THE OPTIMIST: The Greatness Of Culverhouse

June 26th, 2011

The Bucs' often despised owner fought his owner comrades to get games televised

You’ve all read THE PESSIMIST, who spews his Bucs-related anger like no other. But Joe brings you THE OPTIMIST

THE OPTIMIST is Nick Houllis, a Bucs fan and an accomplished writer whose steadfast allegiance to the team goes back to the 1970s. Houllis is the founder, creator and guru of, a place Joe goes to get lost in time via Houllis’ stunning video collection.

THE OPTIMIST will shine that positive light in your eyes. Some will love it. Some won’t.

Today, THE OPTIMIST serves up an intriguing history lesson exploring the positive impact of Hugh Culverhouse. Joe learned a few things. Enjoy.

Whenever anyone wants to pin blame on the old Orange Bucs’ 14 years of losing seasons, one word comes to mind: Culverhouse. That’s Hugh Culverhouse, first owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

He has been accused of being cheap, racist and greedy, yet amazingly I’m going to tell you that at one time, Culverhouse was the epitome of what an NFL owner should be!

To be entirely correct, Culverhouse was not even the first owner of the Bucs, or at least he wasn’t supposed to be. Tom McCloskey, a Philadelphia builder was the original franchise winner (Imagine that, a Phily guy owning the Bucs). McCloskey took a closer look at what was involved and passed. The NFL turned to a Jacksonville tax lawyer who made millions in real estate. Culverhouse put $4 million down and bought the Bucs.

Big deal you may say, we knew he had money; but you didn’t know he spent money did you?

Big Names, Big Bucks

At that time, John McKay was like Jimmy Johnson or Steve Spurrier; an innovative coach who created the I formation and his style of the 3-4 that shut down running teams. Culverhouse lured McKay from his cushy home in Southern Californai where he was winning national championships every few years.

Before luring McKay to the Bay Area, Culverhouse got Oakland Raiders GM Ron Wolf to come to the Bucs and fill the same role. “Build a championship team like you built the Raiders.”  So in 1975, the Bucs had their architect, then he set out to develop the right look. Wolf was responsible for building a Bucs team that won a division championship faster than any other franchise ever had, in four years. Wolf would later build the 1990’s Green Bay Packers; and Culverhouse spent well for him.

Culverhouse did not want a ‘toothless pirate’ for a logo, he wanted something classy, something Errol Flynn. Bucco Bruce was born of Tampa Times and Tampa Tribune artist Lamar Sparkman. So don’t think Culverhouse wasn’t capable of conjuring up a team that was tough…at the time, the Bucs were the ONLY uniforms with a hand drawn helmet logo. He wanted it classy, and Florida Orange went over so well, 40 years later we’re celebrating it once a year.

Money was no object back then for Culverhouse, who spent $1.75 million on what was then a state of the art scoreboard capable of showing video tapes and animated action. This was after Culverhouse got through the lease with the Tampa Sports Authority, an 80-page document that took 14 weeks to negotiate, and is a better lease for the public that we have now with Raymond James.

Today, the Glazers keep ALL concessions. Back then, Tampa Sports Authority got some of the revenue, too. Not bad for a cheapskate.

Fighting with the Fins

Culverhouse even caught the ire of fellow owner Joe Robbie, whose Miami Dolphins teams had complained about the ongoing preseason exhibition games against the Bucs; that Tampa Bay players were taking it too seriously, and Robbie didn’t want to play the Bucs anymore.

Then there was the issue where Culverhouse single-handedly changed the blackout rule in favor of us, the Public. Culverhouse okayed the Bucs’ local TV to telecast the Bucs/Dolphins preseason game after it sold out. Robbie was old school, and dead set against this.

Back then owners did not want ANY home games — preseason or regular season — on TV; they felt that would generate last-minute ticket buyers, rather than people buying their tickets ahead of time. How wrong the owners had it, and how right and what a visionary Culverhouse was. He strong-armed Robbie into agreeing to the broadcast and the first ever preseason game was on TV.              

