7. Linebacker Hardy Nickerson: Played for the Buccaneers from 1993 to 1999. One of the NFL’s surest tacklers throughout his career, Nickerson spent his prime in pewter and red. Of his five Pro Bowl selections and two All-Pro nods, all came in his seven-year stint with the Bucs.
Why is Nickerson No. 7?
The “man in the middle” before Derrick Brooks, Nickerson found his niche in the middle of Tony Dungy’s 4-3 defensive scheme. Nickerson is third on the organization’s all-time tackle list with 926 and fifth all-time in forced fumbles. Over his last four years with the Bucs, Nickerson helped maintain a defense that ranked third or better three straight seasons. Nickerson’s 214-tackle 1993 season remains a single-season best for Tampa Bay.
Nickerson’s Legacy with the Buccaneers:
The emergence of Derrick Brooks and age led to Nickerson’s exit from Tampa Bay after the 1999 season (despite his fifth Pro-Bowl selection in seven seasons). Nickerson will be remembered as part of a defensive-minded group that finally got the Bucs back into the .500 column in 1998 (the Bucs finished 8-8). Before that, it had been 17 seasons since Tampa had seen the mark.
Nickerson was the cog in the middle. He was consistent, solid, and almost always made the tackle. Caught in an era when Mike Singletary ruled the world of middle linebackers, Nickerson served as a bright spot on a team with few in his early years before yielding possession of the middle to one of the all-time greats (Brooks).
The Bucs were 53-59 overall in Nickerson’s seasons, although the team was 29-19 over the last three campaigns (all under Tony Dungy). The sturdy linebacker thrived in the Dungy’s system. Nickerson will not make it to Canton but he can hold pride in knowing that he was one of the best players in the league for the decade of the ‘90s.
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