Tampa Bay's biggest sports scandals

DIRK SHADD   |   Times (2007)
DIRK SHADD | Times (2007)
Published Oct. 18, 2015

The eyes of the NFL focus today on a fierce rivalry and one of the most notorious scandals in sports: • Colts vs. Patriots. • Deflategate. • From point shaving to Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, from overage Little Leaguers to over-medicated pros, scandal weaves its way through the sports world and tarnishes some of our heroes. • Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's suspension, appeal and battle in the courts was merely a recent high-profile example that gets a fresh round of attention this weekend. • But the whole affair reminds us of a few of the tawdry tales from Tampa Bay's sports history.

Parcells leaves Bucs at altar — twice

After the 1991 season and again 10 years later, Bill Parcells was very close to becoming the Bucs' head coach only to change his mind at the last minute.

"I couldn't make the commitment that I knew it took to do the job the way I know it should be done," explained Parcells, who had a deal in place even before the Bucs' 2001 playoffs ended with a loss to Philadelphia, which brought an end to Tony Dungy's run.

In the end, the Bucs paid a heavy ransom — $8 million, two first-round picks and two second-rounders — to land Jon Gruden, who would lead them to their only Super Bowl win in his first season. So that worked out well in the short-term, though the Bucs haven't won a playoff game in 13 seasons since.

MLB blocks Giants' move to St. Petersburg

Years before the Devil Rays came to Tampa Bay, Giants owner Bob Lurie was willing to sell his team in 1992 for $115 million, but National League owners voted against the move — the Giants stayed in San Francisco.

The Tampa Bay area had come up short on several other efforts to relocate an existing team — closest with the White Sox in 1988. St. Petersburg eventually was awarded an expansion team to launch in 1998.

Bucs insist on drafting Bo No. 1 overall

Auburn's Bo Jackson had made it clear he wouldn't play for the Bucs if they drafted him in 1986. Tampa Bay drafted him anyway. He held firm, never signed and started playing pro baseball. The next year, he was drafted in the seventh round by the Raiders and became a two-sport standout — for the Royals in baseball and the Raiders.

Injuries ultimately cut short Jackson's career, but merely mention his name to a Bucs fan over 40 years old, and you'll open an old wound that never quite heals.

The blurry fax

Tampa Bay lost a promising young player in free agency in 1997 after trying to argue that the Flyers' offer sheet to Chris Gratton, then only 22, had numbers smudged and was thus invalid. An arbitrator ruled that the fax was legible and the Lightning didn't match the Flyers' offer.

Tampa Bay got Gratton back via trade two seasons later, and he came back for another Lightning encore in 2007.

University of Tampa abruptly disbands football program

With growing debt and the threat of the new Bucs encroaching on fans, the UT board of trustees voted to disband the program immediately in February 1975.

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"Death penalty for Spartans — now," read the headline in the St. Petersburg Times.

"I'm bitter … I feel betrayed and deceived," coach Dennis Fryzel said of the decision.

Reportedly, 80 percent of the UT faculty signed a petition asking for the program to end. It was more than 20 years before college football returned to Tampa when USF launched its program, its first game coming in 1997.

An Olympic-sized rift

When Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman left Marty St. Louis off the initial Canadian roster for the Olympics, the slight set off the Lightning captain enough that he asked for a trade and was eventually dealt to the Rangers.

St. Louis, who was in his 13th season with Tampa Bay and a key part of the team's 2004 Stanley Cup championship team, hurt his standing with fans. But the Lightning got right wing Ryan Callahan, who signed an extension, as well as a first-round draft pick. St. Louis has since retired.

Naimoli's continued PR gaffes

In the Devil Rays' early years, Vince Naimoli took exception to a Times satire that compared him to Tony Soprano and pulled all the newspaper's racks from Tropicana Field. In 2004, he wrote to Hillsborough County complaining about a "pesky raccoon" at his sprawling Avila home, complaining about the property taxes he paid without "equal treatment" to help catch the animal.

That same year, when his wife was stopped by St. Petersburg police for a traffic violation, he was accused of throwing "quite a temper tantrum" and yelling, "Do you know who I am? I'm Vincent Joseph Naimoli, owner of the Devil Rays. That's my wife!" Naimoli denied saying that in a 2009 book.

Gooden's rise and fall

Tampa native Dwight Gooden was a superstar with the 1980s Mets, joining the majors at age 19, dominating with 24 wins in 1985 and winning a World Series in 1986. But he was arrested in Tampa in December 1986 after fighting with police, then tested positive for cocaine in spring training the next year.

An All-Star four times before he was 25, he never earned that honor again in a career limited by alcohol, drugs and arrests. He still threw a no-hitter with the Yankees, won three World Series rings and pitched until 2000, including eight starts with the Devil Rays in his final season.

Leavitt fired

Jim Leavitt had been USF's only coach for 13 seasons, but when he was accused of grabbing walk-on Joel Miller and slapping him in the face twice at halftime of a 2009 game, he was fired after a university investigation.

A year later, Leavitt ended up with a settlement from USF — $2.75 million — and got back into coaching with the 49ers. He returned to college football this fall as defensive coordinator at Colorado. USF hasn't played in a bowl game in its past four seasons.


The rare and dangerous staph infection hit the Bucs' training facility in the summer of 2013 — Carl Nicks, a former Pro Bowl guard, contracted it as he recovered from a toe injury and played only two more games before retiring. Lawrence Tynes, who was to be the Bucs' kicker in 2013, hasn't played since his MRSA infection and filed a lawsuit against the team, citing "unsanitary conditions."

Tynes' old team, the New York Giants, are battling a separate MRSA infection this fall that could end the career of tight end Daniel Fells, who might have his foot amputated.

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