Seldom seen and often silent, Malcom Glazer turned the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers from the laughing stock of the league into a champion during his 19-year stretch as the team’s owner. His death on Wednesday at age 85, was met by widespread praise for his ownership of the team, his boosterism for Tampa Bay as a Super Bowl city and his numerous philanthropic activities in the Bay area and beyond.
“Malcolm Glazer was the guiding force behind the building of a Super Bowl-champion organization,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote via Twitter.
Former players from the Bucs championship team, including Derrick Brooks and NFL Hall of Famer Warren Sapp added their plaudits on the social network.
“I am so proud to say he is the only owner I played for and he set the stage for our turnaround by hiring (Tony Dungy),” Brooks wrote, while Sapp added that Glazer was a “great man.”
Glazer purchased the Bucs from founding owner Hugh Culverhouse’s estate for a then-record $192 million in 1995. The expansion team was Tampa Bay’s first major league franchise when it joined the NFL in 1976, but the club floundered on the field, setting a record for ineptitude by losing its first 26 games over two seasons.
While Glazer shunned the media spotlight, he was a frequent presence in the locker room, former Bucs fullback Mike Alstott told the Tampa Bay Times, shaking players’ hands, congratulating them after wins, consoling them after losses.
“It was each and every Sunday, he was with us. And the players, we looked forward to that. Mr. Glazer really did a lot to help out our players and the community and to bring a winning tradition,” Alstott told the Times.
A successful businessman who dropped out of college to start a watch and jewelry business, Glazer built up a conglomerate spanning real estate, restaurants, banking, health care and energy businesses. His hardball negotiating tactics became immediately apparent after he purchased the team.
He declared the now-demolished Tampa Stadium inadequate and publicly shopped the team around to other cities while pushing Tampa and Hillsborough County to replace the stadium.
In 1996, voters approved a 30-year, half-cent sales tax referendum that included money for schools, infrastructure and a $168.5-million stadium.
Raymond James Stadium opened in 1998 and in just over a decade it would play host to two Super Bowls and was home to the 2003 Super Bowl champs.
Glazer’s sons — Joel, Bryan and Edward — ran day-to-day operations for the team from the start and a 2006 stroke left Glazer with speech problems and physical limitations, removing the patriach even further from the public’s view.
The family’s charitable foundation is involved in educational, health, youth athletics, arts and science programs and activities across Central Florida.
In 2012, the Tampa Bay Business Journal named the Glazer Children’s Museum its Arts, Culture and Humanities Nonprofit of the Year.
The Bucs may be going through a rough stretch, missing the playoffs for six straight seasons and failing to sell enough tickets in recent years to avoid disheartening league-mandated TV blackouts, but their struggles must be weighed against high expectations set by its late owner.
His passing leaves Tampa Bay without the man who helped turn it into a major-league city and gave the home fans plenty to cheer about.