It was probably one of the coolest logos in the National Football League. When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came into the NFL in 1976, they brought with them the logo known as “Bucco Bruce.” Combined with the creamsicle orange uniforms, Bucco Bruce, the pirate with a knife in his mouth, helped give the Bucs a great, albeit not overly intimidating, look that lasted through 1996. Now that the Bucs are headed back to the Super Bowl, it must be asked: Whatever happened to Bucco Bruce?
The early years of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It wasn’t all fun and games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they entered the NFL as an expansion team in 1976. The Bucs, along with the Seattle Seahawks, made their way into the NFL 44 years ago. For the first couple of years, the Buccaneers were the laughingstock of the league.
The Bucs lured head coach John McKay from USC, where he was one of the best college coaches in the game. In just his third year at USC, McKay guided his team to an 11-0 mark. He finished his career with a 127-40-8 record at USC.
McKay and the Buccaneers struggled from the get-go. Tampa Bay went winless in its first full season, dropping all 14 games. Things weren’t much better in the second year when they opened with 12 straight losses before defeating the New Orleans Saints. Things got so bad during their 26-game losing streak that it triggered one of the greatest quotes of all-time from McKay. During one of those losses, he was asked what he thought of his team’s execution. McKay quipped, “I’m in favor of it.”
The Buccaneers are back in the Super Bowl
While John McKay and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were dismal the first two seasons, they did reach the NFL title game in 1979. McKay had two winning seasons in nine years with the Bucs, the other coming in 1981 when they finished 9-7. McKay finished his Tampa Bay coaching career with a 44-88-1 record.
The Bucs turned things around in the mid-1990s when they struck gold in the 1995 NFL draft. Tampa Bay selected future Hall of Famers Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks in the first round. Sapp and Brooks anchored a strong defense that helped guide the Bucs to a Super Bowl title during the 2002 season.
The Bucs are back in the big game, headed to Super Bowl 55 to face the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs. The Bucs went all-in in the offseason for this moment. They signed veteran quarterback Tom Brady and added several key pieces around him. They’ve come a long way since the McKay days.
What happened to Bucco Bruce?
Back in 1976, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had award-winning Tampa Tribune cartoonist Lamar Sparkman create the original logo. “I approached it with the idea that he was a cavalier, not a hairy-legged slob,” Sparkman said, according to sportslogos.net. “The plume feather adds class, I think. I put the dagger in his mouth to add aggression and then had him wink. It is a half wink and half sneer.”
Sparkman’s creation was a classic. Bucco Bruce lasted 21 years before the Buccaneers decided to make a change. From 1983-1996, the Buccaneers had 14 straight losing seasons. They needed a new image – a new identity. “We’re not fooling around anymore. We mean business,” then-owner Malcolm Glazer said. “We have what we think is the perfect uniform for a perfect team in a perfect city.”
In 1997, the Bucs switched to a new red and pewter color scheme and replaced Bucco Bruce. “The enhanced logo still features the team’s iconic, windswept red battle flag, while sporting a more menacing skull positioned over crossed swords and a football,” co-chairman Edward Glazer said. “We believe (the changes) set the stage for our transition into this new, exciting era of Buccaneers football.” Without Bucco Bruce, the Tampa Bay Bucs are now headed to their second Super Bowl in franchise history.