Once a Buc, always a Buc for these former Gators
Published: Sunday, January 26, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 26, 2003 at 12:53 a.m.
For Jason Odom, it is bittersweet.
GATORS TO BUCS:
Former Florida players who have appeared on Tampa Bay regular-season rosters during the franchise's history (in order of longevity):
He lives in Tampa. He knows a lot of the players. He was drafted by the Bucs the same year they selected Mike Alstott. And for six years, he helped Tampa Bay's football team escape from the WFIA moniker - Worst Franchise In America.
Odom was a Buc. Just like he was a Gator.
Which is why he can laugh at the timing.
"Always a bridesmaid, never the bride," he said. "I leave Florida (in 1995), the next year they win a national championship. I leave the Bucs and they go to the Super Bowl."
Odom, one of the best tackles in Florida history, started for Tampa Bay until a chronic back problem ended his career in 2000. Since then, he has lost 50 pounds, looking not at all like a right tackle.
"It's exciting for me because it's great to see guys I know get a shot at it," Odom said. "And I absolutely feel some pride. You don't go from nobody to San Diego overnight and I'm proud I was a part of that. I helped start something and they are finishing it."
Odom is only a part of the Gator connection to the Tampa Bay franchise. There are three former Gators on the current team - starting right tackle Kenyatta Walker and backups Lomas Brown and Buck Gurley.
It's only fitting that there are some Gators on the best Tampa Bay team ever because there always seems to be some orange and blue involved in the franchise's history. In fact, 25 former Gators have been on Tampa Bay rosters since the team started in 1976.
They range from players like Kerwin Bell, who only had one year in the orange sherbet jersey, to Scot Brantley, who spent eight years as a member of the team and is now the color analyst on the Bucs radio broadcasts.
"I think it's awesome," Brantley said from San Diego. "I look at it the same way as the mid-90s with the Gators. You had some lean years and all of a sudden you get good. You feel like you are still part of the foundation.
"It's the same type of feeling. No matter how bad it was, it's still a big part of your life."
When the Bucs started as an expansion franchise, the roster included four former Gators including the quarterback, a former Heisman Trophy winner obtained for a draft pick after nine years in San Francisco.
"I got one year in there," said Steve Spurrier, now the Washington Redskins head coach. "Back then, it was different for expansion teams. The other teams gave them their bottom five players."
It showed on the field as the Bucs went 0-14 on their way to 26 straight losses. Ironically, Spurrier twice was a candidate for the Bucs job. After his 1995 season at Florida, he was offered the position and came close to taking it before turning it down. When he made himself a "free agent" after resigning at Florida in January of 2002, Spurrier interviewed with the Bucs again.
But at the time they thought they were going to get Bill Parcells and Spurrier instead jumped at the offer made by the Redskins.
"Sometimes I think about how I might have been there," Spurrier said. "That's hindsight. Timing is everything.
"But I am thankful the Bucs released me after '76. I don't know if I would have gotten into coaching if they hadn't. If it had been later, I know Charley Pell wouldn't have hired me. But Doug Dickey did (in 1978) and it all worked out."
Another former Gator on that expansion team also credits his release with starting him in the coaching profession. Vince Kendrick scored the first touchdown ever for Tampa Bay, but lasted only a year because of bad knees. He went on to coach at Florida.
"When I left, it forced me into coaching," Kendrick said. "It was a blessing in disguise. But that year, losing every game, it was not fun. There is still a bond with us first-year guys and I'll be rooting for them. We have some Gators to support there."
Two other former Gators were on that team as well. Jimmy DuBose, a bruising fullback, lasted three seasons with Tampa Bay. Wide receiver Lee McGriff lasted the exhibition season and two regular-season games before being cut.
"It was an exciting time," McGriff said. "Tampa was buzzing. Training camp lasted forever because the NFL let the expansion teams have an extra week. There was this constant changing of people. Emotionally, it was tough.
"I think I'll be pulling for them. For awhile, when a team cuts you, you hate them. Time heals that. And Richie McKay (the Bucs general manager) is still there. I roomed with his brother J.J. McKay and Richie was always the little brother hanging around us all the time."
Through the years, there have been former Gators who have played significant roles - like Errict Rhett who was the tailback for four seasons, and Brad Culpepper, who was a six-year Buc and a mainstay on the defense. There have also been those who have had brief stops like placekicker Brian Clark and quarterback Bob Hewko.
Hewko, who said he is still hoping to attend the game today, will be among those rooting hard for Tampa Bay.
"Absolutely," he said. "You know, before this season, Jon Gruden brought about 20 of us former players back for wings and beer at Hooters. He told us, 'You guys are still a part of us.' They even brought Doug Williams back. Doug said, 'It took them 20 years to bring me back.'
"But you do feel like you're a part of it. It stays with you."
You can reach sports writer Pat Dooley by e-mail at email@example.com or by calling 374-5053.
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