Remembering 'Tight Man'
The first time he touched a football in an NFL preseason game was for the expansion Buccaneers in 1976. He made a touchdown. The rookie had practiced once with his new team, having just been cut by the Vikings.

Yes, the first time he touched the ball, Isaac Hagins ran a Chicago Bears kickoff back 92 yards for an exhibition touchdown. A week later, he returned a Cincinnati kickoff 102 yards for another practice score. "Seemed easy enough," Hagins said Monday.

When the Bucs played the first regular-season game in their history, it was Ike Hagins who took the opening kickoff. He ran 21 yards before being stopped. A little later, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Hagins was on kick coverage when he tried to bring down a 235-pound beast named Don Hardeman. Hagins felt a pop. His left shoulder separated. He was done for the season. "Maybe that was the omen," Hagins said with a smile.

Ike Hagins, 53, was outside his Tampa condo Sunday afternoon when his wife called out. "Ike, get in here," Janice said. "Somebody did it."

It. On the 1,865th regular-season kickoff return in Bucs history, in the 32nd season, Micheal Spurlock returned one for the team's first kickoff return TD. Ike Hagins, returner No. 1, missed it. He raced into the condo. "Where are the penalty flags?" he said.

There were none. "Been watching the replays ever since," Hagins said. "I was part of the streak."

The very first part. Hagins returned 40 kicks for the Bucs. His two longest went 41 yards. Parnell Dickinson was Hagins' teammate in 1976. He was at Sunday's game. After the game, Parnell reminded anyone he could. "Ike was the first in the preseason," Dickinson said. "I want people to remember Tight Man."

"Tight Man." That's what teammates called Ike Hagins. "He had all those muscles," Doug Williams said. "Ike was small, but muscle-bound. He could hardly put his arms at his sides. It might have hurt his range of motion. But when Ike was going, he went fast."

"I could run," Ike said. He was a receiver at Southern University. The Vikings picked him in the ninth round of the 1976 draft, but let him go. He joined the Bucs. Old Bucs liked Ike. During the 0-26 start, Hagins' claim to fame, or infamy, is a still classic NFL Films blooper - Ike wide open for a touchdown, the ball bonking off his helmet. "I remember," Hagins said.

But teammates fondly recall the trip home from New Orleans after the Bucs won their first game. Ike danced in the plane aisle with assistant coach Abe Gibron. Hagins caught 83 passes and five touchdowns in his Tampa Bay career. His best season was 1979, as the Bucs rose up and reached the NFC title game. He had a 100-yard game against Minnesota and caught the winning touchdown at Chicago as the Bucs went to 5-0.

The team released him before the 1981 season. He tried to catch on in Canada. He played semi-pro ball back home in Shreveport, La. He tried finding work outside football. The cocaine didn't help. Ike and Janice were married in 1984, but she told him to stay away until he was clean. They never divorced or stopped loving each other. "And he found his way," Janice said. "You got to keep trying," Ike said.

No matter where he was, he followed the Bucs - and those kickoff returns. "I kept hoping we'd break through."

Ike Hagins returned to Tampa a few years ago. He got a job replacing filters at a waste water plant. He says he now works as an engineering surveyor. Ike and Janice are happy. They have five children, three college graduates and two who are still in college. Old Bucs loved seeing Ike at a team reunion last season. "He's still Tight Man," Doug Williams said.

Isaac Hagins visited One Buc Place on Monday. He arrived shortly after Micheal Spurlock left. Ike would love to meet the kid. "I'd shake his hand," he said.

What do you say after 31 years? "Way to go, boy. We've been waiting on you."

Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune 18 December 2007