Smash Mouth Defense Paved The Way In Tampa
By Dave Ford
It would be an understatement to say the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have never been known as an offensive juggernaut. In fact, even during their Super Bowl year in 2002, they averaged a pedestrian 21.6 points per game. However, it is the other side of the ball for which the Bucs have in fact been known for over a decade. It is called smash mouth defense.
Although it took 26 years for Tampa to completely grow into its defensive identity, the molding of the defensive-minded franchise began with its first ever draft pick – Lee Roy Selmon – an All-American monster defensive end from Oklahoma. Five years later in 1981, the Buccaneers took All-American LB Hugh Green from Pittsburgh. While the organization got a taste of postseason success early in its existence, most notably in 1979 when the Bucs charged all the way to the NFC Championship Game before losing to the Los Angeles Rams 9-0, it struggled mightily to be taken seriously as a team that was committed to winning.
It was not until 1996 when Tony Dungy was hired away from Minnesota to become the team’s new head coach that things began to turn around for the better. And it was then that the foundation of a hard-nosed defense began to take shape. Three years earlier, Tampa took a nasty hitter by the name of John Lynch to anchor its secondary. Then in back-to-back years, the Bucs picked up two Florida boys – DT Warren Sapp and LB Derrick Brooks – to hold down the point of attack. The final piece of the defensive puzzle came in the form of CB Ronde Barber.
While many other players contributed to the construction of a champion in Tampa, including the likes of Hardy Nickerson, Brian Kelly, Simeon Rice, Shelton Quarles, Donnie Abraham and Alshermond Singleton, it was the core of Selmon, Green, Lynch, Sapp, Brooks and Barber that combined to bring not only a winning tradition and mentality, but more importantly, the Lombardi Trophy to the fans of the Buccaneers.