had enjoyed their traditional “signature victory” under Ray Perkins, defeating the Minnesota Vikings 23-20 at the Metrodome. This followed the 1988 signature victory over Buffalo and the 1989 signature victory over Chicago that catapulted the Bucs to back-to-back 5-11 seasons. But 1990 had a different feel. With the moribund Cowboys, just one season removed from 1-15 Hell, the Bucs had a chance to go to 4-1 and put an early claim on NFC supremacy.

Cough. Emmitt Smith had other plans. A highly-regarded rookie out of the University of Florida, Smith ran for 121 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown in a 14-10 decision at Texas Stadium.

This would be the first of a career total 78 100-yard games for Smith, but his only one against Tampa Bay. Two weeks later the Cowboys would defeat Tampa Bay again, 17-13 at Tampa Stadium. For the second time in three weeks, the Bucs would play the role of midwife to two more Cowboys Hall of Famers. This time quarterback Troy Aikman and wide receiver Michael Irvin would hook up for the first of many last-minute touchdowns.

As you can see, just because the Bucs only have one truly homegrown Hall of Famer (sorry, I can’t place Steve Young’s and Randall McDaniel’s contributions to the Bucs in the same light as Lee Roy’s!), it is possible to savor Hall of Fame weekend by reminiscing about how the inductees used to use our beloved Bucs as step-stools to greatness.

That is until Mr. Brooks, Mr. Sapp, Mr. Dungy and Mr. Lynch (and possibly others) start to take their proper residence on George Halas Drive. Enjoy the ceremony!

Denis Crawford, August 2010