Memories, Parties And A Soon-To-Be Classic Photo

February 13th, 2023

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It all began on a warm fall day in New Orleans.

Yes, the Canton Four first came together on October 25, 1998 at the Superdome, where it was 80 degress outside and a comfortable 72 down on the field.

In terms of offense for either team, it was downright chilly.

That matchup against the Saints marked the first time Rondé Barber, John Lynch, Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp started together in a regular-season game. They would end up with 88 joint starts as Buccaneers and their next common assignment is to party like its 2002 when they meet in Canton this summer.

The newest Tampa Bay member of the Hall of Fame, Rondé Barber.

What a celebration that will be as Barber is welcomed as the fourth Hall of Famer off a defense that deserved better but never complained publicly about lack of support.

For six years, the Canton Four and the Tampa Two set the standard for NFL defenses. It all came together during the 2002 championship season, yet the feeling remains for Buc fans that there could have been, should have been, more hardware to show for all that defense.

That New Orleans game set a frustrating tone for this franchise. The Bucs lost 9-3 to Billy Joe Tolliver and the Saints that day, dropping to 3-4 en route to an 8-8 finish that left them out of the playoffs. Tampa Bay turned the ball over three times and dropped seven passes. Trent Dilfer generated only 186 yards on his 44 throws, finishing with a passer rating of 38.6.

Guard Frank Middleton stated the obvious: “Our defense is playing great. Our offense is not there.”

After the game, a stunned Sapp wouldn’t go there.

“When you look at it, you can’t believe it,” he said. “We went out there and laid an egg in a very important game. I’m as baffled as anyone outside looking in, and I’m inside looking out.”

The pattern was set that afternoon and it played out for much of their tenure together before the Canton Four broke up in 2004, following a dismal defense of Tampa Bay’s initial Super Bowl triumph.

For six seasons, Buc quarterbacks were advised that these defensive players requested a mere 17 points and they would take care of the rest. Not Sweet Little Sixteen. Seventeen.

That’s not asking for much, but between 1998 and 2003, the Bucs often struggled to reach such a meager goal. Tampa Bay went 45-15 in that span when scoring at least 17 points and dropped to 16-27 when held below 17 points.

Frustration Magnified

Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin had installed the right system for the Canton Four to flourish, but even iconic defenses need a little help from their friends. It’s foolish to suggest frustration wasn’t building among Sapp, Brooks, Lynch and Barber, yet they never allowed private frustration to spill over into public resentment.

Held their tongues.

With cameras rolling, they always remained supportive of those struggling offenses.

The song remained the same.

If the finger-pointing was ever going to erupt, it was after the 2000 NFC championship game against the Rams. Given the talent of the opposition, this may have been the signature game of the Canton Four.

The Bucs fell short of a Super Bowl berth, despite allowing only 11 points to a Rams team that led the NFL in scoring and total offense. In 17 previous games during the 1999 season, the Rams had never been held under 21 points. Four members of that offense — Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Orlando Pace — have already been awarded gold jackets. Torry Holt is likely to enter the Hall in the next few years.

When the finality of the crushing loss sunk in, it was Bert Emanuel who summed it up for Buc Nation.

“We’ve got to score points,” he said after the 11-6 setback. “That’s the bottom line. We didn’t do it today and so once again, here come the critics. That’s the way it’s always going to be as long as we keep coming up short.”

The story remained the same until Jon Gruden arrived in 2002, overhauling the offense with new pieces and a new direction. Gruden challenged the Canton Four to raise their games — and they did so in spectacular fashion. Brooks earned Defensive Player of the Year honors and Barber shut down the Vet with the keynote play in franchise history.

Lynch’s 2021 party in Canton was highlighted by Lionel Richie, who mesmerized the crowd all night long. Barber, always up for a challenge, promises to top his very close former teammate in the entertainment department.

No matter who takes the stage, it’s going to be a very emotional evening as former Buc coaches and players gather to salute No. 20. Who knows what Simeon Rice will be wearing?

And of course the Canton Four will pose together for the keeper photo that should adorn the walls of One Buc Place this fall.

Barber, Lynch, Sapp and Brooks. Sounds like it could be a law firm … specializing in collisions. I’ve already got the contact information.

Just dial *17.

Yes, that warranty includes USED vehicles!
Ira drives a 2020 Ford Escape (cherry red).

13 Responses to “Memories, Parties And A Soon-To-Be Classic Photo”

  1. BucsfanFred Says:

    If not for bowlzo blowing that forth quarter defensive call we’d have gotten two super bowls with Brady.

  2. Diverdo Says:

    Ira, your contribution to the Canton four should be celebrated too. Without your telling their story, Canton may not have happened. You have beat the drum relentlessly for these true Hall of Fame players. I was there to enjoy their games and am grateful they are Bucs. Ira, your writing about my beloved Bucs is very much appreciated. Thank you sage.

  3. D-Rok Says:

    Good stuff, Ira! Great job on your speech to get Mr. Barber in the HOF. I think it was Kirwan who said on Movin’ The Chains last week that the people he talks to think you, Ira, are by far the best presenter on that panel.

    PS: I dialed *17 and nothing happened. 😉

  4. eric Says:

    Where is Rice he should have been in te HofF!

  5. Ed Says:

    Beautiful scene at Superbowl seeing Ronde Barber and Revis going in together.

    Those Philly fans are real classy right? Not only did they boo Ronde but Zac Prescott gets NFL Man of the Year award which is for sacrifice and giving to your community, and they boo him too.

    Thats why despite my Philly roots, I can’t be an Eagles fan anymore. They are loudmouth and pompous fans. They think it is their right to win, I suppose no one in Philly or the Fox guys thought the Baby Goat wouldn’t bring the Chiefs back.

