Romano: Glazer was best thing to happen to sports in Tampa Bay

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, left, and owner Malcolm Glazer celebrate their 2003 Super Bowl win with the NFL's Lombardi Trophy. [Times (2003)]
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, left, and owner Malcolm Glazer celebrate their 2003 Super Bowl win with the NFL's Lombardi Trophy. [Times (2003)]
Published May 29, 2014

They say he was quite funny, although few would ever know.

They say he could be a sentimental man, and that his heart was surprisingly soft. That, too, must be taken on faith.

For, around here, Malcolm Glazer might as well have been a rumor. The name was recognizable and the face familiar, but the man himself was a mystery.

He was an outsider who never sought our love and, subsequently, never gained our trust. Even today, in the quiet reflection of his passing, there is little we really know of Glazer.

Except for this:

He was the best thing to happen to sports in Tampa Bay.

You may argue the point, but you cannot dismiss the possibility. The Buccaneers were our first, and for the longest time our only, major franchise, and it was under Glazer's stewardship that the team rose in both prominence and value.

In the end, that distinction should be enough. It does not matter that he was not beloved, or that he was occasionally berated. It is no longer worth debating whether he was actually introverted, or merely sneaky.

Glazer was a businessman, not a public servant. And when the Bucs became his business in 1995, he turned this joke of a franchise into one of the most valuable commodities in sports. Along the way, he helped prop up Tampa Bay's withering reputation as a sports market.

Or don't you remember the Bucs in the early '90s? If they weren't the worst franchise in the NFL, it was only because the Saints had a head start.

They bungled coaching searches and draft picks. Their mascot was wimpy and their uniforms were hideous. In the 12 years before the franchise was sold, the Bucs lost 10 or more games every season. Fans were so turned off by 1994 that Tampa Bay was drawing less than 35,000 to some games.

This is the mess Glazer stepped into in 1995. The Bucs were on the market and dangerously close to leaving on the next shopping cart. Peter Angelos had made an offer of more than $200 million to purchase the team and move it to Baltimore. Another Baltimore-area ownership group was also in pursuit.

All the while, the Tampa Bay business community stood by quietly. The best offer among locals was in the $160 million range, and that was rejected.

By agreeing to pay $192 million — which was then a record for a sports franchise — Glazer effectively rescued the Bucs for Tampa Bay.

Of course, there is no sense in sugarcoating what came next. The Glazer family had a ridiculously short honeymoon in Tampa Bay, but that was because they were flirting with other communities before leaving the reception line.

The Glazers signed a purchase order for the team in January, closed on the deal in June, and were threatening to move to Orlando by November.

This was to be our first lesson in dealing with Malcolm Glazer. When it came to money, he wasn't concerned with niceties or apologies. He didn't care what you said, only what you could afford.

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Information, to him, was a form of currency. And so it was doled out only if he derived some benefit in return.

If this made him the most unpopular guy on the street corner, well, isn't that why God made gated mansions?

The thing is, all the time he was operating with a to-heck-with-image attitude, Glazer was usually right.

He may have been a bully when it came to the stadium referendum, but Raymond James has turned into quite the community investment.

He also gave Tony Dungy his first opportunity to be a head coach after a half-dozen other teams appeared to exploit him as a minority interview.

And, though the Glazers bungled Dungy's dismissal years later, the end result was the hiring of Jon Gruden and a Super Bowl title.

Not a bad legacy for a guy who looked like he never threw a ball in his life. Almost from the moment he bought the team, the Bucs have been winners on both the field and in Forbes. Glazer spent money and he resisted the urge to micromanage, which is, pretty much, the definition of a good sports owner.

Could he have been more forthcoming? Absolutely. Could he have been less confrontational with local leaders? Certainly. Would you have felt better if he and his sons ventured down from the ivory tower more often? Probably.

You might even argue that he was just as stingy with a dollar as Hugh Culverhouse. Or that his business strategies were as heavy-handed as Vince Naimoli's. In a broad sense, you may be right. But here's the difference:

Glazer won. And winning forgives all manner of sins.

Recent years have not been as successful — at least not in the bleachers or on the scoreboard — but it is also clear that Malcolm has not been in charge of day-to-day decisions for a very long time. If you want to quibble about Raheem Morris or Bruce Allen or Greg Schiano or Josh Freeman, you should direct your complaints toward the next generation of Glazers.

For Malcolm, in many ways, was our Wizard of Oz. The man who, years ago, stood behind the curtain pulling levers, pushing buttons and hiding from us all. A smallish man made larger by the mystery of his true intentions.

Maybe, behind closed doors, he was the life of the party. I wouldn't know. Perhaps he cried at sad movies. I wouldn't know that, either. It wasn't important enough to Glazer to let us see, so, in the end, I suppose it wasn't necessary for us to know.

But if you measure your sports by the bottom line, if you believe wins and losses are the best indicator of success, then you know this:

We were lucky to have Malcolm Glazer.

Whoever he was.