An interview with former Bucs TE Jerry Bell
This interview took place in February 2010. Jerry Bell played for the Buccaneers from 1982 to 1986 having been a third round pick out of Arizona State. Just as his NFL career was starting to take off in 1985, he suffered a season-ending injury, and then a career-ending one against Chicago in 1986.But he remained in the Tampa area and has become successful after football which is always good to hear about former players.|
First up, what are you doing in life now?
I’m currently working in the Tampa Bay area as a Senior Account Manager for a company called Forsythe. Forsythe is an Information Technology Integrator and I provide account management services for a set of Fortune 1000 companies in the area. I’ve been involved in IT Sales since I left the Bucs.
You were drafted in the third round in 1982, how did you find out you were a Buc?
I received a call from the receiver coach for the Bucs at the time – Boyd Dowler (former Packer great). Draft day was interesting in that i received a call from two other teams that stated they were going to draft me with their next pick and they both selected someone else. When Boyd called, I think he was a bit disturbed with my response as I wasn’t that excited but Tampa was a good choice, a good place to be, and had a lot of opportunity. When I was drafted, Jimmie Giles was coming off of his third or fourth Pro Bowl season and was in his prime so it made me wonder a bit why they would use a 3rd round choice for a tight end but it all worked out! – I guess!
You started out backing up Jimmie Giles, what was that like?
Jimmie was a Pro Bowl tight end, considered one of, if not, the best tight end in the game. He and Doug (Williams) had a great relationship on and off the field – they still do today! I figured that I’d back Jimmie up for a couple of years (I believe he was in his seventh year), and be the starter by my third or fourth year. Jimmie held out during one camp which gave me more opportunity to play. We then went to a two tight end offense and I played even more. It was interesting to play with Jimmie because he was a very athletic and had his strengths and between the two of us, I think we covered the tight end position well. I think that worked well most of the time.
The offenses in the 1980s were very different to those run today, can you remember any of the plays or formations?
The funny thing about football is that as much as everyone thinks it changes, the basics will always remain. That why they always talk about a player’s fundamentals. The tight end position has changed in that it seems to be specialized. Today’s tight end can either catch the football like a wide receiver or they can block like a tackle. In our day, you had to do both or there was no place for you. A classic example is our current Buccaneers – Winslow is the receiver and Stephens and Gilmore are the blockers. Just watch how the Bucs substitute them!
What was Coach McKay like?
I don’t think you’ll find many people who would say anything bad about Coach McKay. He always had a smart, terse response but if it wasn’t directed at you, it was funny! Coach McKay was a very fair coach who did not play many of the mind games you see coaches playing today. He worked us hard but also gave us time off to rest. Some of my best memories of Coach McKay were his reactions after someone who dropped a pass or fumbled the football – he would look at you and just wave you off like you didn’t exist. Again, funny if it weren’t directed at you! I have to admit that I have seen that wave at least once!
When Leeman Bennett became head coach, the Bucs went to a two tight end offense. I guess your role on the team changed at that point?
I got a lot of playing time and we were able to take advantage of the talents that our team possessed. Two good tight ends, a great running back (James Wilder) and two steady and dangerous receivers (Kevin House and Gerald Carter). I was able to move around a lot. I lined up at the wide receiver spot, tight end, wing, slot, backfield, etc. We did things (formations and motions) that moved the defense around to help predict success. The problem was that it didn’t result in much success for a win/loss record.
Was it hard playing during those two 1985 and 1986 seasons when the Bucs went 2-14?
You know, we were so close to winning a lot of games. I know that sounds funny but we had a defense that kept us in most of the games. When we were losing, it was only by a couple of points. We were making a lot of mistakes as an offense that caused most of these losses. Then we started losing big. I think we were defeated after so many close losses. The wins and the experiences were good but the losses were hard.
You suffered a serious injury in 1986 - what happened?
In a game against the Chicago Bears in Tampa Stadium, I caught a pass over the middle thrown by Steve Young. I was tackled by three of the Bears and fractured dislocated my ankle and fractured my fibula. I still remember looking up at my leg and seeing my foot pointing in the wrong direction. Not one of my better memories.
After your NFL life ended, what did you do?
I went back to school and obtained my MBA from the University of Tampa. I also started working for IBM as a Sales Rep. I have been working in technology sales ever since. My wife and I have stayed in the Tampa Bay area, raised a family (two kids in college), contributed to the community in every way we could, and continue to do so!
Do you have any regrets looking back on your career?
That’s a hard question to answer. I could say that I wished we could have won more games – who wouldn’t say that. But I have no regrets on the experiences that I have had, the people I have met, the friends I have made, etc. Just to be able to experience playing professional football is great. Now, if I could, I would remove some of the aches and pains I have today but that’s the price one has to pay.
Who were your best friends on the team?
Coming into the league, we used to hang out as rookies and my friends were Sandy LaBeaux, Andre Tyler, and Dave Barrett. These guys only played one or two years with the Bucs but it was special in that we all experienced the newness of being in professional football at an early age. Over the years we haven’t kept in touch but I thinking of looking these guys up just to see how they’re doing.
The quarterbacks you played with, Doug Williams, Jack Thompson, Steve DeBerg and Steve Young - what were they like?
They were all different as quarterbacks and people but they all were professionals that worked hard and had good to great leadership ability. Doug Williams was my first quarterback who had the strongest arm but he left after my first year - which was shortened by the strike of ’82. Jack Thompson – the Throwin Samoan – was thrown into the fire.
He took over after Doug left and it was tough for him in that we were in transition on and off the field. Steve DeBerg was efficient and thorough. He was very accurate, made the right decisions, and with additional help, would have fared a lot better than he did with the Bucs and if you ask me, he did a great job. Steve Young was in transition. He came over from the USFL and wasn’t with us long enough to show what he could do. We did him a favor by trading him to the 49ers.
When you were a player, what did you think you would do after you retired (that one came from my daughter Tanith!)
Tell Tanith that that is probably the toughest, and best question of the bunch! I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but I did start the process of preparing for the “afterlife”. While I was playing, I worked at IBM in my off seasons – something that they wouldn’t allow today. I also went back to school. I figured that when I did decide (or when the NFL decided) – it was my time to move on, I would need something other than the NFL experience. So, working and school helped prepare me for what I’m doing today. I guess I did kind of know what I wanted to do.
Do you remain in contact with any of your former team-mates?
We try and meet every month as retired players so I get to see some of the guys. Not as many as I would like but I keep hearing and seeing more of them as time goes by.
And if asked to sum up your Buccaneer days in one word, what would it be?
That’s tough as I would like to use more than one word but if I had to use one word, it would be “Unforgettable”