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Franchise dips its toe into its pool of history

On any given Sunday, a former Buc can walk into Raymond James Stadium and feel absolutely no connection to the team he played for. Nothing is how he remembers it.

There are no signs the franchise even existed before 1995. No ring of honor or mention of the team's greatest player, Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon. The uniform, colors, logo - everything is different.

It is not an oversight. Owner Malcolm Glazer wanted to distance the team he purchased 11 years ago from the one that lost its first 26 games.

"You really don't know where you're going until you know where you come from," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "Honoring history is something we need to do."

The only link to the past is almost subliminal. Smack dab in the middle of the Bucs logo, with the skull and crossed swords, is an orange football. It is Tampa Bay orange, put there when the team changed uniforms in 1997 to pacify purists who preferred the old to the new.

Before unveiling their red and pewter look, the Bucs had a ceremony at the Pier in St. Petersburg. From the HMS Bounty, they made Bucco Bruce, the knife-chewing pirate with the feather in his hat, walk the plank. In reality, an orange and white flag with the logo was tossed overboard.

This weekend, it bobbles back to the surface.

At the urging of Brooks and other players and organized by Jill Hobbs, the franchise's only remaining original employee, the Glazers are hosting the first alumni gathering. More than 100 players, spanning the club's 31-year history, participated. Friday, some watched practice. Saturday, they toured the new training facility, played in a golf tournament at Innisbrook and attended a banquet at the stadium.

Selmon, linebacker Hardy Nickerson and running back James Wilder will be honorary captains today, and all alumni will be recognized at halftime.

"I think what Derrick and those guys are really saying is the fact that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't originate in 1995," ex-quarterback Doug Williams said.

"At the end of the day, you say we got the Lombardi Trophy over here in '02. But in '76 and '77, we went 0-26. We started in 1976, and in '79, we were in the NFC Championship Game. In seven years, we had been to the playoffs three times. That's the connection. You can't disconnect. It's history."

Williams was offered a coaching job by Tony Dungy but turned it down when it became a quality- control position. Dungy extended his hand to many former players. Coach Jon Gruden, whose father, Jim, was a Bucs assistant in the '80s, also has been an advocate for the team's alumni events.

"This is a huge step forward for our football organization to have a tradition," Gruden said.

"You're standing down on the sidelines at Pittsburgh. You're standing on the sidelines at Dallas, and you just smell the tradition. You feel the tradition. You're proud of the tradition that they have. And I think we've had some great players."

Ring of honor

The Bucs had a Krewe of Honor, in which Williams, Selmon and Ricky Bell were "enshrined." Essentially, their portrait was part of a mural at Tampa Stadium. But when the stadium was demolished, so was the Krewe.

Go to almost any other stadium, and you see retired numbers and/or the names of players emblazoned on the walls. Not in Tampa Bay.

"This weekend is a big step," Brooks said. "Hopefully, it will lead to a ring of honor of some sort. It's not about me (Warren) Sapp and (John) Lynch. It's about the guys of the past. It's way too early to write about us."

There are no plans for a ring of honor, according to team officials, but events such as this might accelerate discussions.

"I think it's important we take first steps first," chief operating officer Eric Land said. "The first step is to make sure this weekend not only is successful from the standpoint of our fans being able to recognize the alumni, but the alumni being able to enjoy all the events we have planned; and then from there make some decisions going forward about what we'll do down the road."

Putting players to work

The economics of pro football have changed. Many former players don't have to work when their career ends. But that's still a small percentage. And many would like to remain in the NFL in some capacity.

The Bucs haven't been trailblazers in that area, either. Williams returned three years ago as a personnel executive. Former running back Reggie Cobb is a college scout. Former safety Eric Vance is director of development. Linebackers Scot Brantley and Nickerson and defensive tackle David Logan, who died in 1999, have been radio analysts.

"I've always thought that ex-players should have an opportunity, if there's an opening, to work for the team, whether it's in scouting or wherever," Williams said. "Unfortunately, I don't think it's happened at the level (needed.)

"There are guys my age or a little younger who would love to be in scouting and would love to get a chance to coach and so forth."

Throwbacks

Brooks and others have pushed the Glazers to allow the Bucs to wear the orange uniforms during a game. So far, it has been futile.

Brantley regrets giving away his orange gear when the team changed colors. Punter Mark Royals, who wore both uniforms, wishes he had an orange jersey to wear when he is introduced today and hopes the team wears them for a game.

"It reaches back to where your franchise came from," he said. "It signifies to everybody - the community, the fans, the players, the ex-players - this is what our franchise is all about, and we embrace it.

"It's more of a celebration of the process it took to get where we are now."

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