Monday, June 21, 2010

Meet Buccaneer Bruce, 6/14/75

In April 1974, the National Football League announced that a new franchise would be placed in Tampa beginning in 1976. A name-the-team contest sponsored by WFLA radio took place nine months later in which the name Buccaneers was selected over other choices such as Sailors, Buzzards, and Coastal Tides.

Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse then commissioned renowned Tampa Tribune artist-cartoonist Lamar Sparkman to take the next step and design the team’s logo. On June 14, 1975, the Buccaneers finally gained an identity when the team revealed their colors and new look to the public.

The end result was one of the most unique looks in all of football and a logo that would be the subject of debate for decades.

The colors – orange, red and white – were each selected for a particular purpose. Orange, which would serve as the team’s primary color, reflected the area’s ties to the citrus industry as well as warm, Florida sunshine. Red, while also reflecting warmth, is a power color that symbolizes “courage and fortitude in battle.”

Originally, the team hoped to go with an orange, white and green color scheme. These colors, however, too closely resembled the uniforms of Florida A&M University, and even more importantly, the Miami Dolphins. Rather than risk upsetting the Dolphins, the Buccaneers hoped to create their own identity with a color-scheme unique to the NFL.

The Buccaneers also announced that the team would go with a basic white uniform for most home games. This would conceivably give the home team an advantage in warm weather games against opponents wearing dark jerseys such as the Chicago Bears or Oakland Raiders.

Speaking of the Raiders, the team went to great lengths to avoid creating a logo that would too closely resemble that of Oakland’s own pirate. The Oakland Raiders logo, of course, features a pirate with a patch over his right eye and two swords crossing in the background.

The Tampa Bay look needed to present a clear distinction between a pirate and a buccaneer. Sparkman said that he used noted swashbuckling actor Errol Flynn, smuggler Jean Lafitte and the Musketeer D’Artagnan as inspirations for his design.

This would be perfect for Sparkman, who grew up drawing pirates and created countless pieces of Gasparilla-themed artwork during his career. His goal was to create a character that was “a cavalier, not a hairy-legged slob.”

Thus, Tampa Bay’s buccaneer would be unlike any traditional pirate-themed logo. The character which came to be known as “Buccaneer Bruce” or “Bucco Bruce” would not wear an eye patch. Instead, one of his eyes would be winking. Rather than swords, he would clench a dagger between his teeth. Finally, the buccaneer would wear a wide-brimmed plumed hat.

“The plume feather adds class,” Sparkman said. “I put the dagger in his mouth to add aggression, and then had him wink. It is a half wink and half sneer.”

James M. “Red” McEwen, the chairman of the team’s advisory committee, loved everything about the look.

“I think what we wanted was a sort of high-class cut-throat, and we got him,” said McEwen.
“We believe the colors, the emblems and the uniform styles are most suitable and genuinely represent Tampa Bay.”

Over time, the logo and colors would unfortunately become more associated with a losing tradition than anything else. Through no fault of Sparkman’s, the Buccaneers on the field often failed to embody the ideals associated with his design: courage, gallantry and victory.

In years when the team enjoyed success – particularly during the team’s breakthrough season of 1979 -- there were few complaints to be made about the logo or colors. During the bad times, such as the 0-26 start from 1976-77 or the 14-consecutive losing season from 1983-96,

“Buccaneer Bruce” and the so-called “Creamsicle” uniforms became convenient scapegoats.
That the team’s fortunes began to turn around in 1997 when a new logo and color-scheme were unveiled has lent further speculation to the theory that somehow the original colors and logo were factors in the team’s poor results.

Recently, however, the colors and “Buccaneer Bruce” logo have enjoyed a renaissance with the team and fans. Last season, the Buccaneers donned the original colors for the first time since 1996 in a turn-back-the-clock game against the Green Bay Packers. The orange-and-white themed game brought back positive memories for so many people and proved to be a highlight in an otherwise dismal pewter-and-red season.

Sadly, Sparkman passed away this past January at the age of 88. Fortunately, however, he was able to witness the public’s fondness and respect for his iconic creation one final time.


  1. Great article. I will always proudly wear my orange. All hail Bucco Bruce!

  2. Watched the news when the logo and colors were revealed. I was 15 and watching with a bunch of my friends. We all looked at each other and somewhat simultaneously, blurted out "you've got to be kidding me!" That color scheme and logo will go down as the ugliest in NFL history.