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 is the Top 10 of Tampa Bay’s most important people to this area’s sports:
1. Lee Roy Selmon – player/Athletic Director – Buccaneers/USF Bulls (1976-2011) – The iconic player and human being for this area. Selmon was the first ever selection by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and lived up to it. He was a Hall of Famer during a time when the Buccaneers only had a couple good seasons. Selmon’s efforts in the community are well documented. Um, Lee Roy Selmon’s restaurant was obviously launched with him, so that’s a huge plus! In addition, without the efforts of Selmon as athletic director for USF, USF would have never launched a football team. Selmon was the driving force behind that. When it comes to sports in Tampa Bay, it all starts with Lee Roy!
2. Leonard Levy – member of the Tampa Sports Authority and Chairman of Tampa’s NFL Task Force Committee – Let’s just say that Leonard Levy was in charge of convincing the NFL that Tampa Bay was the right place for an expansion franchise. Levy and his task force have been credited as the first ones to use the phrase “Tampa Bay” as an effort to sell the National Football League that a new franchise would be supported by a community effort. Tampa Bay has a football team and has had 2 football stadiums because of Leonard Levy.
3. Phil Esposito – Founder – Lightning – Esposito was the driving force behind convincing the “powers-that-be” that Tampa Bay should receive an expansion hockey team and that he should run it. Esposito won. It appeared that there was a group from St. Petersburg that might have had a better offer, but Esposito got a late lift from Japanese investors that put him over the top. George Steinbrenner was also a limited partner with the team.
4. Vince Naimoli – owner – Rays – After unsuccessful tries to lure teams like the Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox, and Seattle Mariners to Tampa Bay, the Bay area had one last shot with the San Francisco Giants. There was a deal in place for the Giants to be sold to an ownership group led by Vince Naimoli in 1992, who would then move the Giants to Tampa Bay. In the 11th hour, that deal fell thru and it seemed as if Tampa Bay would never have a team of their own. Naimoli would get his team in 1995 as part of expansion in baseball. Naimoli is also important to Tampa Bay sports because even after all of the effort to get a baseball team to this area, bad decisions and a lack of payroll led the then Devil Rays to become one of the biggest losing franchises in all of sports.
5. Glazer Family – owners – Buccaneers (1995-present) – After years of being the worst franchise in the NFL, the Glazer family, and in particular Malcolm Glazer, brought respect to the Buccaneers for the first time once he purchased the team in 1995. The Glazer family were devoted to turning the Buccaneers into a winning franchise. There’s no need to go into detail of all of the moves they made, but the fact that just 7 seasons after the team was purchased, the Buccaneers went to and won their only Super Bowl speaks volumes. Starting in 2003 and growing until 2005, the Glazer family bought more and more of Manchester United. Many feared that the Glazer family’s interest would steer that way and the Buccaneers would feel the brunt of that. Over the next 6-8 years, the Buccaneers did spend sparingly, but have seemed to be spending money once again after seeing the moves that have been made the past two off-seasons. The Glazer family have also done many charitable things for our community.
6. Tom McEwen – writer – Tampa Tribune (1962-2011) – A lot of the younger generation might never realize what Tom meant to Tampa Bay sports, but I urge you to give it a google and find out! Tom was a major factor in bringing Tampa Bay football, soccer, and hockey. Having an NFL franchise is gold in today’s world, and Tampa Bay can thank Tom McEwen for that. Why on earth would the NHL want a franchise in Tampa, FL? Well, McEwen along with Phil Esposito made that happen. Tom McEwen lobbied for Lee Roy Selmon to be in the Hall of Fame and for Steve Spurrier to win the Heisman trophy. Tom McEwen was the defining factor of Tampa Bay being a relevant sports city or just another city. We should all collectively thank the late Tom McEwen and understand that without him, we might have never been the city we are today.
7. Rich McKay – General Manager – Buccaneers (1993-2003) – McKay was the son of the Buccaneers 1st head coach, John McKay, and ultimately built the Buccaneers team that would go to and win their first championship. McKay had to start off with very little to work with under owner Hugh Culverhouse. McKay made the most of it by drafting John Lynch and signing Hardy Nickerson. McKay received new life with the introduction of the Glazer family as owners. Over the next several years, McKay drafted Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, Mike Alstott, and Warrick Dunn. McKay traded for Keyshawn Johnson and Simeon Rice. McKay also signed Brad Johnson as a free agent. Rich McKay’s “tree” of assistants has also been very impressive across the NFL, which includes current Bucs GM Mark Dominik.
8. Tony Dungy – coach – Buccaneers (1996-2001) – While Rich McKay built the team from the front office, Tony Dungy had a big part in the decision-making, but also bringing stability to a franchise that had never endured any. The “Tampa 2” never exists without Tony Dungy. Dungy took a notorious losing franchise and made them a true contender. There is no need for me to go into detail of what Dungy did and has continued to do for this community. Tampa Bay is lucky to have Tony Dungy a part of it!
9. Jon Gruden – coach – Buccaneers (2002-2008) – Gruden was the coach that got to and won the Buccaneers only Super Bowl. He ignited a team that needed igniting. Gruden and Bruce Allen can also be linked to dismantling that Super Bowl team and trying to rebuild with aging veterans. These decisions led to much mediocrity from the Buccaneers during the late 2000’s and ultimately led to Jon Gruden’s firing.
10. Hugh Culverhouse – owner – Buccaneers (1974-1994) – Culverhouse was awarded the Buccaneers only after the Buccaneers original owner, Thomas McCloskey, was uneasy about the business transaction and backed out of the deal. Culverhouse was initially praised, but soon drew the anger of the fans. Culverhouse refused to pay star quarterback Doug Williams a raise, despite Williams having a smaller salary than 12 back up quarterbacks around the NFL at the time. Culverhouse immediately gained the reputation of being “cheap” with his team, a label with which stuck with him until his death.
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