The memories of Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ricky Bell are enduring. He fought for yards when it seemed there was none. Walking off the field past the point of exhaustion. A uniform that so rarely finished with the game anywhere near clean. A back that blocked as good as he ran. The workhorse on a team of lovable misfits that went from worst to first and took the ‘79 NFL by storm. A memorable player for memorable times.
Apple Falls Close to the Tree
In Des Moines, Washington, on the Mt. Rainier High School basketball team you will find a young man with a striking resemblance and similar name to a legendary Buccaneer. His name is Ricky Bell III, and he is the grandson of the late Ricky Bell. Whether in the secondary for the Mt. Rainier football team, or at guard/point guard on the Rams basketball squad, Bell is fast. Real fast. As most will remember, so too was his grandfather.
Does Any of this Ring a “Bell”
Selected by Tampa Bay first overall in the 1977 draft, Ricky Bell became synonymous with what it meant to be a Buccaneers running back. Or is it that all Buccaneer running backs would be compared to what it was meant to be Ricky Bell?
Originally a linebacker, his blocking skills, and speed between the tackles would eventually lead him to the USC backfield. In 1975, the California native rushed for 1,875 yards and finished third in Heisman Trophy voting for the season. In 1976, Bell would lead the Trojans to an 11-1 record and finish second in Heisman voting to Pittsburgh running back Tony Dorsett.
Having played for John McKay at USC until 1975, Ricky Bell would be drafted ahead of Tony Dorsett in that 1977 draft. Bell rushed for 1,263 yards in 1979 and combined with a historic Buccaneers defense led by Lee Roy Selmon. Tampa would go from worst to first all the way to the NFC Championship game. Bell had 142 yards and two touchdowns in the Buccaneers’ first playoff victory in team history. A victory over the Philadelphia Eagles that would carry Tampa Bay to the NFC Championship game and all at once, remove the bitter taste of the 0-26 franchise start for the Buccaneers team.
Just five years later, number 42 would leave us way too soon at the age of 29. Bell passed of heart failure from the disease dermatomyositis. The entire Tampa Bay community had been touched by greatness. The team would induct Ricky Bell into the Krewe of Honor in 1991. Many Buccaneer fans still wonder not if, but when such an integral part of that historic 1979 season will get his name up at Raymond James Stadium and permanent placement in the Ring of Honor.
One of Our Own
The past couple of years we have been watching Ricky Bell III develop into quite an athlete. Recently selected to the 2020 East-West All-State Football Game. Bell has also received accolades for basketball including NPSL 4A Basketball Most Valuable Player and was unanimously voted NPSL Cascade Division MVP. He is starting to get a lot of attention.
After drafting Ricky Bell in 1977, Head Coach John McKay would say:
“The one distinctive characteristic about Ricky is his great desire to play and be the best”.
As long as Bell III continues to follow in grandpa’s footsteps, he will remind us of what his family meant to an upstart band of pirates so long ago.
This is a legacy Buccaneer fans embrace. The patriarch of the Bell family had a large part in the first winning Tampa Bay had with their football team. Now, a grandson that would make a grandfather proud. Ricky Bell III is making sports memories for an entirely different generation of sports fans. To his father Ricky Bell Jr., and the rest of the Bell family, warm Tampa Bay wishes for continued success in 2020 and beyond.
Photo credit: buccaneers.com