Jimmie Giles relished early Bucs days

TAMPA, Fla. -- Of all the hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of moments Jimmie Giles could have picked as his favorite with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, this one’s definitely not the cleanest. It also may surprise you a bit at first.

“Wrestling in the mud with (teammate) David Lewis,’’ Giles said Wednesday as the Bucs announced he will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at a Dec. 4 home game with Carolina.

The wrestling session happened at the end of the 1979 season, a crucial one for the Buccaneers. Needing a win to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, the Bucs beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 3-0, in a torrential downpour.

The team that began as an expansion franchise in 1976 and started 0-26 would go on to stun everyone and reach the NFC Championship Game. It was a high-water mark for a franchise that soon would fall back to its losing ways. Giles was with the Bucs from 1978 until 1986 and, by that point, the Bucs were mired in something well below mediocrity.

They spent the latter half of the 1980s and the early and middle parts of the 1990s as a national joke. Actually, there were all sorts of jokes in those days.

“The sign on the ticket window was “Sorry, we’re open,’’ cracked long-time Tampa Bay radio personality Jack Harris, who was one of the guest speakers before Giles took the microphone.

But one of the best things the Bucs have done since starting the Ring of Honor two years ago is that they’ve embraced their past. It would be easy to try to forget it all and skip the whole era before coach Tony Dungy came along and changed the climate and the uniforms switched from orange and white to pewter and red.

That also would be a mistake because there were some good times and good players from those early years. Co-chairman Bryan Glazer made it a point to say the team’s present and future wouldn’t be possible without its past. He’s right.

Lee Roy Selmon and John McKay, the first two inductees, created some magical moments for a young franchise. So did Giles, who played tight end and went to four Pro Bowls while with the Bucs.

“It was Jimmie Giles and some others who helped turn this team around,’’ Harris said. “It was a great era.’’

But a short era. Sooner or later, the Bucs will open the floodgates for their Ring of Honor. That will start when Derrick Brooks goes in, which will clear the way for guys like Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Mike Alstott, Ronde Barber, Dungy and Jon Gruden.

It’s not quite time for that yet. Although there was a long dry spell between the 1979 team and the teams of the late 1990s, there are some other guys from those eras who deserve the honor. Guys like Ricky Bell, James Wilder, Paul Gruber and Hardy Nickerson should go in before the Bucs get to their more-recent past.

Then, there’s Doug Williams. He was the quarterback of the 1979 team and, by all rights, he should be going into the Ring of Honor before or with Giles. He’s not. That’s mostly Williams’ fault. He did some great things as a player and left Tampa Bay in a bitter salary dispute with former owner Hugh Culverhouse. Williams carried a grudge before finally returning to work in the team’s personnel department.

Things were good for a few years, but Williams left after the 2010 draft. Williams and general manager Mark Dominik weren’t getting along. Since his departure, Williams has taken some public shots at the Bucs. He’s not going to get into the Ring of Honor as long as that’s going on.

As Giles talked, I think there might have been a subtle message to Williams. Giles was talking about how the Bucs of long ago went through some tough times and weren’t beloved. Giles said that things change with time and that no one should succumb to bitterness.

That’s an excellent point. The Bucs are going out of their way to reach out to their former players. Let the water flow under the bridge.

The Bucs and their former players need to stay above the bridge -- above the pettiness.