The Tampa Bay Buccaneers helmet history can be described as radical, a stark contrast from the NFC East and NFC North teams, many of whom have stuck to tradition. The Bucs, a former NFC Central team, have since moved to the newly created NFC South since 2002, when the NFC Central was renamed the NFC North.
And man, through the decades, does this piece of helmet history get real. So real, that this article will only give an overview from 1976 until today. My greatest hope is to create one that is more in-depth, citing unused concepts and what-if’s far beyond the scope of this article, but definitely one for my unused helmet, jersey, and logo series.
An interesting, interesting history follows, so without further ado, let’s get started on a fascinating history lesson.
Bucco Bruce: 1976-1996
If there’s a so bad it’s good persona in the NFL, Bucco Bruce fit that mold once upon a time. In the beginning, former Bucs’ owner Hugh Culverhouse picked the colors of red, green, orange, and white, but the shade of green resembled the aqua worn by the Miami Dolphins. Instead, Culverhouse opted for a shade of Florida orange, nicknamed creamsicle.
Lamar Sparkman was tasked with designing the team’s first logo, with hopes to create something that didn’t resemble that of the Oakland Raiders. The logo Sparkman came up with involved a sword-biting pirate in a plumed hat, winking.
If you click on the link to the Raiders’ helmet history above, you can clearly see that Sparkman succeeded at his task.
Job well done, Mr. Sparkman.
Becoming the butt of jokes in the sports realm, St. Petersburg Times sportswriter Hubert Mizell nicknamed the caricature Bucco Bruce.
Further, sportswriter Nick Bakay once famously stated: “Bucco Bruce was a pirate who struck fear in the hearts of no one.”
The Bucs wore this helmet from their debut in 1976 to 1996, drawing ire from the NFL universe throughout its entire existence, especially during the team’s formative seasons when the Bucs started off 0-26.
The team grew sick of their original threads and by 1997, started working with the NFL to create a more intimidating and marketable logo and color design.
After considering numerous prototypes, the helmet switched from white to pewter, featuring a red jolly roger perched atop a saber with two crossed sabers beneath it, and a black facemask.
After the 1997 redesign, the Bucs’ fortunes changed on the field. Prior to 1997, the team struggled and in its first twenty years of existence, won just one playoff game and appeared in the playoffs (in one NFC Championship Game) just three times.
From 1997 until 2002, the Bucs made the playoffs five times, appearing in two NFC Championship Games, and ultimately winning the Super Bowl in 2002 over the other pirates of the league, the Oakland Raiders.
After several years of dormancy, the Bucs brought back the Bucco Bruce look in 2009 to be worn as an alternate. Prior to this, the team had completely abandoned the old look, with team management and fans holding understandably negative reviews. However, as with many looks that had long been abandoned to the point of erasure and forgetting of erasure, a rekindling of affection took hold.
From 2009 to 2012, the Bucs sponsored such throwback weekends to the point they completely redesigned the current Raymond James Stadium to orange banners and old fonts and logos to resemble the old Tampa Stadium, the Bucs’ original home.
The Bucs redesigned their helmets and uniforms again in 2014, this time featuring a chrome facemask, the first team in the NFL to do so. The pewter became more metallic, and the logo was updated, now featuring a sleeker and larger jolly roger.
Despite the helmet resembling its 1997-2013 look, the uniforms were also redesigned with the helmet, again becoming the butt of jokes around the NFL, most notably due to the team’s numbering font, which you can view by clicking through to the above link that’ll take you to the team’s jersey article.
Despite the negative fan and critical reaction of the uniforms, reviews on the helmet have been mixed, with some supporting the bolder logo while others criticized it for being too college or arena football-like.
Wow…get rid of the current helmet. It resembles something seen in arena football leagues (see above paragraph). There’s too much flash, and the whole uniform needs to be scrapped. The Bucs had a phenomenal and winning look in the late-1990s and early-2000s. There was no reason to change the look.
I mean, who wants to play for a team these days whose facemasks resemble the handle of a public toilet? Hey, if that’s your thing then great, but for the rest of us, chrome should probably confine itself to public bathrooms.
I am in the minority, having always loved the old Bucco Bruce look, so perhaps even a switch back to the classics in an era many teams tend to be reverting back to older looks, but updated versions of such looks.
So, anything prior to the 2014 redesign would suit me, perhaps even a mixture of both?
Again, I love Bucco Bruce but I think if we held a fan vote today, the 1997-2013 look would win by an overwhelming margin, getting rid of the team’s current eyesore helmet and restoring the darker shade of pewter and smaller jolly roger.
Fans these days may love to have Bucco Bruce back as an alternate, but until the NFL gets rid of its ban on multiple use of helmets throughout the season, we might be stuck with just seeing the roger, unless of course, Nike wishes to plaster Bruce onto the sides of the current helmets, which may or may not be a good idea.
I do know of one good idea, though, and it’s to get rid of the current look and opt for something that became a Super Bowl-winning, instant classic.
Either way, let’s scrap the current.