It had been nearly a full decade since Buccaneers first coach, and grandfather, John McKay had walked the sidelines in his orange windbreaker and Buccaneer fishing cap. Tampa Bay was looking for legitimacy in the early 90’s. After a run of hasty coaching hires, a ton of losing, and fan misery by the boatload, Tampa Bay was ready for a new day.
The first move was bringing in Sam Wyche as head coach. From the standpoint of the players, the real coup de grace to the long-suffering of Buccaneer fans was the day the team signed free agent Hardy Otto Nickerson.
Now for some of you young guns, this may seem hard to believe that a state where the weather is pretty awesome most of the year and there is no state income tax, that free agents would still steer clear. After the terrible handling of Doug Williams in 1982, the ”Bo” debacle in ‘86 and the consecutive consecutive losing seasons that by now had reached ten(10), this team was snake-bit. Nobody could blame NFL free agents for wanting to stay away.
Enter In Nickerson
The first major move for HC Sam Wyche was the signing of Nickerson who had played for the Pittsburgh Steelers for five years under Pittsburgh HC Chuck Noll. He would come to Tampa Bay and become the de facto leader of a defense badly in need of one. He gave Buccaneer fans hope, and gave opposing offensive coordinators indigestion. Nickerson was a chip-toothed teddy bear that became a tackling monster on the gridiron.
Playing for Tampa Bay in the prime of his career from 1993-1999. Nickerson would be named to five pro bowls (1993, 95-99), and be named All Pro four times(1993, 96, 97, 99) as a Buccaneer.
The Buccaneers were on the precipice of hiring Rich McKay as GM, and the 1995 draft. Bucs fans didn’t realize it yet, but these were the first steps of a marvelous journey that would take Tampa Bay to a world championship.
The signing of free agent Nickerson sounded the alarm to all other free agents that playing football in Tampa Bay was acceptable. If the Ring Of Honor inductions we’re going in chronological order we might already see the Nickerson name up at Raymond James Stadium.
When historians dissect the Buccaneer turn around. They will analyze the move that started the crack in the dam that would eventually bring it tumbling down. And that move was the signing of Hardy Otto Nickerson. It’s all his fault.