Over the next several weeks and months, I will be profiling many of the extremely talented Buccaneer players we have had not only since the team’s inception, but also the recent players that have moved on and even players that are still on the team. My hope is that the average fan who may be recent additions to the Krewe or haven’t been introduced to many of the players will have the opportunity to learn a little more about the players that have made the Buccaneers the gritty determined team that we all love.
The first player we have decided to spotlight is one of the most popular and impactful players to ever put on a Buccaneer uniform, #56, Hardy Nickerson. Nickerson probably had more of a hand in the rebuilding and re-branding of the Bucs upon Tony Dungy’s arrival than any other player. He was picked up as an unrestricted free agent after a stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1993 and immediately took on a leadership role not only in the linebacking corps but on the defense as a whole. After 7 incredible seasons as a Buccaneer, Nickerson departed as a free agent and spent two years in Jacksonville and a final season as a Packer, though he would never achieve the success outside of Tampa as he achieved being a Buccaneer.
It wouldn’t be long until we saw him return to the Tampa market though, as, after his stint as an NFL player, Nickerson decided to give broadcasting a try and became the Buccaneers’ radio color analyst along with longtime radio personality Gene Deckerhoff. Nickerson’s stint on the microphone was short lived as he received a coaching offer after his first year that he decided he couldn’t pass up. Upon accepting the role of the linebacker’s coach for the Chicago Bears in 2007, Nickerson found that he had a knack for coaching and would go on to have several stints in coaching including being hired as the head coach for Bishop O’Dowd High School, returning to the Buccaneers as a linebacker’s coach under head coach Lovie Smith, taking the same role with the 49ers, and concluding his coaching career as the defensive coordinator and linebacker’s coach for the University of Illinois.
Nickerson had a good run in Pittsburgh, as the Steelers drafted him in the 5th round of the 1987 draft, and he went on to play 6 seasons as a Steeler. While in Pittsburgh, Nickerson would amass 1 interception, 5 forced fumbles, 4 recovered fumbles, 9.5 sacks, and 426 combined tackles. This might seem to be impressive statistics, if not for the fact he would surpass those totals with his next team.
After picking Nickerson up from Pittsburgh as a free agent, the Bucs would see their investment pay off as Hardy recorded 7 interceptions, 13 forced fumbles, 9 recovered fumbles,
9 sacks, 5 passes deflected, and over 900 combined tackles over the span of 104 games. With these kinds of numbers, it’s easy to see why Nickerson to this day still remains one of the most beloved Buccaneer players and is considered by most to be a Buccaneer legend.
While it was hard to see him leave Tampa, Nickerson decided his career wasn’t over and he would move on to Jacksonville where, unfortunately, his numbers quickly declined. In two seasons with the Jags, Nickerson only managed to put together 4 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovered, 1 sack, and 147 tackles. These numbers were a far cry from what we saw from him in Tampa, but his love for the game was still as strong as ever, so once again, he took his talents to a new location.
His final season would be as far from Tampa as one could be, as he found himself in the frozen tundras of Green Bay. During 16 games with the Packers, Nickerson only managed to deflect 3 passes while picking up 1.5 sacks, but as expected, his tackles still were towards the top of the team, as he managed 85 combined tackles to end his career as a player.
Throughout his career on four different teams, Nickerson was named to 5 Pro Bowls, was named the Player of the Week 3 times, became a 2x First-Team All-Pro, found himself in the top 10 in tackles for the entire league on 3 separate occasions, and was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame 2nd team All-1990’s team and Pro Football Reference 1st team All-1990’s Team.
When you look at the impact of Nickerson as a player, and the numbers he was able to amass over his career, it becomes even more impressive when one remembers that he wasn’t even drafted until the 5th round. Perhaps, even more than everything he was able to accomplish as a player, a broadcaster, and a coach, his greatest accomplishment, came off the field, as Nickerson is the Father of Bengal’s linebacker and his namesake, Hardy Nickerson.
It doesn’t matter if it’s on the field, off the field, on the sidelines, or in the booth, Hardy Nickerson will forever remain as one of the greatest players to ever call themselves a Buccaneer.