(Editor’s note: ESPN’s Bob McClellan grew up in Central Florida, and his father bought six Buccaneers season tickets in 1976. His brother maintains four of them to this day.)
The GOAT chose the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He wasn’t traded there. It wasn’t for lack of options. Yet Tom Brady signed a two-year deal.
You can’t understand how much the New England Patriots quarterback coming to Tampa Bay means to a Bucs fan.
And by Bucs fan, I’m speaking to those of us who’ve had season tickets in our families since the franchise started in 1976. (We started in the west stands, about the goal line, six seats, six rows up on the aisle. Baseball Hall of Famer Al Lopez and his family were in the row in front of us. A quiet, sweet man.)
The Bucs haven’t fared well chasing big names. They were snubbed by Hall of Fame coaches Bill Parcells (twice) and Bill Cowher. A 2008 trade for Brett Favre fell through at the last minute. And for years players have wanted to do whatever they could to get out of Tampa. Bo Jackson famously never came, even after the Bucs chose him No. 1 overall.
The defense has had great players. Three of them — Lee Roy Selmon, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks — are already in Canton.
But the offense … my God, the offense. How best to explain the futility we have seen under center? Try this on:
Brady has been to 10 more Pro Bowls than all other Bucs quarterbacks. In the 44 seasons of the franchise.
Brady has been named to the Pro Bowl 14 times. Bucs quarterbacks have been named four times — one each for Jameis Winston, Trent Dilfer, Jeff Garcia and Brad Johnson.
Let’s have some more fun with numbers.
The four quarterbacks who have started the most games in Bucs history are Dilfer (76 starts), Vinny Testaverde (72), Winston (70) and Doug Williams (67). They made 284 starts. Brady has made 283.
TB12 has won 219. QBucs4 won 123 (Dilfer 38-38; Williams 33-33-1; Winston 28-42; Testaverde 24-48). Brady’s winning percentage is .774. The Bucs’ quartet was .433.
Brady has 541 touchdown passes and 179 interceptions. The QBucs4 (Williams, 73-73; Dilfer, 70-80; Testaverde, 77-112; Winston, 121-88) had 341 touchdown passes and 353 interceptions.
I had to read that a few times myself just to digest it without throwing up on my Derrick Brooks jersey. Tom Brady has 200 more touchdown passes in one fewer game than the QBucs4.
And you thought Winston threw interceptions at an alarming rate. He has the best TD-INT ratio of the QBucs4 by a country mile.
The first NFL game I went to was at Tampa Stadium. Steve Spurrier was the quarterback. The Bucs went on to go 0-14. Spurrier made 12 starts and had seven touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. It was the start of an alarming trend.
Brady has been in the league for 20 years. He never has had more interceptions than touchdown passes in a season. Never even close. In Tampa, we celebrated when a QB had more TDs than picks.
Here is a list of guys I saw play QB in person in Tampa, all of whom started games. You are totally forgiven if you don’t recall any. I wish I didn’t.
Without checking with ESPN’s Stats & Information group, I’m pretty sure the Bucs are the only team to start a Parnell and a Jeb at QB.
Williams was the quarterback I saw in person the most. Absolute cannon for an arm. Didn’t always know where it was going. Tough as nails. I was upset when the Bucs let him go.
Brady is the fifth Bucs quarterback who has won a Super Bowl in his career and the third who was the MVP in a Super Bowl. Only one — Johnson — won a championship while with the Bucs. Williams was a Super Bowl MVP for the Washington Redskins, and Steve Young was a Super Bowl MVP with the San Francisco 49ers. Dilfer was the starting QB for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
The success quarterbacks had once they had departed Tampa used to be a running joke. “Well, wonder how long before he wins a Super Bowl.”
The Bucs haven’t had the best track record in signing free agents, which possibly is tied to the franchise’s futility. They’ve had 26 double-digit losing seasons, including a streak of 12 in a row.
Johnson and Garcia are among their best free-agent signings. They hit big on defensive end Simeon Rice and wide receiver Vincent Jackson, for sure, but the most recent signing of those four was Jackson, and that was eight years ago. And Rice came when the Bucs already had one of the best defenses in the league, so that move made sense.
I can’t blame free agents for ignoring Tampa Bay. It has been mostly synonymous with futility. Money usually trumps everything, but given that, how do you not sign a difference-maker since 2012?
Now, the most successful postseason QB of all time is going to suit up in red and pewter. It’s really not something I gave much thought. I know the Bucs expressed interest, but the Bucs have expressed interest in a lot of guys over the years who chose other places. Feels like almost all of them, to be honest. It just seemed implausible.
I understood Brady to the Chargers. He grew up in California. And plenty of journalists were on the bandwagon for him to go to the West Coast.
I thought Tennessee made the most sense. It was the team that eliminated his from the playoffs in 2019. It has a run game the likes of which Brady has never seen, and a rookie wide receiver who had a 1,000-yard season. Moreover, it has a coach who was a longtime teammate of his and remains a friend in Mike Vrabel.
Brady has no ties of which I’m aware to Bucs coach Bruce Arians or offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. He doesn’t know receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin or tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. He never has spent significant time in Florida.
But here he is. TB in TB.
Welcome to your new pasture, GOAT. And thanks for coming.