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Malcolm Glazer did best work out of spotlight

Bob Leffler hadn't seen Malcolm Glazer in years.

They had been friends and business associates years before Glazer bought the Bucs in 1995. But when Glazer suffered a pair of strokes in 2006, Leffler said he stopped showing up at games. One of the world's most private billionaires turned more elusive — even to longtime friends such as Leffler.

"I've been missing him for a while now," Leffler said.

So when Glazer died Wednesday at age 85, Leffler could remember him as he was when the Bucs were at their peak and in the way few in Tampa Bay got to know him: a brilliant, tireless businessman who delivered small acts of kindness out of the spotlight.

Glazer earned his fortune the hard way, once telling the Baltimore Sun that success required 80-hour work weeks. He scribbled notes all over the Wall Street Journal. He would listen intently to associates even though Leffler could see his mind churning through another idea.

Leffler soaked up every bit of information possible. He credits Glazer with showing him how to act in boardrooms. Speak as if everything you say will become public. Don't get involved in a fight that doesn't concern you. Accept the problems you can't fix and move on.

When Leffler came to Glazer with a marketing slogan — A New Day in Tampa Bay — before his first season as the Bucs owner, Leffler didn't need a fancy presentation or focus groups or colorful charts. He just pitched his idea on the field.

Glazer liked it. With the slogan in place that fall, the Bucs enjoyed the highest attendance boost in the league.

"He taught me what the big time was about," Leffler said. "It wasn't about being braggadocios. It was about accomplishing things."

Glazer didn't fit the schmooze-over-a-round-of-golf image of NFL owners, which Leffler believes might have cost him a shot at landing an expansion team for Baltimore.

He bought nice homes and cars but flew in coach. He welcomed celebrities such as former tennis star Monica Seles into his suite but didn't pose for pictures with them on the sideline. He enjoyed walking through airports without being recognized.

"He delighted in the fact he could be anonymous," Leffler said. "He didn't have to put on airs."

So when Glazer helped his friends, he did so privately. He helped Leffler through personal problems. He bought Super Bowl tickets for board members.

The enduring image from former Bucs is the good-luck handshake he gave them before every game with what tight end Dave Moore called the softest hand he has ever shaken. But even that gesture was done in Glazer's private way. He didn't do it on the field, in front of TV cameras and thousands of fans. He did it in the closed locker room, where only his team could see.

"That's something that you respect," former Bucs running back Warrick Dunn said. "It wasn't about him. It was about the team."

Leffler had eight years to prepare himself for Wednesday. He still values Glazer's wisdom and memories; a photo of the Bucs' Super Bowl ring presentation still hangs in the office of Leffler's marketing firm in Baltimore.

Leffler said he hopes the city remembers Glazer as fondly as he does. If Tampa Bay doesn't regard him as a hero, Leffler said, it's only because Glazer was too private to let it in and show it everything he did.

"I would hope that Tampa would realize that with no Malcolm Glazer," Leffler said, "there are no Bucs."

Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com or on Twitter at @MBakerTBTimes.

Malcolm Glazer did best work out of spotlight 05/31/14 [Last modified: Saturday, May 31, 2014 11:41pm]

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