The Insurmountable Four

July 3rd, 2019


From a sports writing perspective, my timing couldn’t have been worse.

United Press International transferred me from New York to Tampa in early 1985, so I began covering the Bucs that fall.

Two franchise icons had just retired — Lee Roy Selmon and John McKay. Tampa Bay had just gone 8-24 in the previous two seasons, but at least the Bucs were interesting because McKay always had a wisecrack worth writing about and Selmon was still making Pro Bowls.

The only two times I saw Selmon play in person came during the 1979 postseason, when UPI sent me to cover the Bucs against the Eagles and Rams. Tampa Bay’s defense played very well in both games as the Bucs came up one game short of the Super Bowl in only the fourth year of the franchise.

In ’85, the Bucs promptly went 2-14 under Leeman Bennett in each of my first two seasons in Tampa, highlighted by the Bo Jackson draft fiasco.

Still, I’ve been privileged to watch some great Buc players over the years. While the NFL celebrates its centennial season, it’s worth noting that Derrick Brooks (#97) and Selmon (#98) made the list of the top 100 players of all time in a 2010 poll conducted by NFL Network.

Those two surely belong on the franchise’s Mount Rushmore, leaving two more sports at the top.

Let’s start with Selmon, the first draft pick in Buc history and arguably the team’s premier player. As the right defensive end in a suffocating 3-4 alignment, Selmon faced constant double teams.

Every down. Every snap.

Yet he still holds the franchise record for career sacks (78.5) and Selmon was the focal point for Tampa Bay’s first great defensive team, the 1979 club that allowed the fewest points and yards in the league.

The Greatest?

Make room for Mr. Brooks on Mount Rushmore. Dubbed “The Don,” by his grateful teammates, Brooks was an extraordinary technician who never got his due as a fierce competitor.

On the field, he talked as much trash as Warren Sapp. He just wasn’t as demonstrative as his larger-than-life roommate. Given that I missed the Selmon era, Brooks ranks as the best player I’ve seen in a Buc uniform.

Sapp isn’t far behind.

Making an NFL All-Decade team is quite an honor. Sapp made two of ’em, joining Bruce Smith, Reggie White, Bob Lilly and Merlin Olsen as the only defensive linemen to be honored in such a manner.

That’s some company.

Sapp played rough and he played hard, but he wasn’t a dirty player. He wrecked more offensive game plans that you can count and he did it his way — fearless, unapologetic and unforgettable.

The Only Debate

Here’s where it gets sticky. Some like John Lynch, some like Ronde Barber to round out our quartet. There are strong arguments to be made for both, but I lean toward No. 20.

Barber became a full-time starter in 1999, which just happens to be the season the Bucs averaged less than 17 points per game and still went 11-5. Why? Only four times in 18 games, including two playoff matchups, did Tampa Bay allow more than 17 points.

Barber played 241 games in a Buc uniform, compared to 164 for Lynch, and he didn’t miss a game in his final 15 seasons, despite an array of injuries. He also turned in the biggest play in franchise history (just ask Donovan McNabb) and Barber’s versatility is off the charts.

While Lynch has been a Hall of Fame finalist in each of the past six years, Barber can’t even get in the room for discussion. Let’s hope that oversight gets rectified in seven months, when voters meet in Miami.

There you have it … Selmon, Brooks, Sapp and Barber. See any offensive players in that group? Perhaps Mike Evans can make a case down the line.

At the moment, Mount Rushmore appears insurmountable.

29 Responses to “The Insurmountable Four”

  1. 813bucboi Says:

    cant argue with any of that….

    GO BUCS!!!!!

  2. Magadude Says:

    Spot on, Ira. I was actually here in ’79, and saw LeeRoy play a lot, and be part of this community along with his brother Dewey. I have to wonder if LeeRoy and Dewey (two streets in West Tampa a few blocks east of the RayJay are named after them. Heck of a coincidence if not. LeeRoy was larger than life in every way. Man, this community misses him. Brooks is clear close second. Then Barber. Sapp doesn’t get anywhere close to LeeRoy, but yeah, he’s probably #4 for his time as a player. Now, some others to consider. I would consider #88 Jimmy Giles in there. #12 Doug Williams…pretty darn good and broke though a lot of the race barriers still poisonng the NFL. And then there is the guy who tried so hard and died so young…#42 Ricky Bell. Took so much grief from fans and in the end he’d been sick for a while. RIP, Rokcy. But those three were instumental in getting the Bucs off the laughing stock list and into the Playoffs.

  3. Bucnjim Says:

    There is no debate Ronde Barber made the single most valuable play in Buccaneer history! If the Eagles scored instead of Barber taking it to the house for a pick 6 they would have won two Superbowls instead of one. How many records does Barber hold as well?

  4. 813bucboi Says:

    that INT ronde made vs philly was one of the all time greatest plays in nfl history!!!!!

    but i have to give a big shout out to joe jurevicius…..the play he made vs philly was HUGE!!!!!

    the old man literally cried when the clock read 00:00….lol….

    GO BUCS!!!!!!

  5. Bucnjim Says:

    Yes that was a glorious day and those two were real life superheroes to all the fans who suffered years of disappointment.

  6. Bucnjim Says:

    I’ve mentioned Jurevicius in a bunch of other posts so not to minimize his huge contribution to that win.

  7. Bradentonbuc Says:

    Agree Ira! I would put Barber over Lynch for sure. Hopefully this Johns year

  8. SenileSenior Says:

    Great perspective! Great discussion so far.

    Thanks, Sage!

    Keep on pushing.
    Go Bucs!!!

