Number 3: Hardy Nickerson – LB (1993-1999)
“HARDY! HARDY! HARDY!” If you listen closely, you can still hear the chants echoing through the stands of Raymond James Stadium with flashbacks of this criminally underrated linebacker flexing along to the tune of those chants to this day. Rewinding a bit, the Buccaneers brought in Hardy Nickerson during the first year of true free agency as we know it today in 1993 after he spent six years with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
All Nickerson did in Tampa was record nine sacks, 13 forced fumbles with nine recoveries, seven interceptions, and over 900 unofficial tackles in six years. Nickerson was also a five-time Pro Bowler while being voted first-team All-Pro in 1993 and 1997, and second-team in 1996 and 1999. The Pro Football Hall of Fame even voted him as a second-team member of the All-1990s Team, which makes one wonder if his time will come to one day be enshrined in Canton. Nickerson was also one of the first leaders of Tony Dungy’s Buccaneers defenses that would become legendary.
Looking back, it really is a tragedy that Nickerson wasn’t there to cross the finish line with the 2002 Buccaneers defense to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Nickerson was a leader of the Buccaneers defense during the franchise’s dark days, the renaissance, and the team that came within a controversial call away from the Super Bowl in 1999, which proved to be his last game. Age did play a factor, but for what it’s worth, Nickerson’s last year in the NFL was 2002 as a member of the Green Bay Packers.