The Turnaround 1997 Bucs: Where Are They Now?
The orange and white was out. Red and pewter were in.
NFL Films showed up at training camp at the University of Tampa's Pepin Rood Stadium, placing faith that the Bucs would be their annual surprise team.
So right they would be.
For some Buc fans, the 1997 season holds a special place. A 5-0 start meant no longer could a fan walk up to games and purchase tickets, or find them tucked under windshield wipers in stadium parking lots.
Ten regular season victories and a home playoff win sendoff of the Old Sombrero followed.
For the first time in more than a decade, fans had reason to celebrate. Red Bucs flags flapped from car windows. New merchandise wasn't just available at sporting goods stores, but grocery stores and gas stations.
Warrick Dunn was on the cover of Sports Illustrated: 'Break Out the Bucs.'
Ray Perkins and Richard Williamson were far, far behind.
It was the season that began the Bucs run of success that culminated with a Super Bowl title following the 2002 season.
We take a look back at the fortune-changing Bucs' 1997. This time, the defense.
When Eric Curry held out of training camp as a No. 1 pick in 1993, fellow rookie Ahanotu jumped on the opening and became a starter at defensive end. It is a position he would not let go of until he was not resigned after the 2000 season.
In 1997, Ahanotu compiled 10 sacks from his right end spot, completing a tenacious front four. He would go on to be the Bucs' franchise player in 1999, though he never again would reach more than 6.5 sacks in a season.
After his initial eight-season run with the Bucs, Ahanotu started for the Rams (2001), Bills (2002) and 49ers (2003) before splitting 2004 with the Dolphins and a return to Tampa Bay for a final season.
The ex-Cal Bear is operates Magellan Entertainment, a sports management and entertainment group in the Tampa Bay area.
The future Hall of Fame defensive tackle broke out in his third season in 1997, cracking double digit sacks for the first time (10.5) and earning his first Pro Bowl trip.
Sapp would go on to be one of the dominating interior defensive lineman of his era: NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1999, seven Pro Bowls, and 77 sacks with the Bucs (96.5 total).
His competitive verbal exchanges with then-Packers quarterback Brett Favre would become a twice annual NFC Central event.
After not being re-signed by the Bucs after the 2003 season, Sapp played four seasons with the Raiders, highlighted by a 10 sack 2004 (his 12th NFL season).
Sapp retired after the 2007 season.
Since then, Sapp appeared on the seventh season of ABC show Dancing With the Stars. Well known on and off the field for his comments, Sapp continues his trade: he's a commentator for the NFL Network and Inside the NFL.
The former University of Florida standout blossomed in coach Tony Dungy's single-gap, attacking scheme. Culpepper compiled 8.5 sacks during the 2007 turnaround season, a number no other Buccaneer nose guard has since come close to matching.
Originally drafted by the Vikings while Dungy was coordinator in 1992, Culpepper was surprisingly released by the Bucs prior to the 2000 season. Despite starting 1996 to 1999, Culpepper was moved by the club to make room for 1999 No. 1 pick Anthony 'Booger' McFarland.
Culpepper played a final season in 2000 as a reserve with the Chicago Bears before retiring. The former 10th round pick compiled 34 sacks (17.5 from 1997 and 1998) over nine seasons.
Culpepper, an academic all-american at the University of Florida, worked on his law degree during the offseasons of his playing career. Once his playing days ended, he first worked for the law firm Morgan & Morgan in Tampa, before starting the Tampa Bay-based firm Culpepper, Kurland, PLLC.
Upshaw, Tony Dungy's first selection as Buccaneers' head coach in 1996, built on his rookie season in 1997, collecting 7.5 sacks, up from four as a rookie.
Unfortunately, it would prove to be his best NFL season.
Upshaw never quite became the pass rusher the Bucs thought they had with the 12th pick of the NFL Draft. Upshaw would play one more underwhelming season for the Bucs before an early-season 1999 trade to Jacksonville.
Battling knee injuries most of the rest of his career, Upshaw played the remainder of 1999 for the Jaguars, before going on to three seasons with the Raiders (2000-2002), one for the Redskins (2003), and part of another in 2004 with the Giants.
Considered a pass-rusher at Cal, Upshaw became known as a run stopper late in his career, compiling 34.5 sacks during his eight-plus season career.
Upshaw resides in the Washington, DC area and works in business development for GC Construction.
Porter's lone season with the Bucs would be his last of 10 seasons in the NFL.
The former Seahawk and Saint provided leadership and system knowledge, having played under Monte Kiffin in New Orleans 1995.
Porter, who went to the Pro Bowl as a member of the Seahawks as a special-teamer in 1989 and linebacker in 1990, started 10 games in 1997 at strong-side linebacker. He tutored young linebackers Shelton Quarles, Al Singleton and Jeff Gooch, who replaced him in the lineup in 1998.
Porter's son, Rufus Jr., followed his father's footsteps as a linebacker. Porter Jr. stayed close to home by signing with Louisiana Tech in 2007.
The leader of the Bucs' defense, Nickerson started all 16 games in the middle for the Bucs in 1997.
