When I first created the countdown of the 50 Greatest Buc Players of all-time, I had no hesitation in ranking James Wilder at the top of the list, ahead of even Lee Roy Selmon. Not everyone agreed with this decision (probably the biggest under-statement since General Custer commented on there being a few Indians out there) but I always stood by my defense of the Buc back from the 1980s.
But to be totally honest, I had never really got to see either player much in action. The likes of Warren Sapp, Hardy Nickerson and Derrick Brooks, well they are all fresh in the memory from numerous game tapes I own, but not those names from the first decade and a half of the Buccaneer franchise.
I did have a 1985 game in Chicago on tape when Wilder took the future Super Bowl Bear defense for 166 yards, including 103 in the first half alone, but that was it. Even the time I went to Tampa for the first time in 1988, Wilder was on injured reserve and I even missed the chance to meet the dude. Then, later I obtained highlights from his 1982 and 1984-85 seasons over two hours long!
So it was a real blast from the past, a chance for me to see finally some of the names I had read and written about so often. Williams, Giles, House and Carter. Selmon, The other Selmon, Brown and Washington. Capece, Ariri and Igwebuike. McKay and Bennett. And James Wilder.
Every play from the 1982 season showed Wilder running the same flare pattern. He was sharing time in the backfield that year with the likes of James Owens and Mel Carver but his receiving ability was there to see. As were some really bad throws by Doug Williams. He might have been a five year starter behind center for the Bucs but he was no perfect passer there.
But Wilder was the real star. Running, receiving, blocking, he could do it all. He even completed his only pass for a touchdown to his faithful blocker, Adger "Lead Dog" Armstrong in Green Bay in 1984. Shaking off tacklers, gaining key first downs, scoring important touchdowns. And, he did this behind a poor offensive line.
Buc fans of recent years have grown up with Mike Alstott as their hero. Wilder was the same sort of size as the A-Train but quicker and a far better receiver. He once had eight straight 100-yard games over the 1984/85 seasons and remains the franchise leader in rushing yards and receptions, including two seasons with over 500 yards receieving. He also recorded 4 consecutive 1,000-yard combined rushing and receiving seasons from 1983-86'. Finally, he recorded 3 seasons with more receiving yards than rushing yards, most memorably in his rookie season.
OK, so Lee Roy Selmon has the better restaurant, but watching these highlight clips has done nothing but totally reinforce an earlier opinion. James Wilder is the greatest player in franchise history.