  9. Defense Rules Says:

    Great article Ira. Thanks for the trip back down Memory Lane. Love that picture of Monte & Ronde … if anyone had given Monte a helmet, he would’ve been right out there with them. A vey unique character, and an awesome DC.

  10. Ghost of Darrell Henderson Says:

    Simian Rice should be up there as we;;, although his Buc career wasn’t that long.

    Remember Wally Chambers?

  11. Mike Johnson Says:

    You’ll get no rebuttal here Ira. As a lifetime Bucs fan, and having seen Leroy Selmon play several times as a teen, He has been our best player thus far in our history. My Dad would just sit there in watching him in the ole sombreo drinkin his beer Shouting to everyone around him, Oh my God, Did you see him beat that double team again ? Selmon was a hellava player.

  12. BigMacAttack Says:

    I love John Lynch but Ronde gets my vote. Ronde shut down the Vet, brought it too the ground and the NFC Championship. I can’t imagine the extremely passionate Eggle Fans ever being more upset. It was a magic moment in Buccaneer History. It was Epic. Vince Papale was never the same after watching it on his couch. Jaws had to suck on a pacifier for a month. It was the shut down to end all shut downs. Ronde, nothing but Ronde. Why he isn’t going in the HOF is beyond me. Idiot voters. Ira needs to get this done.

  13. BigMacAttack Says:

    Oops my bad. Gerald McCoy is the greatest Buc ever. Just ask him.

  14. Todd Says:

    I hope you don’t mind, Ira, but I’d like to ask a couple of questions (to whomever knows) that aren’t related to this article. I’d like to ask while they’re top of mind…because it’s almost beer-thirty and you know the drill. Not counting on my memory tomorrow morning.

    Anyway, does anyone know:

    1) Does Todd Bowles call his defense upstairs or down on the field during games?

    2) Who all are connected to the mics during games? Can all the coaches listen in both offense and defensively? I know just one player on each side can listen…but didn’t know if how far the integration expands. Just curious if anyone knows.

  15. Alvin Scissors Harper Says:

    Total layup Ira. I don’t see how anyone could argue with your selections for the Bucs Mount Rushmore.

  16. Bucsfanman Says:

    Great Bucs! Great list!

  17. unbelievable Says:

    100% AGREED IRA!!!

    I’ve been saying this for years. And that’s not disrespect to Lynch in any way. But Ronde was just in a league of his own with his style of play, versatility and health.

    No other cornerback has comparable interception AND sack numbers. No one.

    Plus the guy is a total class act.

  18. Bird Says:

    Yah. If Simeon started earlier with Bucs / had a few more years with Bucs.
    He gets that final spot

    Rhonde vs Lynch is good debate but rhonde gets the nod maybe by a hair

  19. Destinjohnny Says:

    I think I’ll go 47 by a hair

  20. Bird Says:

    Rhonde :

    Over 1,000 tackles (combined) /28 sacks / 47 INTs / 8 TD
    Pretty Impressive

  21. Bucnjim Says:

    Bird I think both the INT’s for TD’s and sacks are records by a Cornerback but not sure.

  22. Bird Says:

    Rhonde :

    Only one if two players in 40/20 club nfl history (with Charles woodson)

    Actually has 14 tds. Sorry.
    15 forced fumbles

    Overall filthy stats

  23. bucs4ya Says:

    I wanna say that there was an interview maybe when all the coaches were talking or something but I’m seem to recall Todd saying he’ll be on the field. I also seem to remember BA saying that he’ll be on the headset as well that’s why I’m not as concerned about Bryon calling the offense as some others seem to be.

  24. DB55 Says:

    Wait! Sapp didn’t make the top 100 list? Impossible!

    Ronde isn’t even the best player in his family but wtfdik

  25. D1 Says:


    To your questions,

    1, Bowles is on the field.

    2, to answer with accuracy you have to get that direct from a coach. However,
    generally speaking, all offensive and defensive coaches have a headset game time. There’s really no reason or more to the point, there’s no time for defensive coaches to listen in on offensive coaches and vice versa. There’s limited time to deliver information between possessions and it’s damned distracting to have to deliver information concisely and have to filter out the other side of ball.

    There’s that and a simpler version, I’ll worry about my side of the ball or my position group and you worry about yours. Much like any big company except,
    The ego’s are much bigger.

    So 90% of the teams, I feel safe with that number, all defensive coaches have a person upstairs to whom info is passed up or down. Some teams have a coach who is responsible for just one position, or just formations or even spying across the field to see who is coming in or out. Same offensively.

    The who is upstairs and how many is really team specific. Based on exactly what information the o and d coordinators are looking at, or seeking. Again, could be both the o and d coordinators work from upstairs. Could be neither.
    It’s really team centric.

  26. Jameis Almighty! Says:

    Ronde is a Jameis Basher and John Lynch was better on field and in the booth. John Lynch easily. Send Ronde to the crap section of former Bucs like swaggy baker, MeJax, and FitzTragick

  27. D-Rome Says:

    Make room for Mr. Brooks on Mount Rushmore. Dubbed “The Don,” by his grateful teammates, Brooks was an extraordinary technician who never got his due as a fierce competitor.

    On the field, he talked as much trash as Warren Sapp. He just wasn’t as demonstrative as his larger-than-life roommate. Given that I missed the Selmon era, Brooks ranks as the best player I’ve seen in a Buc uniform.

    You hear that, tmaxcon? Haha!

  28. D-Rome Says:

    Ronde is a Jameis Basher

    Given that he made a living watching, intercepting, and sacking quarterbacks I’d say he knows a bad QB when he sees one.

  29. Bruce's Biscuit Says:

    I’d put Doug Williams up there for many reasons….