In this new weekly series commissioned by a Bucs Legend & Lost Icon, we will be discussing the often overlooked, forgotten, and the little known players who paved the way to the Super Bowl and made Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin’s legendary Tampa 2 defense what it was known for. Dominance!
“Hardy! Hardy! Hardy!”
We start with linebacker Hardy Nickerson.
Yes, Hardy Nickerson came here before both Dungy and Kiffin, but you cannot overlook his part in turning the Buccaneers around in the early ’90s and paving the way for the team’s defensive rise.
Hardware showed he had the goods.
Hardy “Hardware” Nickerson arrived in Tampa as a seasoned veteran of the NFL. Following his 1 interception, 9.5 sack, 4 fumbles recovered, and 436 combined tackle, 6-season-stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers, his arrival in Tampa announced his arrival to the scene.
In 1993, his first season with the Buccaneers, Hardware showed he had the goods. He recorded, off the official books, a league-leading 214 combined tackles, with 124 of them solo; sadly, tackles would not become an official stat until 2001.
He earned a Pro Bowl selection, which at the time made him just the 4th time a Tampa Bay defender to be voted to the Pro Bowl. (Dave Pear 1978, Lee Roy Selmon 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, Dave Lewis 1980). He also earned an All-Pro honor that same year, which at the time was just the second time a Bucs player was selected as an All-Pro since the team’s inception (Lee Roy Selmon 1979). Nickerson would go on to 4 more Pro Bowls in 1996,1997,1998, and 1999 as well as received 3 more All-Pro honors in 1996, 19997, and 1999.
Ring of Honor?
When fans talk about past players, who are musts for the Ring of Honor, on account of the impact they have had, Hardy Nickerson’s name is left out of the discussion all too often. During his 7-year stint with the Buccaneers, he oversaw the Buccaneers’ defensive rise to greatness. He recorded 7 interceptions, 13 forced fumbles, 9 fumbles recovered, 603 solo tackles, 1,208 combined tackles, 9 sacks, 31 passes defended, in 104 games in which he started in all. He helped guide the Buccaneers defense to their first NFC Championship since 1979 during his final season with the team in 1999.
Hardy Nickerson not only changed the culture in Tampa, but he also set the standard of what a player for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be.
Nickerson was not just a great player for the Buccaneers, he was the well-respected leader of the defense. He was aggressive, savvy, and known for laying the wood on anyone who had the football. He would take young players, like John Lynch, who played the linebacker position when he first arrived in Tampa back in 1993 and helped mold Lynch into the player he became. When Warren Sapp arrived in 1995, Nickerson made sure that he was Sapp’s hotel roommate and took him under his wing. He also helped lay the foundations for the player Derrick Brooks would become.
Hardy Nickerson not only changed the culture in Tampa, but he also set the standard of what a player for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be. As a matter of fact, he would not accept anything less out of his teammates. When it is all said and done, Hardy Nickerson is easily our #1 Recovered Treasures.
The Legacy lives on – written by Jason Sharp
“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.
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.”