If you were a Bucs Fan in the early ’90s and still are today, you are to be applauded. The Ray Perkins, Roy Williamson, and Sam Wyche days were not kind to Tampa Bay. Though the team was profitable, they were flat dismal; and ownership was known as dreadfully cheap. Sam Wyche in particular deserved a better fate. He was knowledgeable and capable but was hampered by a shoddy roster and poor quarterback play. The Bucs just didn’t draft well, and the crowning achievements were 1990 #4 Overall Pick, Keith McCants, and 1993 #6 Overall Pick, Eric Curry dubbed the ‘Bama Busts’. As in not living up to their billing. Not Hall of Fame Busts. This moniker may be unfair to Curry, who succumbed to injury. McCants stung because the local faithful was upset that Emmitt Smith was passed up for McCants. The fans seemed to think, “Hey, if we’re gonna lose, can we have someone we enjoy watching?”
Though Eric Curry’s less than stellar play could have marred the 1993 draft, two Pac-10 picks, Stanford’s John Lynch (3rd Round) and Golden Bear, Chidi Ahanotu (6th Round) proved to be Rich McKay gems and really began to spearhead a subtle turnaround in Tampa Bay. We know that Joltin’ Johnny Lynch is a national legend. Those who love Bucs’ ball in the ‘90s know Chidi Ahanotu remains a fan fave and local legend in his own right. Quite frankly, the ’93 Bucs were one of the scrappiest bunches in Bucs history, and the 5 – 11 record does not do the defense’s play justice. In the end, as a team, “You are what your record says you are” – Bill Parcells
Chidi played well, inside and outside though he found a home at strongside Defensive End in 94. In three seasons under non-stalwart Defensive Coordinators, Floyd Peters and Rusty Tillman, Chidi racked up 125 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Chidi rates to disagree with fans observation of Peters and Tillman, but they were non-distinct, and I never got the idea they cared much for John Lynch which made no sense, but they knew Chidi was very-good, i.e., twitchy with an ability to win early and show power at the point.
In 1996, Wyche was fired, and Tony Dungy became the Bucs head coach, bringing with him from the Vikings, Defensive Coordinator, Monte Kiffin. Frankly, they transformed the defense immediately, installing what would become widely known as the ‘Tampa 2’. What was glaring with Kiffin taking over for Tillman, was that there were some really good parts already in place to run that defense. You have to have superb defensive linemen and be hard up the middle. Of course, Warren Sapp, Brad Culpepper, and Chidi were outstanding linemen, and Hardy Nickerson, and John Lynch made offenses attempt to attack East and West as there was no paydirt up the middle. This made it easy for Derrick Brooks and Lonnie Marts to chase and capture ball carriers. And Chidi matched his career total for sacks his first season in the ‘Tampa 2’. Something was brewing in the bay.
What was brewing was the Bucs 1997 magical run spearheaded by Sapp and Chidi both, putting up double-digit sacks and a playoff berth for the first time in fifteen years. Frankly, the film says Ahanotu was worthy of a Pro Bowl, but voters have their own agendas. Chidi was a fan favorite for a lot of reasons. He was a “lunch-pail” guy. He was a leader through a tough transformation that happened before our very eyes. Sure, Chidi had over 400 tackles, is still 5th all-time in Bucs history on the sack-o-meter, and we battled through those tough playoff disappointments with him (in spirit, though those were his cartilage and ligaments on the line). But those didn’t bother us too much, because there weren’t any playoffs before him for quite some time. The Cal Golden Bear drafted in 1993 was here, in his prime, as a transformative figure – and in this – he’s a Bucs’ Legend.
Check out this excerpt from Chidi’s upcoming book!