Faces Of A Run-Challenged Franchise

July 4th, 2023



The last time James Wilder carried the ball for the Buccaneers, the original Batman movie ruled at the box office.

The year was 1989 and Tampa Bay slogged its way to a 5-11 record under Ray Perkins, who would be fired toward the end of the following season. That was a long, long time ago.

How long? Lavonte David was a newborn.

Yet all these years later, Wilder still rules as the franchise’s career rushing leader with 5,957 yards. Wilder was a workhorse in 1984 and 1985, but those were the only two seasons he ran for more than 704 yards.

He tops the rushing chart for a franchise that began play in 1976 under John McKay, who never met an off-tackle run he didn’t like. Mike Alstott is a distant second with 5,088 yards, followed by Warrick Dunn (4,986), Doug Martin (4,633) and Cadillac Williams (3,677).

Out of 32 NFL franchises, only the Patriots feature a career rushing leader (Sam Cunningham) with fewer yards (5,453) than Wilder, who boasts a strong case to be in the Buccaneers Ring of Honor.

Will Doug Martin be chased down by Rachaad White?

It’s not like the Bucs haven’t had quality backs through the years. The problem was they couldn’t sustain production.

Nobody fits that profile more than Martin, who opened with a sensational rookie year in 2012. Martin made the Pro Bowl after running for 1,454 yards in Greg Schiano’s first year on the sidelines. Martin shredded the Raiders for 251 yards and four TDs in a 42-32 road triumph in midseason and the Bucs were 6-4 before enduring a 5-game losing streak.

After two pedestrian seasons, Martin recaptured his form in 2015, ranking No. 2 behind Adrian Peterson by rushing for 1,402 yards. He led the league with 14 runs of at least 20 yards and was rated by his peers as the 33rd-best player in the league.

“I love the way Martin plays the game,” Peterson said at the time. “He’s a powerful young back.”

James Wilder remains the Buccaneers’ franchise leading running back 34 years after leaving the team.

At that point, there was every reason to believe Martin would go on to shatter Wilder’s career mark. But Martin was suspended four games by the NFL in 2016 for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. By the end of 2017, the Bucs decided to move on from a former first-round pick who had flashed such juicy potential.

Jon Gruden’s Raiders signed Martin in 2018, but the two sides reached an injury settlement the following year. Yes, Doug Martin was out of football at the age of 30.

So was Cadillac Williams, but who could blame him? The league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2005, Williams had the misfortune of tearing his right patellar tendon in 2007 and his left patellar tendon in 2008.

Alstott looked like he was on a pace to supplant Wilder atop Tampa Bay’s rushing chart. But after the 2002 championship season, Alstott averaged only 47 carries and 140 yards on the ground during his final four years as injuries mounted and Gruden looked elsewhere.

Next up is Rachaad White, who just began his pro career with 481 rushing yards. That leaves him a mere 5,476 yards behind Mr. Wilder. If White can ever come close to chasing down Tampa Bay’s career rushing leader, he’d be considered a heck of a third-round draft pick.

Wilder has held a firm grip on Tampa Bay’s top spot for more than three decades. If Dave Canales and a rebuilt offensive line have their way, White’s about to embark on a long, strange trip to take Wilder down.

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18 Responses to “Faces Of A Run-Challenged Franchise”

  1. gotbbucs Says:

    In this day and age of “chew em up and spit em out” running backs, it’s rare to see a franchise keep a runner long enough for them to accumulate that many yards.
    It seems like there’s only one or two teams at any given time that are willing to devote the resources necessary to make that happen. Tennessee is the only team that comes to mind right now in that kind of situation.

  2. CrackWise Says:

    Surprised Errict Rhett didn’t get an honorable mention?

    Pretty sure he was the first 1000 yard rusher post Wilder and he is like the only Tampa Rookie RB to start his career with back to back 1000 yard seasons.

