TAMPA — For years, before Malcolm Glazer's health problems took him away from the team he so proudly owned, Bucs players looked forward to a warm, personal greeting from him each Sunday before kickoff.
"You would always see him come into the locker room, the legendary handshake and well wishes before the game and the celebrations afterward," former linebacker Derrick Brooks said Wednesday. "He was always one to respect our space and yet let us know how proud he was of our work."
Glazer died Wednesday at age 85, having bought the Bucs in 1995 and helped turn a struggling franchise into Super Bowl champions seven years later. Two strokes in 2006 took him away from the interaction he enjoyed, but his legacy stands as tall as Raymond James Stadium and he's remembered as an icon in Tampa's sports history.
"He was responsible, I think, for the Buccaneers turning the corner," former coach Jon Gruden said. "He improved everything about the organization, from their image to their colors to their reputation. … I think he deserves a tremendous amount of credit."
And yet Glazer is best remembered as someone who shunned the spotlight so many NFL owners relish, who was as quiet as he was successful, with the Bucs and all his varied business holdings.
"He never sought the light," former Bucs general manager Rich McKay said. "He wanted to be successful and wanted to be close to his family. Those were the important things to him, and I always found that to be tremendously impressive. He never sought the credit that others do at times."
McKay said it was important to Glazer that he "support the individuals, not just the franchise," which is why he would come down from the owner's box to talk to players, and why so many of them cherished those conversations as well.
"He was consistent about it," former Bucs running back Mike Alstott said. "It was each and every Sunday, he was with us. And the players, we looked forward to that. Mr. Glazer really did a lot to help out our players and the community and to bring a winning tradition. It really did change the Buccaneers forever."
Three of Glazer's sons — Brian, Ed and Joel — have run the team's day-to-day operations, and the Bucs made clear Wednesday that the family's estate succession plans would assure that the team stays with the Glazers "for generations." He purchased the Bucs for $192 million — then a record for an NFL team — and Forbes recently estimated the franchise's value now at more than $1 billion.
Brooks said Glazer will be remembered for his confidence to make difficult, even unpopular decisions. Glazer both hired and fired coach Tony Dungy, bringing in Gruden in 2002; he won a Super Bowl championship in his first season.
"I remember some of the more serious moments, when he had to hire Coach Dungy," Brooks said. "He took a risk. It was an unpopular decision at the time but it was the right decision. In the same breath, his decision to move away from Coach Dungy and to Jon Gruden, we were at a point as a team when we needed new leadership and although it was unpopular, he understood that."
The threat of losing the Bucs to another city prompted a stadium referendum and the building of Raymond James Stadium, which has hosted two Super Bowls. McKay said that move facilitated so many major steps the Bucs would take forward.
"The way he guided us through the negotiation, the art of the deal, that led us to keeping the franchise in Tampa, he deserves credit for that," McKay said. "It was a stabilizing of the franchise through the stadium that gave us the opportunity to be successful."
In the years before he purchased the team, the Bucs had gone 12 years without a playoff berth, or so much as a winning record. When Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl, it was in their fifth playoff appearance in six years.
Glazer's reputation was well-earned in NFL circles, with tributes coming Wednesday from across the state and the country, and from the league's offices in New York. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell called Glazer "the guiding force behind the building of a Super Bowl champion organization."
"Malcolm's commitment to the Bucs, the NFL and the people of the Tampa Bay region are the hallmarks of his legacy," Goodell said in a statement.
Times staff writer Matt Baker contributed to this report.