Culverhouse understood what it meant to finance a ‘start up’ before the phrase ever even became popular. He knew you had to spend money to make money, and he wasn’t afraid to do it. His famous phrase on the opening night public address system …”We’re here for one reason and one reason only, to bring the fans great professional football (to Tampa Bay)”…and he meant it.

Doug Williams Debacle

So what happened? Well for starters, Doug Williams.

In 1982, Doug Williams was in his fifth and final season, which saw his completion percentage increase each year. Still, when your rookie percentage is 42 percent, you have nowhere to go but up. Keep in mind though this was before the advent of the West Coast offense, back in a day when you ran the ball and took shots downfield. Williams would throw the ball away to live to throw another day; he was one of the least sacked QBs in the league back then, only going down nine times in 1979.

Then negotiations went bad; each side fired shots at the other via the media, which is why you don’t hear things anymore like this. Williams reportedly wanted $600,000 a year. Top QBs back then were Archie Manning (600k), Ken Stabler (450k), Joe Ferguson (440k) and Steve Bartkowski (410k).  Williams was not up to the level of these Quarterbacks yet, it could be argued, but Williams was a leader, a winner.

He was currently being paid $120,000, and he felt it was because of one reason; he was black. John Elway was a rookie and signed a $1 million contract, as had Dan Fouts. At some point, though, Williams request went up to $850k. Eventually the Bucs offered $600k, but it was too late. The Bucs had signed Jack Thompson, paid him $200,000, then offered Williams an ultimatum; accept the deal by the start of camp, or it’s gone.

So Williams, the Bucs’ quarterback that guided the team to the playoffs three of the past four years, was gone. After he left, the Bucs went 2-14! They traded a No.1 for Steve Deberg a year later, as Jack Thompson did not work out. The Bucs started to lose, and we all know what losing does to a fan base.

In 1986, the Bucs had the No. 1 pick, and wanted Bo Jackson, stellar running back out of Auburn; but Hugh Culverhouse and the Bucs screwed up again. They flew Bo in a private plane and ruined his final eligibility. They then gave him an ultimatum, baseball or football. Doug Williams was telling Bo what to expect from Culverhouse, and Bo chose Kansas City and baseball over Bucs and football.

IF that wasn’t enough, in 1989 Culverhouse claimed the Bucs were losing money, and had to move three home games to Orlando’s Citrus Bowl to expand the local fan base. When Culverhouse passed away, papers showed the Bucs were not only profitable but one of the MOST profitable franchises out there.

His death led to family fights for the franchise that ended with the sale of the Bucs to the highest bidders. In the end, the Culverhouse legacy was a Bucs team that did not even know if it was going to stay in Tampa Bay or not, and then along came the owners known as the Glazers who spent money on the team once again, and turned it into an eventual Super Bowl winning football team.

21 Responses to “THE OPTIMIST: The Greatness Of Culverhouse”

  1. Gringo Dave Says:

    You got to be freaking kidding! Culverhouse was the cheapest, stingiest, stupidest, obnoxious, ugliest, incompetent and most selfish owner in the history of professional sports. He didn’t just hate black players, he despised the fans and his own family. When he died, he was exposed for the freaking immoral tyrant that he was. He fooled his wife in to thinking he was working long hours, so he could go drinking at Malio’s and shacking up with a cocktail waitress. He locked his own family out of their own condominium and denied his own widow all of his assets. He tried to leave every thing he owned to a scummy viper pit of lawyers and his family had to battle in court for their inheritance.

    He drafted Booker freaking Reese #1 because he knew he wouldn’t have to pay him. He drafted Bo Jackson #1 and sabotaged his college career so he wouldn’t have to pay him. He tried to fool Doug Williams into accepting a partnership in the Tampa Sphere high rise office complex that never was built in lieu of salary. I’ll never forgive him for letting Doug go in the 1st year that a freaking Super Bowl was to be played in Tampa freaking Stadium. He brought the stupidest man alive to Tampa, Ray Perkins, to coach the freaking team. He strapped our team with the ugliest uniforms in the history of freaking professional sports so he could parade around in an orange clown suit with his pants pulled up to his freaking nipples. When that immoral bastard breathed his last breath, the Tampa Bay area was able to finally sigh a collective sigh of relief. I just wish I knew where that freaking bastard was buried so I could brave the long lines in the oppressive Florida heat to piss on his freaking grave.

