Editor's note: YCN contributor Jeff Briscoe has compiled his list of the 10 greatest athletes for Tampa Bay. Warren Sapp, who gets inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, easily won the No. 1 spot in user poll voting. Complete results are to the right.
Though the legacy of Tampa Bay sports is not as lengthy as rival regions, the area has made significant strides in the past few decades. Awarded hockey and baseball franchises during the 1990s, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Tampa Bay Rays quickly reached championship games of their respective sports. Not surprisingly, however, local fans often think football when considering the most impactful athletes in Tampa Bay history, and the Bucs' Super Bowl is viewed as the greatest triumph.
Limited to achievements while competing for its major professional sports, here is a list of Tampa Bay's 10 most beloved athletes. While success on the field is sometimes sufficient to reach greatness, personality and style clearly create an even broader impact. Though I have narrowed the choices, the player that stands as Tampa Bay's greatest star is up to you. Let the debate for No. 1 begin.
Mike Alstott (Buccaneers, 1996-2006)
One of the most popular players in team history, Alstott was primarily used as a fullback, for which he was named to the Pro Bowl from 1997-2002. In addition to serving as a superior blocker, the bulky back rushed for 5,088 yards, including a career high 949 yards during the 1999 season. Alstott's use diminished under Jon Gruden, but the Purdue product remained an effective change-of-pace and short-yardage specialist, who scrambled for the first touchdown in Super Bowl XXXVII. The "A-Train" near the goal line was always a happy sight for fans and he remains Tampa Bay's career touchdown leader with 71 scores.
Ronde Barber (Buccaneers, 1997-2012)
A true Buccaneer. Barber spent his entire 16-year career in Tampa Bay, starting every game in the Bucs' defensive backfield since the 2000 season. He might be most remembered for his 92-yard interception return for a TD late in the fourth quarter of the 2002 NFC title game against Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles. It sealed a 27-10 Bucs win; Tampa Bay then defeated the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII for the franchise's first championship. With his 28 sacks and 47 INTs, Barber is the lone member in the NFL's 40/20 club.
Derrick Brooks (Buccaneers, 1995-2008)
Few would doubt this linebacker most guided the Bucs' famed "Tampa 2" defense under Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin. Brooks' demonstrative leadership and ball-hawking skills spearheaded Tampa Bay's turnaround that snapped a streak of 14 consecutive losing seasons in 1997. The rising team reached the NFC championship game in 1999 and captured Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003, where the Florida State alum sealed victory with a fourth-quarter interception returned for a touchdown. "Double Nickel" was voted onto 11 Pro Bowl squads, named an All-Pro five times, and was awarded as the 2002 Defensive Player of the Year.
Carl Crawford (Rays, 2002-10)
Despite bitterness from his free-agent departure to the Boston Red Sox, this speedy left-hander may be the most instrumental player to the growth of baseball in Tampa Bay. Drafted in the second season of franchise existence in 1999, Crawford quickly became the Rays' first star. Thriving at Tropicana Field for nine seasons, the outfielder still tops team record books with 1,480 hits, 215 doubles, 105 triples, 765 runs, 592 RBIs, and 409 stolen bases. A four-time All-Star with speed and power, "The Perfect Storm" batted .296 with the Rays and was a key component of the 2008 World Series squad.
Vincent Lecavalier (Lightning, 1998-2013)
Like many on this list, Lecavalier was expected to become the face of a franchise. Selected with 1998's top overall draft pick, the Quebec native entered the NHL as an 18-year-old rookie and was Bolts' captain before the age of 20. Though he would lose that role, the center gradually developed into a dynamic scorer, leading the league with 52 goals in 2006-07. His finest moments, however, came during the club's Stanley Cup triumph in 2004. Vinny posted nine goals during the magical run and assisted in the winning tally of Game 7 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Though never meeting "Michael Jordan of Hockey" expectations, Lecavalier has been a steady performer for 14 seasons, tops team record books with 383 career goals, and again has served as captain since 2008.
Evan Longoria (Rays, 2008-present)
Though only in his sixth season, some believe that Longoria has already become the Rays' greatest player. The team recently demonstrated this belief through a hefty contract extension that keeps the third baseman in Tampa Bay through 2023. Indeed, the California native has transformed into one of baseball's most feared sluggers and has earned three All-Star selections and two Gold Gloves. The 2008 Rookie of the Year helped carry the Rays to the World Series in his very first campaign. His dramatic home runs in "Game 162" enabled making the 2011 playoffs in one of sport's greatest comebacks. Inevitably drawing the heartiest applause at Tropicana Field, "Longo" is a 279 career hitter with 147 home runs and 503 RBI.
John Lynch (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, S, 1993-2003)
The Bucs' defense in Super Bowl XXXVII may eventually possess four Hall of Famers. Such dreams seemed impossible when this third-round pick arrived in Tampa Bay in 1993. While his first few seasons witnessed substantial losing, the club eventually embraced this fierce defender's attitude. Undoubtedly becoming one of most ferocious tacklers in NFL history, Lynch was a beloved Buccaneer, and fans voiced disgust when he was released in 2004. During 11 seasons with Tampa Bay, the strong safety was selected to five Pro Bowls, scooped up 23 interceptions, and was feared for the ability to force and recover fumbles.
Warren Sapp (Buccaneers, 1995-2003)
For nine seasons in Tampa Bay, the 1999 Defensive Player of the Year was arguably the most feared defensive lineman in football. Excelling equally at stopping the run and pressuring quarterbacks, few blockers could contain this dominant tackle. Selected in the first round of the 1995 draft, Sapp qualified for seven consecutive Pro Bowls from 1997-2003 and the boisterous player entertained Raymond James Stadium by celebrating 77 sacks with the Bucs in style. The "QB Killa" impressively entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013 on his first year of eligibility.
Lee Roy Selmon (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, DE, 1976-1984)
With Hillsborough County's 'Lee Roy Selmon Expressway' dedicated in his honor, this beloved player belongs near the top of any listing of the region's great athletes. Not only did he become the franchise's very first player in 1976, but Selmon racked up an impressive 78.5 sacks during a nine-year career, though he's only credited with 23 since sacks wasn't an official stat until 1982. Leading the Bucs to three playoff appearances, the Oklahoma native reached six Pro Bowls and was named the 1979 Defensive Player of the Year. He further contributed to football in Tampa Bay by serving as the University of South Florida's athletic director. "The Gentle Giant" was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1995 and became the first player inducted into the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor in 2009.
Martin St. Louis (Lightning, 2000-present)
Noted for gentlemanly play, this undersized forward has been a constant overachiever throughout 12 years in Tampa Bay. Released by the Calgary Flames after only two seasons, St. Louis signed with the Bolts in 2000 and posted a pair of solid, but unspectacular campaigns. That changed in 2002-03, when the Quebec native enjoyed a breakout performance with 70 points, and the Lightning qualified for the playoffs for the second time in team history. As part of a young nucleus, St. Louis took his game to the next level in leading the NHL with 94 points a year later, when the Bolts shocked hockey by winning the Stanley Cup. Using quickness and a blistering shot, the 5-foot-8 veteran even became the oldest player ever to top the NHL in scoring in 2013.
Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network . A loyal Tampa Bay Bucs fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Tampa Bay
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Tampa Bay Rays
- Mike Alstott