During his 16-season career, the run-stuffer also had 21 sacks and 12 interceptions and was named to the NFL's All-Decade team for the 1990s.
Originally signed from the Steelers in 1993, the Bucs didn't re-sign five time Pro Bowler after the 1999 season, replacing him with Jamie Duncan.
Nickerson would go on to become a regular in the middle for Jacksonville (2000-2001) and Green Bay (2002) before retiring.
Nickerson spent one season as the color commentator for the Buccaneer Radio Network (replacing Scot Brantley) in 2006 before leaving for the Chicago Bears.
In Chicago, he worked as linebacker coach under Bears boss Lovie Smith (Nickerson's linebacker coach for the Bucs). He resigned after one season in early-2008 due to health concerns with his ailing mother and mother-in-law.
Perhaps no player better fit the Dungy/Kiffin-led scheme than the speedy, undersized Brooks.
In his third season in 1997, Brooks started all 16 games at weak-side linebacker and earned his first of what would become nine-consecutive Pro Bowl berths.
One of two likely future Hall of Famers the Bucs chose in 1995 (Sapp being the other), For his career, Brooks would go on to 11 Pro Bowls and a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2002.
The former Seminole has 41 interceptions and six touchdowns during his career.
For the first time since 1994, the Bucs enter a season with someone other than Brooks at weakside linebacker. Brooks was released with one year left on his contract after the 2008 season.
A free agent, the 14-year veteran hopes to latch on to an NFL team before camps open in 2009.
Parker was signed shortly before the 1997 season after being released after two seasons with the Rams. The former World Leaguer had his finest seasons under Dungy while with the Vikings from 1992-1994, and was brought on to bring a veteran presence to a youthful Buc cornerback position.
Parker started 15 games and had one sack and interception in 1997. Ronde Barber won the cornerback job from Parker at midseason of in 1998, Parker's final NFL season.
During his nine-year career, Parker had 15 interceptions, with four returned for touchdowns.
Parker, who played at Arizona State, has a son, Cedric, who is a standout high school safety in Arizona. Another son, Colin, is a sophomore linebacker at ASU.
Abraham started immediately as a rookie third-round pick in 1996 out of East Tennessee State, and quickly became the Bucs' top cover corner. Abraham started every game and picked off five passes in 1997.
Abraham had 31 interceptions and two touchdown returns in his six seasons (1996-2001) as a Buc, before being replaced by Brian Kelly.
He finished his career with three seasons (2002-2004) as starter at cornerback with the New York Jets under ex-Buc secondary coach Herman Edwards.
Abraham worked an assistant football coach for Pinellas County Florida's East Lake High School, and during summer 2009 was named as head coach of Pinellas' Gibbs High School.
After being shuffled between linebacker and safety from 1993 to 1995 under Sam Wyche, Lynch became a Buc standby at strong safety under Dungy.
Lynch earned his first Pro Bowl berth following the 1997 season, in which the run-enforcer also produced two interceptions.
In 11 seasons with the Bucs, Lynch went to five Pro Bowls, intercepted 23 passes and was known as one of the league's toughest hitters. Not brought back by the club following the 2003 season, Lynch would go on to start four seasons (2003-2007) with the Broncos.
He went to the Pro Bowl each season with Denver, despite declining numbers (zero interceptions from 2006-2007).
Lynch was in camp with the Patriots (who courted him when the Bucs released him) in 2008, but was released prior to the regular season Lynch works as a color commentator for NFL games on the Fox Network.
Like Parker, Mincy was brought on to the Bucs to provide experience in Dungy's defensive scheme.
Mincy played for Dungy as a rookie with the Chiefs (where Mincy played from 1991-1994), and again in 1995 for Minnesota.
After coming to the Bucs in 1996, Mincy took over at free safety in 1997, bumping Melvin Johnson from the lineup. The veteran started nine games at free safety and had one interception.
Mincy would start every game for the Bucs in 1998 (four INTs) before the Bucs moved on to Damien Robinson at free safety. Mincy finished his nine-year career in 1999 with the Raiders.
Mincy has since returned to his California roots and is a high school head football coach in Inglewood.
DT Marcus Jones
A reserve tackle in 1997, Jones played in just seven games as a disappointing 1996 first-round pick.
He broke out after being moved to end, with seven sacks in 1999 and 13 in 2000. After six seasons with the Bucs, Jones departed and signed with Buffalo while injured in 2002, but never played in another regular season game.
Marcus "The Darkness" Jones is a mixed martial arts fighter with a 4-1 record who is appearing on the television show 'Ultimate Fighter 10.'
DT Jason Maniecki
The former Wisconsin Badger's Bucs career lasted three seasons, ending in 1999 due to back injuries. A Buc fifth-round pick in 1996, Maniecki's best season came in 1997, when he appeared in 10 games and had one sack.
Maniecki is a Tampa-based high-end realtor.
DE/DT Tyoka Jackson
The Bucs made a find, plucking Jackson as a street free agent in 1996 after he played briefly with the Dolphins. He compiled 2.5 sacks off the bench as an valuable reserve along the line in 1997.
