For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 2023 NFL season will not go down as the most successful one in the nearly three-decade era of the Glazer family’s ownership. That would either be 2002 (the franchise’s first-ever Super Bowl) or the 2020 COVID year when the Bucs, quarterbacked by Tom Brady, won it all again. But this past year – the first of the post-Brady era – may go down as the most impressive.
After the surefire Hall of Fame quarterback retired last winter, the Bucs, who have been owned by the Glazers since the mid-’90s, were not expected to pose much of a threat to the Atlanta Falcons in claiming the NFC South title in 2023, let alone make a Super Bowl run. And yet, despite the naysayers, Tampa was crowned division champs for the third consecutive year before upsetting the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card round and sitting two games away from Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas. Ultimately, it was in the NFC Divisional round that Tampa’s season ground to a halt with a 31-23 loss to the upstart Detroit Lions.
“We fought. Obviously, anything short of the Super Bowl is a disappointment,” said Tampa’s soft-spoken head coach Todd Bowles minutes after his team nearly pulled off a big-time road upset at thunderous Ford Field in Detroit. “We didn’t come in to make noise, we came in to get to the Super Bowl, so from that standpoint it’s a disappointment. I’m very proud of the guys, the way they fought all year long, the things they dealt with, the injuries they fought through, the young guys stepping up, the older guys playing above anything they could ever do. Today was our day to go home.
“It’s great that they bought in with each other and we wrote our own narrative for the most part. We refused to be the worst team in football because that’s not what we were going to be.”
In spite of the pundits giving them nary a chance during this transition year . . . and most of football-crazed America rooting for the championship-starved Lions in this playoff matchup, this year’s Bucs team remained gritty and scrappy – just like Malcolm Glazer, the late patriarch of the family who purchased the franchise back in 1995 for a then-record $192 million. (Today, the team is worth well over $1 billion.)
Glazer’s rags to riches story began in World War II, when, as the fifth of seven children of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, he left school as a 15-year-old to work at his family’s watch parts shop in Upstate New York after his father passed away.
After running a successful watch and jewelry concession at an Air Force base in Geneva, N.Y., Malcolm began dabbling in equities before ultimately amassing a fortune in commercial real estate, junk bonds, and distressed businesses. Ever since Malcolm died in 2014, Tampa has been run by his six children, Bryan, Edward, Avram, Kevin, Joel, and Darcie, who also serves as president of the Glazer Vision Foundation, which over the past decade has provided eye exams and prescription glasses to children in need throughout the greater Tampa area.
Back in March 2020, the Glazers – a family that presided over the construction of Raymond James Stadium, a host of multiple Super Bowls — took a considerable gamble by inking a then-42-year-old Brady to a fully guaranteed two-year, $50 million deal. Nearly three years later, when Brady left the game for good, the Glazers once again rolled the dice on its next quarterback, Baker Mayfield, by signing the former No.1 overall pick-turned-journeyman to a one-year “prove-it” deal. Mayfield, in turn, finished 2023 with career highs in touchdown passes (28) and passing yards (4,044) while quarterbacking the Bucs a round further than Brady was able to lead them a year ago.
“He [Mayfield] did a heck of a job,” emphasized Bowles, whose 2022 promotion to head coach was largely driven by owner/co-chairman Bryan Glazer. “He didn’t take over for Tom. Tom retired and Baker became a new quarterback on a new team with a new offensive coordinator. He took over for himself. We built it differently, we ran it differently, it was run differently around him and again, we can’t compare Baker to Tom. Tom is Mount Rushmore. Tom is off on his own. We started a new system with new guys and new energy and Baker carved his own mark. I’m proud of him for that.”
Mayfield, meanwhile, remains eternally grateful to the Glazer family for giving him one more chance to revive his career – and possibly land a highly lucrative new contract in either Tampa or elsewhere this offseason.
“Obviously, who knows how it’s going to play out, but I can’t say enough about this organization for the opportunity they gave me this year, and so I’m just thankful,” said Mayfield after his team’s playoff exit. “Hoping it works out.”
As for this year’s surprising run, engineered by the Glazer-led front office, Mayfield commented, “From day one – [Buccaneers Head] Coach [Todd] Bowles said it, nobody is going to give us a chance, from the preseason rankings to when I got picked up, and nobody was going to give us a chance. . . . We weren’t supposed to be here by anybody’s opinion, but we believed in each other, and we got here. We fought, and scratched and clawed, and somehow got here. So, obviously when you don’t win it all it’s always a disappointing season, but this group can be proud of a lot that we did this year.”
The Heart of a Jewish Lion
The Buccaneers, who went 1-1 against the Falcons and won five of their final six regular season games, ran into a Lions team that wasn’t going to be denied in its deepest postseason run since 1992 and one that has captivated the Motor City, if not the entire state of Michigan. It’s also a Lions team that has a Jewish representation as tight end Anthony Firkser, a Falcon in 2022, came over as a back-up tight end for the home stretch of the regular season.
In fact, late in this NFC Divisional Playoff game, when Detroit tight end Brock Wright went down with a forearm injury, Firsker’s number was called (NBC color analyst Cris Collinsworth quickly pointed out Firkser’s alma mater, Harvard) and the tight end, who was originally brought in as a practice squad player and recently elevated to the active roster, saw his first postseason action since January 2020.
“It’s been awesome as soon as I got here,” said Firkser after Detroit advanced to the NFC Championship game in front of an electrified home crowd generating, what he considers, the loudest gameday environment he’s ever witnessed. “The whole organization here has been great. It’s been a great environment, seeing how hard these guys work here. Getting these wins has been huge. Detroit fans have been awesome.
“I’ve only been here since middle of this year, so it’s kind of new to me, but hearing it from these guys, hearing it from Coach [Dan] Campbell who’s been here for three years, where they started and where they’re at now, it’s been awesome to be a part of this and to have some success here and have the fans behind us like this has been great.”