Time to say goodbye
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 18 August 2006

Talk about growing up in a broken home. One Buccaneer Place, the 30-year-old training facility that will be rendered useless when the Buccaneers move to their new building on Monday, is a place of despair, and disrepair.

Seven head coaches, two ownership groups and thousands of players, trainers and support staff went to work there. They tell tales of the cats living under the building, and the rats living inside. Offices were literally carved from broom closets. The place shook from the deafening roar of jets. Caves had more lighting. And everything leaked - the roof, the windows, the front office. "I was actually excited to draw up a game plan in the same facility as Otto Graham," coach Jon Gruden said, jokingly referring to the 1940s and '50s era Hall of Famer.

And yet, former presidents Bush and Clinton stopped there. Legendary coach Bear Bryant watched practice under an umbrella there. And it's the place where the NFL's chumps turned into champs. Starting Monday, the Bucs will move into their new $30-million facility. Goodbye, One Buc. And good riddance.

"Whatever arm-strength I have left," said Doug Williams, the Bucs quarterback from 1978-82 who rejoined the team two years ago as a personnel executive, "I don't mind throwing the first piece of dynamite."

Special-teams coach Rich Bisaccia joined the staff in 2002 and, like most coaches, thought nothing of spending the night sleeping in his office after a late game. Until . . . "I was awakened by a creature crawling over the top of my thigh and down my leg and then scurrying under the desk," Bisaccia said. "I think he's still living there because we've never been able to catch him."

Not that they didn't try. Several coaches took to setting rat traps in their offices. One day, Bisaccia came in from practice, pulled out his chair and jumped. He even gave a screech. There, in the trap, was a large rat, somewhat bloody, still twitching. Not until he heard the giggling outside his office door did Bisaccia realize it was a fake. "It gave everybody a good laugh," Bisaccia said. "But that was my last night sleeping at One Buc."

Ruston Webster, the Seahawks' vice president of player personnel, worked for the Bucs beginning in 1988 in various capacities in the scouting department. Before leaving the Bucs in May, he was the team's director of player personnel. The football personnel office was moved various times at One Buc. In the early days, Webster said they couldn't afford a magnetic board to conduct the draft, so they had magnetic paint brushed on a wall. Almost anything stuck to it. But a mysterious illness or accident was suffered by whoever occupied the desk closest to what was known as the Wall of Death.

"Whoever had the office got sick," Webster said. "I'm still taking medication for that stuff. (John) Idzik broke a bone. John Garrett got (Crohn's disease). We all got something and blamed it on the magnetic board."

More bizarre? Recently, when they started pulling off years of debris that was attached to that wall, the names of only three players remained. According to Idzik and others, all three are now deceased.

Working out players at One Buc was always an adventure, especially because of the sand-based practice fields. It's since been resurfaced, but until the late '90s, trying to get a true 40-yard dash time on a prospect was nearly impossible. It was like running on the beach. "We had to make our own conversion time," Idzik said. "Any player who ran well was crushed to hear their time. They say, 'I ran a 4.8?' We'd say, 'Hey, don't worry, 4.8 is good, man!' "

Linebacker Ryan Nece spent time around the Raiders facility where his father, Ronnie Lott, was a Hall of Fame player. And he played college ball at UCLA. So, he was accustomed to top-notch facilities when he arrived at One Buc Place as an undrafted free agent in 2002.

"My first year, it rained the first week of practice and everybody said we'd go to our indoor facility. I was like, 'Okay, cool,' " Nece said. "And then we went to the parking garage. I was like, 'No, you're joking.' We actually practiced there for two days. You could touch the roof. We threw simulated passes."

"I had a mysterious fungus on my foot my rookie year," quarterback Chris Simms said. "It's yet to be identified. All year I couldn't get rid of it. The strongest antibiotics, foot stuff, I tried everything. Nothing cured it. When the season was over, I went away from there for a month and it cleared up and never came back. We called it the 'One Buc Funk.' "

When Rich McKay arrived as the team's highest-ranking football executive in '95, the team reconfigured his office to include a large one-way window that looked out onto the practice fields. But on the day of his first draft, rain washed through the frame of the window that had not been properly sealed and flooded his office, disabling his computer system. McKay pressed on and presided over the best draft in team history, selecting Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks in the first round. Both were NFL defensive player of the year recipients.

