Throughout this week, we will unveil the 50 most important people to sports in Tampa Bay.
So far this week, we have unveiled:
The names you will see were all suggested by listeners to The Commish Justin Pawlowski and sent in during his show. Over this past weekend, Justin, along with his producer “The Drake” and Jim Lighthall, spent hours trying to set the official ranking.
Here are names 21-30 of Tampa Bay’s most important people to this area’s sports:
21. Joe Maddon – Manager – Rays (2006-present) – The magic that Joe Maddon has accomplished has been simply amazing. Andrew Friedman will get his due on this list, but Maddon has been unique with his lineups and his treatment of his players. His teams never get tight and it shows in a positive way. For a franchise that had been left for dead, Maddon has been a big part of the rise of the Rays.
22. Bill Parcells – coach – Giants, Patriots, Jets, Cowboys – Parcells makes this list because the complete history of Tampa Bay sports changes if Parcells accepts the Bucs job before Tony Dungy does. If Bill Parcells becomes the Bucs coach in 1996, Tony Dungy never becomes a part of Tampa Bay. Parcells would have also implemented his 3-4 defense, which was not a fit for either Warren Sapp or Derrick Brooks. Do they still become hall of famers? If they do, do they do it with the Bucs or does Parcells ship them out? Parcells would have never drafted Ronde Barber because he needed corners that excelled in man coverage. Everything changes. Of course, this wasn’t the only time Parcells spurned the Bucs, but it was by far the most significant.
23. Outback Steakhouse Group – Corporate Sponsors – I’m certain there are many more things than I realize that the Outback Steakhouse group has done to help sports in the Tampa Bay area. Obviously, their sponsorship of one of the most popular bowl games that isn’t a BCS bowl in the Outback Bowl. Also, Outback’s sponsorship of the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am is another big event that brings national attention to Tampa each year.
24. Hardy Nickerson – player – Buccaneers (1993-1999) – Hardy came to the Buccaneers as a free agent when no free agent would even think of coming to Tampa Bay. During his time with the Bucs, Nickerson became an icon in Tampa Bay going to 5 pro bowls and being named an All-Pro 4 times. Hardy’s best accomplishment might be the leadership he displayed for young Buccaneers like Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, John Lynch, and Ronde Barber. Any time any of these players speaks of their success, they thank Hardy Nickerson for teaching them to become true professionals.
25. Doug Williams – player – Buccaneers (1978-1982) – Doug Williams was one of the main reasons the Buccaneers went from a team that lost the first 26 games they played as a franchise to a team playing in the NFC Championship Game just two years later. Williams was severely underpaid by Hugh Culverhouse. Williams made less than 12 backup quarterbacks in the NFL at the time, but Culverhouse refused to give him a raise. Williams would end up leaving for the USFL, and the Buccaneers went on to become one of the worst franchises in all of sports for the next 15+ years.
26. Evan Longoria – player – Rays (2008-present) – I do not think it is any coincidence that since Evan Longoria has come to the Rays, they have been a contender year after year. Longoria’s value was realized last year when he went down with an injury for an extended time. Longoria’s new 6-year $100 million extension he signed this past off-season keeping him with the Rays until 2023, did not hurt his case for importance either. Longoria is already the key focal point of the franchise and will only continue to gain more notoriety with each year that passes.
27. Lou Pinella – manager – Rays (2003-2005) – Pinella was born in Tampa, brought up in West Tampa, graduated high school from Jesuit, and attended the University of Tampa where he became an All-American baseball player. Pinella’s two years as Devil Rays manager did not go as planned. Pinella was convinced that Vince Naimoli was “tired of losing”, but the Devil Rays payroll remained low.
28. Jay Feaster – General Manager – Lightning (2002-2008) – Jay Feaster was the general manager that pieced together the Lightning’s only Stanley Cup Champion. That year, Feaster was named executive of the year by the Sporting News. In 2008, Feaster decided to leave the Lightning after new ownership was interfering with hockey-related matters.
29. Jeff Vinik – owner – Lightning & Storm (2010-present) – Although he hasn’t been around very long, Vinik has already made a tremendous impact on this area. His contributions to the community and charities far exceeds any expectations that might have been on him. Vinik has also prevented the Lightning from moving from Tampa Bay to another city.
30. Nikolai Khabibulin – player – Lightning (2001-2005) – I think Khabibulin’s importance can be measured by how hard the Lightning have tried to find a replacement for him since 2005 and are still uncertain about the position. Khabibulin’s dominance in the 2003-2004 season was a major reason the Lightning ended up as Stanley Cup Champions that year.
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