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Tampa Bay Buccaneers great Jimmie Giles pays dearly for his success


the story begins on Dec. 16, 1979, on a rain-soaked football field in Tampa. Jimmie Giles is having the time of his life doing something that seems rather ridiculous for a grown man:

He is rolling around in the mud.

Euphoria makes us do things we otherwise couldn't conjure, and that was very much the case during Giles' moment of elation.

These days, however, the situation has changed.

Now Giles is forced to confront an enormous daily task: getting out of bed.

His joints ache. His back hurts. The epidurals help but only so much. All told, the process will take a half-hour.

For Giles, football has, literally, provided heavy doses of both joy and pain. The best tight end in Buccaneers history, he chased a dream then lived it. But sometimes, there are too many nightmarish moments to enjoy what was a great ride.

"I don't think you can reconcile all that," he said. "That's why I say if I had known all this, there's no way I would've played football."

Today, when Giles becomes the third member of the Bucs' Ring of Honor, he likely will recall the many unforgettable memories brought about by his career. But he can't escape what has become his difficult reality.

"I see other guys my age (who didn't play), and they don't go through all that stuff," said Giles, whose name will join Lee Roy Selmon and John McKay at Raymond James Stadium. "But when you look at the memories of it all, the thrills, the thrills I know my kids got from it, that's how I put it in perspective."

There were few moments more thrilling than that December afternoon in 1979, when the Bucs clinched their first playoff berth with a 3-0 win over the Chiefs at Tampa Stadium in a torrential downpour.

"Prior to 1979, the stigma with the Bucs was losing," Giles, 57, said. "But … that was the game that defined us. You couldn't call us losers anymore. I can remember being so overwhelmed, I just fell on the ground and started thanking God.

"Then (linebacker) David Lewis came and jumped on top of me, and we were down there rolling around in the mud. We needed to win that game, or we were going to need some help from other teams. Of course, I told them had they thrown me the ball a little more, maybe we wouldn't have been in that situation."

Indeed, throwing to Giles usually worked out well. He averaged 14.5 yards per catch — a statistic he's most proud of — better than even Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow's 12.5.

Giles caught a franchise-record 34 touchdowns in nine seasons in Tampa Bay, but being a well-rounded player was paramount. Giles played in an era where few tight ends were primary receiving targets, unlike today. So Giles made decleating defensive ends an art.

"I prided myself on being a complete tight end," Giles said. "If I didn't make '28 pitch' work, it wasn't going to. They tried to get me to make it work … with (Rams future Hall of Fame defensive end) Jack Youngblood down in a three-point stance in the NFC Championship Game. I said, 'Man, this is tough.' But I did my best."

Know why Giles wore No. 88?

"It's the most complete number," he said. "There are no holes in No. 88."

Giles retells these tales and can't help but smile. But the conversation inevitably shifts from the prime of his career to its aftermath. His physical challenges — two bad knees, the degenerative disc in his back, the resulting numbness in his right arm — have significantly impacted his quality of life.

Adding to the frustration is his ongoing legal fight for increased benefits from the NFL Players Retirement Plan, which he believes owes him payments commensurate with his condition.

The Social Security Administration in 1996 determined Giles to be disabled for employment purposes. But the plan's administrators argued his disability is not a result of his football career, but obesity. The NFL's new collective bargaining agreement eliminated obesity as a consideration in determining benefits, but Giles' case predates it.

Giles has filed suit in federal court. He's currently awaiting a ruling that could increase his meager current benefits by as much as $70,000 per year.

"Guys like Jimmie, literally, gave everything they had for the game, and boy are they paying for it," said Giles' attorney, John Hogan, who works with several organizations championing the causes of retired players.

Giles doesn't dwell on it. He's too busy talking proudly about his three kids and the wife he followed to Alcorn State during the early '70s.

And then there's his faith.

"I've always been a person who believes in God," Giles said. "Just because you're in a tough situation doesn't mean you can't be happy.

"It's been tough. But we've done pretty well. We've gotten by. I've had the opportunity over the years to meet great people. When we were struggling over the years to get business for our insurance business, some people came through for me and my family."

Giles' sons run the business these days. He's just not up to it.

Today, the friends, family and teammates coming to honor Giles could top 200. They appreciate both the player and the man. He can't wait to see them.

Today, he might feel a little like he did on that rainy, muddy afternoon in 1979. For at least a day, it might seem like it was all worthwhile.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers great Jimmie Giles pays dearly for his success 12/03/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 3, 2011 7:57pm]
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