    I think it was best expressed with a billboard appropiately overlooking Malfunction Junction that summed it up simply, “SCREW CULVERHOUSE!”

  2. Dave Says:

    You could make the argument that Williams was damn stubborn and screwed himself. Why those contract negotations went the race card, I don’t know, nor do I really remember if it was legitimate. In the end Williams turned his nose at the Bucs but also the entire NFL, which should reveal a bit about him. Old news, Culverhouse was here 10 years too long.

  3. RastaMon Says:

    “You got to be freaking kidding! Culverhouse was the cheapest, stingiest, stupidest, obnoxious, ugliest, incompetent and most selfish owner ”

    Culverhouse was anything but stupid….his shared insight into NFL finance and tax law set the ground work for the colossal shared wealth for both owners and players….he was certainly cheap

  4. Pruritis Ani Says:

    There is a fine line between being optimistic and being delusional. I think you blurred it even further.

    In regards to the pirate logo… The pirate was more Nathan Lane than Erroll Flynn

  5. Espo Says:

    I was born in 83 so don’t remember any of this. All I know is that I don’t care how fan friendly an owner is if it doesn’t translate to wins.

  6. RastaMon Says:

    “In regards to the pirate logo… The pirate was more Nathan Lane than Erroll Flynn”…I have always specualted the the logo was model after Hugh Jr.

  7. Thomas 2.2 Says:

    There are many similarities between the culverhouse regime and current glazer regime. Both prioritize(d) limited budget over winning- trying to win without committing money to the org.

    I believe that both stay at 32nd in the league in salaries. Also, both eras are littered with blackouts. One thing Hugh wouldnt do would be steal a home game and send it overseas to the detriment of our community. Hugh never sunk that low. If we miss the playoffs again, the record over the last three years will be culverhouse like.

  8. Pruritis Ani Says:

    RastaMon Says:
    June 26th, 2011 at 11:36 am

    “In regards to the pirate logo… The pirate was more Nathan Lane than Erroll Flynn”…I have always specualted the the logo was model after Hugh Jr.

    hahaha.. Does kinda look like him 😀

  9. Jrock Says:

    Seems like there are a lot of longtime fans here! I’m 23 and this was a great look into the Bucs past for me. I really enjoyed the story but I’ll take the high praise of Culverhouse with a grain of salt

  10. Vince Says:

    Also a college guy and it’s nice to read about the history. Are there any books out there on Bucs history that anyone can recommend? I wish the Bucs had stuff on their website.

  11. BucFan941 Says:

    i love the bucs win or lose..but i hope we always win..mark my words..10-6 again

  12. Espo Says:

    Vince, my uncle has a book called Mckay’s Men that you might like. It’s about the ’79 Bucs.

  13. Espo Says:

    I just checked Amazon. $15. Not bad.

  14. niko (The Optimist) Says:

    Thomas 2.2, what are you talking about? The reason there is a Vince Lombardi trophy in One Buc is because the Glazers spent money. They bought every free agent the coaches asked for. We need a WR, they got Bert Emmanuel. We need linemen, got Randall McDaniel and Jeff Christy. Bert only helped create a new rule, so they paid 53 mil for Keyshawn. The list goes on. Your forgetting only two years ago the Bucs went out and spent money to get the best Tight End (and renegotiate his contract, when everyone on boards bitched about that too), best running back available (Ward), best kicker out there and paid him 2.5 million. The problem is, these guys didn’t pan out. Thats why the Glazers are going back to the way they laid the foundation before, Draft your core players, Spend money to resign the good ones, THEN buy free agents to augment your roster.
    Redskins spend the most money of any team, what do they have to show for it?