    I was a HUGE Rhett fan back in the day. I remember my dad and I putting on silly face paint because we thought for sure Rhett was taking us places. Him and Dillfer. LOL

  3. Ko Kiefer Says:

    In reference to Alstott’s final 4 years in Tampa. I wouldn’t suggest that Gruden “looked elsewhere”. As an aging player his role changed but he saw the field an awful lot as a true fullback and still scored some short TD’s. Those were the A-Plane years

  4. CrackWise Says:

    Ironically, Dunn crushed Wilders record over an equal 6 year run with the Dirty Birds.

    Thats why I stopped liking Dunn the Football Player.

  5. HC Grover Says:

    We need a Fullback. A big one.

  6. WillieG Says:

    HC Grover

    How about Vita?

  7. Pickgrin Says:

    Gruden’s mis-use/non-use of “Mark” Alstott as a runner was damn near criminal.

    Basically cost Alstott a chance at the HOF…

    It 100% cost Alstott the honor and personal satisfaction of being the Buccaneers all time leading rusher.

    The A-Train was never a great blocker – he got better at it in later years out of necessity but his true talent was running the ball – WITH POWER!

    Gruden literally refused to give Mike his carries or scheme the ball into his hands – even when it was obvious he was the best option for a given game or situation….

    Mike was a class act/ team guy throughout and never said a word. But many fans at the time were VERY frustrated with Chucky’s stubbornness in this regard…..

  8. CrackWise Says:


    You friend EARNED you place as the #1 poster of the day. You are 100% correct with your A-Train take!

  9. 1sparkybuc Says:

    Gruden screwed the Bucs with his treatment of Alstott, Sapp, and Lynch. He took the team over the hump and into the gully. Great OC. Lousy HC.

  10. teacherman777 Says:

    Vita Vea should be a our goal line running back.

    Vita Vea should get every carry on 3rd and 1 or 4th and 1.

    He is truly unstoppable.

  11. Sly Pirate Says:

    teacherman777 … I’m surprised he isn’t used more in these situations

  12. Larrd Says:

    Don’t forget to mention Ricky Bell.

  13. Rod Munch Says:

    Ricky Bell had his own TV movie. I remember it, because for years, in school, we’d just randomly yell out, ‘RICKYYYY, RICKKKKY BELLLLL’ like in the movie.

    But honorable mention should of course go to Bo Jackson. I mean what other team has ever drafted a superstar like that #1 overall, only to have them sit out and refuse to sign. Can you imagine that today, where a #1 overall pick literally sits out rather than sign?

    To think, the Bucs had Steve Young and drafted Bo Jackson, and got nothing out of it. Remarkable how bad the Bucs were. Before Brady got here, the Bucs were the worst team in all of professional sports! Now it’s the Timberwolves, at .402 winning percentage, while the Bucs are at .404 — meaning if the Timberwolves have a good year, and the Bucs have a bad year, Bowles might be able to regain the Bucs that title for worst professional sports team of all time!

  14. kyle Says:

    pickgrin^^^ 100

  15. garro Says:

    Ira as always your insights are amazing.
    Wilder did his damage when he was one of very few offensive weapons (Giles and House with Deberg) and he amassed an amazing number of carries in 84 and 85 by todays standards. Can you say overused? Also in those days a 1,000 yard rusher meant alot more than it has in recent history.
    In short Wilder took a pounding. BTW so too did Ricky Bell.

    Go Bucs!

  16. Jack Burton Mercer Says:

    Somebody may supplant Wilder, but it won’t be White. I don’t think he has the top end speed to be a true star. And yes, Wilder definitely belongs in the Ring of Honor. Should have been there 10 years ago.

  17. unbelievable Says:

    That’s cuz Gruden rode Cadillac straight into the ground.

    It’s a shame, that dude was something special before his multiple injuries,

  18. Hunter's Crack Pipe Says:

    Rod Munch Says:
    “Ricky Bell had his own TV movie.”

    The Ricky Bell Story starring Mario Van Peebles.