Jackson played 12 seasons and had 29 sacks during his career with the Rams (2001-2005) and Lions (2006), Bucs (1996-2000) and Dolphins (1995).
The former Nittany Lion founded the Jackson Investment Company 1995.
The Washington, DC-area company specializes in the purchase and development of residential real estate for urban renewal projects.
DE Eric Curry
The former first 1993 round-pick lost his starting job to Upshaw in 1996. Injured much of 1997, Curry spent injury-plagued seasons of 1998 to 2000 with the Jaguars.
Career numbers: seven seasons, 12.5 sacks (five his rookie year).
Curry resides in Jacksonville, the last stop of his career, with his family.
DE Steve White
White joined the Bucs in 1996 and received playing time when Eric Curry was placed on injured reserve in 1997. White played in 15 games with one start, appearing mainly on special teams in 1997. He started for the Bucs in 1999, and played a final season for the Jets under Herman Edwards in 2002.
White worked as a grad assistant working with defensive lineman at South Florida in 2005, and resides and coaches football in the Tampa Bay area.
MLB Greg Bellisari
Bellisari was Nickerson's backup for his only full NFL season in 1997. The rookie free agent played nearly exclusively on special teams. He was released during the 1998 season after appearing in two games.
The former Ohio State Buckeye is a medical doctor in Ohio. His younger brother, Steve, an OSU quarterback, would go on to be a draft pick of the Rams as a safety.
OLB Shelton Quarles
The CFL refugee earned a spot on special teams and backup outside linebacker as a rookie in 1997.
Quarles would go on to play ten seasons, starting on the strongside in 1999 until being moved to the middle in 2002 (earning his only Pro Bowl berth), where he would start for the Bucs until his final season in 2006.
Quarles works in the Buccaneers scouting department and has his own non-profit group.
OLB Alshermond Singleton
Singleton spent much of his 1997 rookie season on special teams, and blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown versus Arizona to help the Bucs reach 5-0.
Singleton was a useful role player until finally got his chance to start full-time in 2002 when Quarles moved to the middle, creating a vacancy at strong-side linebacker.
In 2003, Singleton signed with Dallas, where he played until his tenth and final NFL season in 2006.
Singleton owns Martinizing Dry Cleaners franchises in his home state of New Jersey.
OLB Jeff Gooch
The former free agent from Austin Peay took over as strong-side starter for Porter in 1998 after working as a backup (starting five games) and special teamer in 1997.
After his six year-run with the Bucs (1996-2001), Gooch had a second stint in Tampa Bay from 2004 to 2005 after two seasons in Detroit (2002-2003).
Gooch works in the scouting department of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
SS Kenny Gant
The 'Shark' spent three seasons (1995-1997) with the Bucs after signing from Dallas (1990-1994). Gant played in nickel and dime situations in Dallas, but was relegated nearly exclusively to special teams with the Bucs. In 1997, Gant appeared in nine games on Buc coverage units.
He would play eight NFL seasons and earned two Super Bowl rings with the Cowboys.
Gant played one season in the Regional Football League after his NFL days, and worked in the NFL coaching intern program with the Bucs in 2000.
Gant lives in the Tampa Bay area with his family.
CB Tyrone Leggett
The veteran special-teamer was briefly the Bucs nickelback in 1997, contributing a start and interception, until Floyd Young and, later, Ronde Barber, took the role.
Leggett played seven NFL seasons with the Bucs (1996-1997), 49ers (1998) and Saints (1992-1995).
In early 2000s, co-created Unity Development LLC with former Saints teammate Torrance Small. Unity Development was created as an investment vehicle for current and retired NFL players to invest. The company has a partnership with Wingate hotels.
CB Reggie Rusk
Rusk Began the 1997 as the Bucs' nickelback after appearing in one game as a rookie in 1996, but was released a few weeks into the season. Rusk played for the Seahawks the rest of 1997 and spent 1999 and 2000 with the Chargers.
Rusk owns Next Level Sports 25, an athlete training company in Texas.
CB Ronde Barber
The only active member of the 1997 defense, Barber is starting cornerback for the Buccaneers in his 13th season. In 1997, Barber became nickel back in the playoffs after playing in just one regular season game.
Since earning the starting job midway through his second season of 1998, Barber has compiled 37 interceptions for nearly 700 return yards, 23 sacks and seven touchdowns.
Barber enters the Bucs 2009 training camp back at starting cornerback.
CB Floyd Young
Young spent much of his four seasons (1997-2000) with the Bucs as the fourth corner. In 1997, he played in nickel and dime passing situations. Young signed with the Bears in 2001 and 2002, but was released and reached an injury settlement.
Young was part of the Bucs' Texas A&M Kingsville pipeline (Young, CB Al Harris, C/G Kevin Dogins, G Jorge Diaz, WR/KR Karl Williams).
Young signed with the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL in 2003, and played in the Arena Football League in 2006 and 2007 with the Tampa Bay Storm and Orlando Predators.