The streak started on Sunday, October 10, 1999 at Lambeau Field.
The Buccaneers lost that game in the waning seconds on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Brett Favre to Antonio Freeman — the 26 points the second-highest total they would surrender all year — but the Tampa defense battered the Green Bay quarterback for four brutal quarters. Chidi Ahanotu recorded a sack early in the contest, and Warren Sapp and Marcus Jones combined for four more over the course of the evening.
It’d be four seasons — a record 69 games — before Rod Marinelli‘s men would be held without a quarterback takedown, and fittingly, it was Brett Favre who denied them. His fourth-quarter march and game-winning touchdown in late 2003 ended an era of dominance in Tampa Bay. Warren Sapp left the following season, Rod Marinelli the year after, and the defense never quite recovered.
I could easily fill this list with players from that era of Buccaneer football: Brad Culpepper, Chidi Ahanotu, Marcus Jones… hell, even Greg Spires — the best run-stopping end in team history — has a place on this list. But I feel like that period — the time of the legendary Marinelli pass-rushers — is best represented by one or two big names, and not necessarily the supporting cast around them.
That being said, we start in an unlikely place:
5. Ron Holmes (19 sacks; 1985 – 1988)
A back injury ended Lee Roy Selmon‘s career prematurely in 1984, and in 1985, the Buccaneers drafted his replacement with the eighth overall pick. Unfortunately, Ron Holmes was no Lee Roy Selmon, and the pass rusher from Washington never panned out. He held out of his inaugural preseason for a bigger contract and struggled to adjust to NFL speeds, which made him many enemies in the Bay area media.
He did, however, showcase flashes of that top-ten talent; in 1987 he led the team in sacks, recording 8 in spite of the player’s strike. His 1988 season was derailed by injuries, and a frigid relationship with the organization and its fans caused him to demand a trade. Tampa happily obliged, shipping the 1985 first-round pick to Denver, after four seasons, for a fourth-round pick.
4. Stylez G. White (24 sacks; 2007 – 2010)
Formerly “Greg,” Stylez G. White was a seventh-round washout from the University of Minnesota. After failing to make an NFL roster in 2002 — and being cut by six teams in the following seasons — Stylez took on odd jobs up north: delivering pizza, working the assembly line, and greeting customers at Best Buy. In 2006, he signed a contract with the Orlando Predators of the AFL, and in 2007, White set the record for sacks in an AFL season and took home the AFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
His performance landed him a camp invite with the Buccaneers. Just weeks after the close of the Arena Football season, White managed to make the Tampa roster and — sixteen games later, as a rotational player — finish with the Buccaneer lead in quarterback sacks and pressures.
Stylez played four seasons in Tampa and led the Buccaneers in sacks three times. His 24 career quarterback takedowns rank him ninth in Tampa Bay history, and his meager 63 games played are the lowest of anyone in the top ten.
3. Warren Sapp (77 sacks; 1995 – 2003)
He was the face of the Buccaneer pass rush — shaped like a wrecking ball and equally as devastating — and he spearheaded some of the great defenses in the history of the league. He set the standard for pass-rushing defensive tackles, recording a 96.5 sacks from the interior defensive line. Regan Upshaw, Marcus Jones, Anthony McFarland, Brad Culpepper, Steve White, and Chidi Ahanotu thrived in his presence as he collapsed offensive lines and chewed up the pocket, creating nightmares for quarterbacks.
He was elected to seven Pro Bowls and was a six-time All-Pro selection. The NFL awarded him 1999’s Defensive Player of the Year award, and in January 2010, Sapp became the only defensive player named to the 1990s and 2000s All-Decade teams.
2. Simeon Rice (41.5 sacks; 2001 – 2006)
Simeon Rice recorded 51.5 sacks as an Arizona Cardinal — over 10 sacks per season — and in 2001, the Buccaneers purchased his services to help put their defense over the top. Just a season later, the Buccaneers fielded one of the greatest defenses in league history, and signing Simeon Rice became the best move the Bucs’ front office ever made.
Together, Rice and Sapp combined for a ridiculous 60 sacks in three seasons. Both were among the quickest players at their positions and each demanded a double team on every play. Offensive tackles bowed and eventually broke against Simeon’s furious swims, rips, and spins; he pounced on passers — even the most fleet-footed of them — like a cheetah tackling its prey.
In an early October game in 2002, opposing quarterback Michael Vick trudged dejectedly to the bench after a failed offensive series. When asked what the problem was, Vick said, “They’re too fast. I can’t set up. I can’t even throw the damn ball.”
And I couldn’t’ve said it any better.
1. Lee Roy Selmon (78.5 sacks, unofficially; 1976 – 1984)
When Selmon passed away in early September, Simeon Rice — usually never short on words — wrote a brief statement regarding Selmon and his legacy. Rice called him a “man, legend, and champion,” and a “dynamic force.” He said that it had been a privilege to live in Selmon’s shadow, and concluded the note with four simple words: “Long live the King.”
Selmon’s 78.5 quarterback sacks is the best mark in Buccaneer history. The man wasn’t short on accolades; he was the franchise’s first draft pick, and in nine seasons, made six Pro Bowls, five All-Pro teams, earned a Defensive Player of the Year award, found a place (alongside Reggie White and Bruce Smith) on the 1980s All-Decade team, and was voted the 98th best player of all-time by the NFL.
Barry Switzer — Selmon’s college coach, who later coached the Cowboys to a Super Bowl victory — said Lee Roy was the best player he’d ever coached. Selmon was revered by his fans and universally feared by his foes. In “The New Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football” Chicago lineman Ted Albrecht said, “At halftime I told the coach my deepest secrets. I said I never wanted to be buried at sea. I never wanted to get hit in the mouth with a hockey puck, and I didn’t want to go out and play that second half against Lee Roy Selmon.” Anthony Muñoz, maybe the greatest offensive tackle ever, claimed that Selmon was the best defensive lineman he’d ever faced.
Scarier still is the idea that Selmon might’ve been even better. He was the best player on the league’s worst team for most of his career, playing as a 3-4 defensive end (a position not known for producing elite pass rushers), with little help down the defensive line. He earned six of the line’s seven Pro Bowl appearances in his career, and despite being double- and triple-teamed on most plays, he still holds the unofficial mark for sacks in Tampa Bay history, and the distinction as the best Buccaneer pass rusher of all-time.
Long live the King.