Ricky Bell (1955-1984)
Ricky Bell came to Bucs amid controversy. Taken with the no. 1 overall pick by Tampa Bay, he was taken ahead of Heisman Trophy winning Tony Dorsett due to his familiarity with John McKay’s I Formation offense. At USC, Ricky held a single game rushing record for 347 yards against Washington State, and led the nation as a Junior with 1875 yards.
But the Buccaneers took him first in the 1977 draft, and Tampa Bay did not have an offensive line nor a quarter back to take the pressure off of him. As a result he was often injured during his first two years with the team, and the term Bust had crept up a little too frequently.
In 1979 however, with strong armed QB named Doug Williams and a large Offensive line in front of him, Ricky reminded everyone why he was picked so high. With a 1,263 yard season and speedster tailback Jerry Eckwood from Arkansas to change up the pace, Ricky was a formidable weapon, and hard to bring down. In the playoffs, McKay fed him the ball a then record 38 times for 142 yards and total domination of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Something happened though after that magical season, the runs just were not there. He had a Ricky Bell like outing vs the Giants, but by the end of the season, he didn’t even have half the yards from the year before. 1981 was even worse, and with the arrival of Tailback James Wilder, Ricky hardly got any carries other than mop up duty.
He was traded to the San Diego Chargers in 1982 in the hopes a return to the west coast would benefit him. It did not, and he was out of the league at the end of the year. Then came 1983, a news reporter from the St. Pete Times had found Ricky Bell selling shoes in California weighing in at a mere 165 pounds. The next year, at the age of 29, Ricky Bell was dead from complications of a rare muscle disease that attacks the muscles in the body. It was not diagnosed until it was too late.
In 1991, a made for TV movie called A triumph of the heart starring Mario Van Peebles as Ricky Bell showed the world the tragic story of this short lived Buccaneer great.