During some of the Bucs' darkest days, when they were stacking up 10-loss seasons, Gay Culverhouse (daughter of then-owner Hugh Culverhouse) took over as team president. It was an embarrassing appointment to say the least. She had a doctorate in education, but was ill-equipped to run an NFL franchise. But she had her run of One Buc Place. She even would use the showers in the coaches' locker room. "You had to be careful," Idzik said. "It was like living in a college dorm with the sock on the doorknob." Actually, she had a sign posted on the locker room door when the shower was in use.

Security used to be a big issue. One day, a shirtless man entered an unlocked gate near the rear of the facility and walk into the personnel department. Seated around a table was McKay, Jerry Angelo and Tim Ruskell. "He was driving by and heard on the radio that we had taken the franchise and transition tags off Reggie Cobb and Ricky Reynolds," McKay said. "He wanted to know what the hell we were doing. He was extremely inebriated. After a while, Jerry was getting upset and actually began to physically confront the guy. That led to increased security measures. We put a lock on the gate."

Speaking of security, Outback Steakhouse moved its corporate headquarters to a building to the south on West Shore Boulevard. It included a multilevel parking garage that offered a great view of the practice fields.

Every once in a while, some overzealous fans would watch practice from the garage. The Bucs attempted to put a stop to that. The week before the Bucs played Washington in an NFC divisional playoff game in '99, they erected a black tarp that hung from a series of telephone poles to block the view from the garage.

"We came in the next morning and Brad Culpepper was screaming for everyone to come outside and take a look," McKay said. "They hadn't put any holes in the screen and one of those big windstorms had come up the night before and the whole thing broke and collapsed. It looked like Six Flags, the way these things were flying in the wind."

Mark Dominik, the team's director of pro personnel, has been responsible for picking up prospective free agents from the airport "The last place we'd let them come to is (One Buc)," he said. "We'd drive them by the stadium, take them to a nice hotel. The last place was our facility. People are shocked. I've gone to Division II (college) facilities that are better. I tell the guys we've got our own Venice Beach (Calif.) out back, lifting (weights) in the sun."

For many, it was a dark day when coach Tony Dungy was fired following the 2001 season. Then it got darker. "I can remember the day he was fired, the power went out," linebackers coach Joe Barry said. "We were in complete blackness. There's no windows in there."

Not the least of One Buc's drawbacks was the constant roar of airplanes, landing at or taking off from nearby Tampa International Airport. "The question is, do I have any (workers') compensation recourse for aviation exhaust and noise from the roar of the engines?" said tight end Dave Moore. "Especially when you hit November and the wind is out of the north. It's nonstop planes all day."

Former defensive backs coach Herm Edwards, now coach in Kansas City, made his office out of a closet in the defensive meeting room where they kept the vacuum cleaners. Special-teams coach Joe Marciano did the same.

Until Gruden arrived, the Bucs held team meetings in the locker room, which has not changed much since One Buc opened. Gruden ordered that a team meeting room be built just before the start of the 2002 season. The project was assigned to Andres Trescastro, the team's director of security, and the room bears his name. Building permits in Hillsborough County were taking as much as nine months to be issued at the time. "You're assuming there were permits," McKay said.

"I have this great couch that I sleep on," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "I may have to sneak back over there to go to sleep at night."

"I guess I'm different, man, because I don't really complain about it," Brooks said. "I accept where we're at and what we're doing. No matter where I'm at, I'm still going to have to work. So I try to take advantage of it. I'm not one to complain about it because I've been there long enough to have heard all the jokes."

"In a sick way, I'm sad to see One Buc go," Idzik said. "The old building was the place of much bonding and many special times. And can you believe we won a championship there? To me, One Buc certainly accentuated that people make the place."

"We all kind of jokingly (complained) about it," Barry said. "But deep down, we all had a desk, we all had a telephone in case we needed to call our wives, we had two beautiful grass fields where we could practice, we had a shower when we were sweaty, and the bottom line is that's all you need. So we were able to accomplish great things with what we had. It was good enough to win a Super Bowl."

"The only thing I'll say about One Buc Place is that we never added any square footage. We only rearranged it," said linebacker Shelton Quarles, in his 10th season with the Bucs. "Any time they needed more room they just made somebody else's closet smaller."

It made for a close-knit group in the meeting room. "We had a room probably the size of a closet and we had 10 guys shoveled in there," Quarles said, "along with a desk, a rat and some doors that would fall down occasionally."

"We had a bye week one year, and we had a practice and the air conditioner broke," Gruden said. "The worst thing I ever saw was Warren Sapp and the whole football team with their shirts off sweating during the team meeting. That was when I knew we were going to have a tough day at practice."

"My One Buc nightmare?" said defensive tackle Anthony McFarland. "Going back."