In 1984, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were chasing a record. To be more specific, third-year running back, James Wilder was.
The “Sikeston Train”. Named so because he was born on a farm outside of Sikeston, Missouri. Where he would eventually lead the Sikeston High School Bulldogs to an undefeated season and state championship in 1976. But in ‘84, in Tampa Bay, Wilder was putting the Buccaneers offense on the NFL map.
Running For Glory
Drafted into a backfield that already had Ricky Bell and Jerry Eckwood, Wilder was originally listed on the depth chart as a fullback. At 6-foot-3, 235-pounds, James Wilder was an imposing force. Those first three years as a Buccaneer weren’t turning too many heads, however, Buccaneers fans knew this kid could get after it.
That would all change in 1984.
Head coach John McKay decided to move away from his criticized conservative play calling and open up the offense. Wilder would touch the ball a then NFL-record 492 times that season (407 rushes and 85 receptions).
Cue the Aladdin theme. This was a whole new world for Buccaneers fans that were accustomed to three yards and a cloud of dust. As much as these last 12 months have seemed surreal to Bucs fans, the season the “Sikeston Train” had in 1984 was every bit the same.
In Very Good Company
The record for yards from scrimmage (a combination of rushing and receiving yards), had been set at 2,243 by OJ Simpson in 1975. Going into that last game in 1984, James Wilder had a real shot at breaking that record. Also in the mix was Hall of Fame running back, Eric Dickerson. Wilder would eventually finish with 2,229 yards. Dickerson would break the record by one yard. Finishing with 2,244. But that ain’t the half of it.
Playing the New York Jets the last game of the season. Coach McKay would have the team attempt three onsides kicks as well as lay-down and allow the Jets to score a touchdown late, to give Wilder a chance at the record. I, and every other Buccaneer fan in the Big Sombrero that afternoon were tickled. The Jets team, not so much. In what would be John McKay’s last game as coach, he was showered by expletives by the Jets players as he exited the field. It may have had something to do with the Buccaneers beating them that afternoon by the score of 41-21. It was obvious the Buccaneers were trying to get James Wilder the record. Running up the score was not the intention. Although, it was quite rare for Buccaneers teams to score 41 in those days.
Ring of Honor Worthy?
A Ring Of Honor exists for the best coaches and players, and in the Buccaneers’ case, a historic NFL owner: Mr. Malcom Glazer. The ring is for memories, feats, and accomplishments that deserve to be recognized, cherished, and remembered forever.
The career of James Wilder is just that.
The Buccaneers’ single season rushing leader at 1,544 yards and second only to Mike Evans in career receptions with 430, Wilder would break the NFL record for carries in a season with 407 in 1984. A mark that stood for 12 years until Falcons running back Jamal Anderson passed him in 1996. Wilder finished his career as a Buccaneer with 5,957 rushing yards and 37 rushing touchdowns. Don’t forget the 430 receptions for 3,492 yards and nine receiving touchdowns.
Over eight seasons, James Wilder set the standard for NFL running backs. In a league that now values running backs as runners and receivers. James Wilder was Tampa Bay’s “double threat”.
It’s obvious James Wilder belongs among the Buccaneer greats in the Ring of Honor. Not so much so we can remember; but more importantly, so we never forget.