A Blast From The Past: Ricky Bell
Hey! Hey! Tampa Bay! I got back into the Buccaneers time machine for my next blast from the past and this time I selected a very special player.
Running back Ricky Bell.
Ricky Lynn Bell was born on April 8th, 1955 in Houston, Texas and during the early years of his life he and his family moved to Los Angeles, California where he started his football career at John C. Fremont High School. After high school, Bell decided to stay local and attended the University of Southern California where he first met coach John McKay. He first started out on the defensive side of the football playing linebacker and started to gain notice during his sophomore campaign in 1974. He also had his hand in the offensive side of the ball because of his ability to run between-the-tackles. During that season they went on to win the national championship by defeating third-ranked Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.
Heading into his junior campaign the Trojans won seven straight games, and they did it without strong quarterback play. They relied on their running game heavily. Bell led the nation in rushing with 1,875 yards and came in third for the Heisman Trophy and earned Consensus All-American. Bell decided to stay at USC and finish his collegiate career. He ended his college career with an 11-1 campaign and was again a Heisman Trophy candidate falling second to Pittsburgh’s All-American running back Tony Dorsett.
Bell’s hard work paid off. He entered the 1977 NFL Draft where he was selected first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He played under head coach John McKay, who coached him at USC. Bell signed a five-year contract for a reported $1.2 million, which was the richest reported contract by an NFL rookie during that time. Bell faced some controversy with the Bucs having picked him instead of Tony Dorsett, but, Coach McKay felt that Bell was better.
During his first two seasons, he seemed to struggle with adjusting to the style of the NFL, and it wasn’t until his third season that he finally found the on-switch. 1979 was the best season of his pro career rushing for 1,263 yards and 7 touchdowns. The elusive Bell helped lead the Buccaneers to a 10-6 season and their first-ever playoff appearance in franchise history. The Bucs defeated the Eagles 24–17 at Tampa Stadium. Bell rushed the ball 38 times for 142 yards and 2 TDs in the win over the Eagles. The Buccaneers went on to lose the NFC Championship game to the Los Angeles Rams 0-9. The Rams held Bell to 59 yards and no score on 29 attempts ending their playoff run. That season was the closest the Buccaneers would come to a Super Bowl for another 20 years. [1999 Which they were again defeated by the Rams in a low scoring game]
Three years later in 1982 Bell was traded to the San Diego Chargers, but he started to fall ill and was forced to retire.
Bell passed away two years later at the age of 29, from heart complications caused by dermatomyositis. Bell’s death rocked the NFL community. He was survived by his wife Natalia and his children Ricky Jr. and Noell.
BucPower.com published an interview of Bell’s former teammate Anthony Davis and he asked the question that many of his teammates and those that knew him also wondered;
“Out of all of us, why did it have to be Ricky? He was the good one, the jewel. Why him?”