    Jalen Hurts is classy and I feel for him being on the losing end, he was brilliant but the Eagles defense didn’t put pressure on Pat and he carved them up in the end when the game was on the line.

  6. Mark2001 Says:

    The Mailman of Canton delivered again.

  7. TDTB2022 Says:

    Congrats Ira!

    Barber is in and the Chiefs get the Lombardi!

  8. JimbobBucsFan Says:

    The Eagles are old enough as a franchise to have won three pre-merger NFL championships. They have won only one of four Super Bowl appearances. The Bucs have won two of their two Super Bowl games. That’s two Lombardi trophies on display at One Buc Place.

    All hail, Rhonde Barber! 💥

  9. Pickgrin Says:

    The Rams scored a safety in the ’99 Championship game – so the Bucs defense only allowed 9 points that day….

    Shawn King – One of 2 Bucs Quarterbacks who LOST an NFC Championship game when his defense gave up less than 10 points.

    That ’99 Bucs Defense was one of the best Defenses to ever take an NFL field. Top 10 all time I’d say. Perhaps better than the Bucs ’02 Defense. Nickerson chased the $ in FA that next offseason (2000) and neither he nor the Bucs ever saw the same level of play from MLB again…..

  10. Anonymous Says:


    What a beautiful write up Ira. I haven’t commented on any of your write ups but I couldn’t resist this time. The only thing missing was the when and where for the coming together party. It’s the pictures you paint with your pen (or of course trusty computer).
    Truly at times you’re memorizing when it seems a bubble of the past forms above your head and you pull out the sites, sounds, colors, and smells that sets the ambience that surround the moments in a time long forgotten in a “right now” world that usually can not be found without the visual aids of a computer and a sub text that reads, “did you know that….”

    And though you may have to think it through to paint with your pen, you CAN bring it back from the past and re sculpt it while picking the moments out that to you were the brightest. Then to present them with a soothing and crisp vision that makes it easy to visualize for all of us who weren’t there to visualize for ourselves.

    You are truly a cool breeze sir.

    I for one am very grateful to have “you” to represent us. More than just the tenacity, grit, and drive that you command from “yourself” to sell it, but to know that when you paint your pictures, a Very Lucky someone got a “True Artist” to showcase the highlights of a hard fought and well deserved shot at being remembered with a bust in THE coveted halls of Canton such as Rhonde.

    When So Few get through, it takes one of “the best” that could have very likely been a Highly successful attorney to represent, stand up and point out.

    Most know that your next challenge will be tougher but keep swinging with your pen and your smile. A Whole Lot of us may not comment on your talent but believe me, WE SEE IT AND WE SEE YOU!

    So Thank You again Ira for your Gusto and Talent from just an Anonymous guy (The Silent Majority), who sure admires your talent.

  11. August 1976 Buc Says:

    Congrats to Rhonde, a good guy actually makes it big, good for you Rhonde!!!!!

    Thx Ira for helping another Buc get into the HOF.

    “That ’99 Bucs Defense was one of the best Defenses to ever take an NFL field. Top 10 all time I’d say. Perhaps better than the Bucs ’02 Defense. Nickerson chased the $ in FA that next offseason (2000) and neither he nor the Bucs ever saw the same level of play from MLB again….”.

    The 99 Bucs Defense gave up 45 points, in a 0-45 beatdown by the Raiders.

    2002 was better, gave up less than 200 points, and 5th most dominant Super Bowl run in the playoffs at that time. They destroyed SF and then Tore down the Vet in Philly, on the way to a beatdown for the ages of the Raiders in SB 37

    The main reason Hardy Nickerson left was because the Bucs went a different direction.
    I loved Hardy, he played with a ferocity, during games and on practice on Hardy.
    Just ask TE Tyji Armstrong. What I heard was that there was a nasty practice fight between Hardy and Tyji, that Tyji got a bloody azz whoopin by Hardy. As a fan you do not see practices so much, and do not know the vibe, but evidently Hardy thought Tyji was half azzing around, and Hardy thought Tyji needed some TLC lol. Hardy was not going to put up with that crap.
    Ask Brooks and Sapp about Hardy, they can tell you. Hardy “set the tone” for rookies like Sapp and Brooks were back in 1995. Hardy was a huge part of the foundation of that awesome “Canton 4” defense that IRA helped grease the skids for them to get in the HOF
    BTW Ira, Please help out “the Cosmic one” Simeon Rice he should be in there too.

    It was a sad day for me when they let Hardy go. Hardy could have stayed, if the Bucs wanted him to stay. Seeing Hardy put on a Jacksonville jersey after that was not a lot of fun.

    Again congrats Rhonde on a well played HOF career.

    GO BUCS!!!!

  12. Pickgrin Says:

    August 1976 Buc Says:

    “The 99 Bucs Defense gave up 45 points, in a 0-45 beatdown by the Raiders.”

    True – but that was one game that they simply didn’t show up for. It happens even to great teams. The same defense gave up only 9 points when the stakes were highest to what was probably the best offense in NFL history. Top 3 for sure….

    “The main reason Hardy Nickerson left was because the Bucs went a different direction….. they let Hardy go. Hardy could have stayed, if the Bucs wanted him to stay”

    Different direction?? – you mean Jamie Duncan? LOL
    Nickerson was a 34 year old 13 year NFL veteran heading into the 2000 offseason. The Jags offered him a lot more than he was worth at that point in his career – and Hardy took the $ and ran.

    It would be like some other team offering LaVonte David $15Million guaranteed per year for 3 years in this up coming free agency…. Bucs could never match that amount for an aging player even if they really really wanted to have LD54 retire as a Buccaneer.

  13. OHBucFan Says:

    Great piece Ira and yes, i know when my next trip to Canton will be.