    Vince…check out the history section on my site, Its a 10,000 word history on the team. McKays men is an awesome book by Denis Crawford.

  15. niko (The Optimist) Says:

    Also, Id like to point out, we all know about the cheapness that is Hugh, the point of this article is to point out that at one point, Hugh was NOT looked upon that way, and was in fact looked upon as a class owner.

  16. BigMacAttack Says:


    I have to disagree with you on another 10-6 Season, but I love the optimism. I’m saying they’re going to go 13-3 this season and straight to the Big Show.

    Nice post and a good history lesson. As far as the little twerp goes above, you’d be better off beating your head against a block wall repeatedly than trying to convince him. He speaks a different language, something along the lines of Farsi, Hakka, Igbo and Patwa combined. Be content knowing the rest of us get it and appreciate your work.

  17. Buzzsaw Says:

    Sorry, I can’t agree with you. I lean more toward Gringo Dave. I’m not sure who you think looked upon Culverhouse as a class owner. I know the fans here thought he was a no-class owner. He might have been a brilliant tax attorney but he was a MISERABLE NFL owner. So please do not attempt to re-write history. I didn’t have season tickets back then but I went to almost every home game in the 80s (it wasn’t hard to get tickets). I finally got so disgusted with Culverhouse that I swore I would never give him another dollar of my money. I watched the team on TV and listened on the radio but I never went to another game until the ownership turnover in the mid-90s. The guy was so cheap he wouldn’t even hire a real General Manager. He had a know-nothing flunky known locally as Dr. Death who filled that role. You probably remember who I’m talking about. (I’ve tried hard to forget him and apparently it worked.) I met the Glazer brothers on a flight from Dallas to Tampa shortly after they bought the team. We talked for about 2 hours and I was really impressed with how badly they wanted to build a winning team in Tampa. What a breath of fresh air! I still believe that. Culverhouse was a piece of Bucs history I’d just as soon forget.

  18. Capt.Tim Says:

    In the very beginnig, I might believe Culverhouse wanted the team to be a contender. But for the majority of the time he owned it, he cared only about one thing- impressing his buddy’s on the NFL Financial committee. He proved every year how to make the most money. That was his goal. He made both the Team and the community a laughing stock for decades.

    I have no fond memories of him. The best thing about his ownership is that it ended. Like Buzzsaw, I have heard first hand the Glazer’s passion to win. Thank the lord for our current ownership

  19. niko (The Optimist) Says:

    Buzzsaw, again, you prove my point. From the 80s… as you say, your correct.
    But before that, in 1975 when he took over the franchise that was lost when McCloskey let it go, through the building of it, it was a different story.

    After the 80s started, I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Hey BigMacAttack, thanks. Please contact me if you can on my website.

  20. Gus Says:

    2 Points NOT Here that are important: Williams’ contract expired as his wife was dying in January 1983, leaving him to care for his infant daughter. Hugh tired to squeeze him then, after he was the lowest paid starter in the NFL in 1982 (and had made the playoffs 3 of the last 4 years). It was terrible PR and just wrong; he was the team leader and had made the Bucs enormously popular locally and among african american fans nationwide (“Black America’s Team”). Instead of negotiating with him, the Bucs traded their first round draft pick for Jack Thompson (who had a big contract, and was making more than Williams as a back-up in Cincinatti); that ended the negotiations. Williams was forced to sign with the USFL (no real free agency in the NFL those days).

    Culverhouse was probably a racist personally, and certainly operated the team with a plantation mentality. But his original hires (Wolff and McKay) were the most progressive men in their roles in football at the time (McKay’s thrashing of Bear Bryant is credited with integrating the SEC), and the early Bucs teams gave more chances to black players than any other team in the league. To this he deserves credit. Culverhouse went to the dark side after the 1982 strike and when he had to siphon off Bucs profits to his mistress in New Orleans, on whom he spent lavishly in his later years.

  21. PaceMaker Says:

    Very interesting – thanks.